I stand in Fresh Start’s small bedroom taking everything in and pat the bed’s mattress again. Is it really so soft? Blue Curtain, twin bed, white cover sheet, no closet, a bar for hanging clothes. But what’s inviting here, what is what I’ve missed for so long? No clanging, no whistles, no thunderous and deliberate farts. A private room, all to my own. And it’s not called “Solitary”.
I glance long at the crucifix on the side wall: Is it true? Am I really out? Pulled out from behind bars. And forgiven?
“Hello Andrew,” a bathroom mirror face greets me.
“Hello, old man.” Deep lines around my mouth, between my eyebrows, forehead creased with frown lines.
Andrew, you’ve grown ancient. Every piece of hair is thinned. Bags curl under your eyeballs like puffy pillows. Maybe you’ll make enough money someday, get them knifed away.
I shower in the hall bath, dress in the worn Salvation Army pants and shirt the fat guard had tossed at me. “You’ll need better duds if you go looking for work.”
Downstairs, I pour a cup of coffee from a pot simmering on the burner, my hand shaking uncontrollably. I hardly believe all that time I lived behind coiled razor wires. Now alone, I wonder what I’m going to do … or be. Thrust into a normal, terror free world.
Okay, Mr freed man, find a job.
Before looking for work, I treat myself. There’s an ocean out there. I hitch-hike to New Smyna Beach for my first sight of the surf in years. Oh my God. A true homecoming. The horizon goes on forever above roaring undulating waves. Unknowable turbulence. What terrible tales you can tell; ships lost, prayers unanswered, drowning innocents. But for me now, I’m standing free and the ocean is beautiful as the day comes to a close. A sea gull flies low.
How long I stand, I can’t say. A memory frozen in time floats back, a memory when my children begged for a story. Winnie -the-Pooh registers that particular line:
Christopher Robin came down from the forest to the bridge, feeling all sunny and careless, and just as if twice nineteen didn’t matter a bit, as it didn’t on such a happy afternoon, and he thought that if he stood on the bottom rail of the bridge, and leant over, and watched the river slipping slowly away beneath him, then he would suddenly know everything that there was to be known.
I shut my eyes. The dream is sensuous. I sleep standing, and then curl up behind a grassy sand dune.
Wavy grass welcomes a morning’s glittering sun across an empty beach. Nobody’s fishing. No one’s walking the shoreline except me. No one anywhere to be seen. And nobody bothered me all night.
Behind me, before me, in me, God lives. Confidence spills, a fountain of self-belief I’ve never known before.
I’m out. I can work. I can make money. I can be normal. I can do this thing.
No Marie Fe to run from, no family to account for. Tonight, again, I’ll sleep under the stars and learn to be me again.