"How's the Family?"
The Family's good!
"What’s the word from the Kitchen?"
Potato salad and tacos.
"Let's say grace. Bow your head if you
want. Dear Lord…"
The Director prays, and Jerome bows
his head but does not close his eyes. His son sits next to him, watching
him carefully. The prayer ends, and they eat. His son smiles, and his
brilliant white teeth flash in his dark brown face.
Jerome wonders if his son understands where he is and why.
Jerome looks at the Visit Supervisor
sitting next to his son. The Supervisor is a skinny, uncomfortable young
man with a laptop. He sits among toothless drug addicts who
stare at him like a Japanese game show. He squirms under their perplexed gaze,
and shovels potato salad into his mouth, probably wondering if the cooks
follow health standards. If they use organic ingredients. If their dishes
are laced with meth. He glances at Jerome, then watches Jerome's
son eat. The Visit Supervisor has never had children. He has never been addicted. He brings
Jerome's son here in his car and sits on the edges of rooms, writing notes
on his laptop and trying not to be seen.
When Jerome first arrived here, they
made him wear a life jacket. He wore the stained, symbolic orange vest to
lunch, to dinner, to the basketball court, sometimes even to bed when
the cravings were too strong and he collapsed on his bunk, shuddering. Now
he wears whatever he wants, but there are still dozens of Brothers and
Sisters roaming the halls in life jackets. Jerome's son calls them "the
fisher people". Jerome and the Visit Supervisor both exchange grins and
laugh at the boy's antics.
Jerome's son is four years old and
very cute. He has become a celebrity here, and everyone tries to win a
smile from him when they pass him in the halls. Sometimes he cries and
screams, kicks the floor, gasps for air, ordering Jerome to shut up motherfucker, or
telling him he is going to beat his nigger ass. During these times Jerome
stares at him in disbelief, wondering how all this has happened, making
excuses to the Supervisor that the boy must be learning this at his foster
home. The Supervisor looks away uncomfortably.
The Supervisor comes from a good
family. His mother and father are still married, and seem to love each
other. He has several siblings, all of whom stay in touch and live healthy
lives. He is educated, he eats right, he exercises regularly. He glances
up from his laptop to watch Jerome playing catch with his son. He frowns
thoughtfully, and types out opinions about Jerome's parenting. Sometimes he
gives Jerome suggestions on how to handle his son's rages. Jerome has been
in prison twice. He has held guns to people's heads, and traveled to other
planets while sprawled out on the floor, twitching.
Jerome and the Supervisor sit on the
couch together and watch cartoons with Jerome's son. They laugh and make
comments on the absurd plotlines. They shake their heads
at the pop-culture sass and sexuality in these cartoons, and remark that
things were very different when they were kids. The Supervisor watched the
Disney Afternoon while munching sandwiches on bread baked by his mother.
He watched Duck Tales and played Super Nintendo with his brother and
sisters. He read books about noble warrior mice fighting
evil rats and weasels. He went to church, and school, and was told to
follow his dreams.
Jerome's parents lulled him to sleep
with liquor. They poured beer in his bottle and gave him McNuggets. They
hit each other and waved knives in the air. Jerome's siblings disappeared
into other foster homes. His classmates knocked him to the concrete and
flashed guns and gang signs. They bought booze from their uncles and
burned white powders in the bathroom. Jerome went to church, and school,
and was told to shut the fuck up.
Jerome has been here with the Family
for five months. After the first two, he took off his life jacket. At
ninety days, he was allowed to make phone calls to friends and family, though he
has none. In another month, he will ascend the heavenly staircase to the
Upper Floor. There, he will live in comfortable rooms amongst other
elevated people on the edge of Freedom. He will sleep in silk sheets and
eat filet mignon and smoke the finest cigarettes under sunny deck umbrellas. No
one will shout at him, no one will tell him he needs to Get a Grip. He
won't need Support to walk outside and breathe the fresh air. No one will
be watching him from behind windows. And then, in another two months, he will
be released. He will leave this place and be Free. He will not think about
powders or needles or even bottles. He will go home. His son will finally stop
screaming and kicking. He will stop cursing and running away and hiding.
He will smile and hug Jerome's knees and say, "Welcome home, Dad," and Jerome will
weep. He will hold his son tight and leap into the air and gravity won't
pull him back, it will just smile along with him and say, "Go. You
have suffered enough. Go." and Jerome
and his son will float upwards, they will ascend, they will be a Family.