Lost Letters: When I Wasn’t Writing

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Going into that prison sentence, I told myself that I was strong enough to withstand this test of time. After all, I had my hands full with a newborn baby and a full-time job as a supervisor at a retail chain. He tried to pressure me into applying for public housing assistance, claiming he would need somewhere to set up a physical address with his probation officer once he was released. Yet at the same time, he would warn me that I needed to be ready to take our son back to Texas with him, his father and his brother who would be making the long drive to pick him up the day he was released.

I put his future release in the furthest corner of my mind because three years was a lifetime away. Instead, I worked hard, I partied harder. I made money, I blew money. I slept too much and cried too little. There was a new sense of freedom that I didn’t understand, yet welcomed with open arms. I took care of myself, indulged myself, I was healthy and happier than I had felt in a long time, despite my chain smoking and binge drinking.

I owned so many nice things, well things that were nice to me- brand name clothes and shoes, expensive watches, a wide variety of creative sterling silver jewelry. I still wasn’t writing and I hadn’t picked up a book in ages. I was too busy living.

I should have been sending him money, money so he could eat better, money to help ease his suffering. Instead, I was busy waiting in long lines every weekend outside of ocean-side nightclubs. I was busy buying long-neck Coronas and Kamikaze shots. I was busy losing myself in places that made me not feel so lost.

I kept trying to convince myself that I didn’t need him, that I could live a happy life without him. After all, how could we ever be happy and financially stable once he got out of prison? I was no expert but I was pretty sure that he would never make it to a corporate level with a felony criminal record. That would put the financial burden solely on me. Besides, I already had a job. A job that I loved. I had a life that I loved.

A while into our relationship I had decided that it had been our love for alcohol that had bound us together. He drank obsessively to forget the pain he claimed he felt at having lost a child, and by lost I don’t mean the child died. I drank to fill that constant longing I felt. Longing for something, anything, other than the life I had. A lot of the guys I dated in highschool couldn’t understand my need for drinking. They couldn’t understand why I preferred Budweiser over something fruity. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t drink in moderation and they didn’t appreciate that if I was ever made to choose between them and alcohol, they would lose every time.

But he wasn’t this way. Once he was out of prison there were so many weekend mornings, afternoons and nights we would drink side by side. It eventually escalated to drinking on the weekdays after work and after things got bad, I would drink before my night shifts at work just so I could numb the pain and survive for just one more night.

I drank to forget about the screaming pain of a fractured arm. I drank to forget the explosion of excruciating hurt that reverberated throughout my chest after having beem punched. I drank to dull the dizziness of a concussion, probably not the best idea, but at that point, I didn’t care. I drank to forget about about the feeling of his fingers around my throat, trying to squeeze the life out of me time and time again. I drank to keep myself from going completely mad over an incident that I’ve only ever spoken aloud about twice since it happened almost four years ago.

It all carried on for the seven or eight years that I lived with him, right up until the day I left him. That was four years ago and I haven’t had a single drink since. Some days it’s hard, most days it isn’t. I’ve found other ways to cope. I’ve found other ways to do everything. I think for a long while I blamed myself for it all. I told myself it might have been different if I would’ve never stopped writing to him when he had been in prison.

Lost Letters

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He used to write to me every day while he was in prison. Prison the first time, not prison this time. This time he is writing letters from his cell to someone else. Or maybe he writes letters in the rec room. Most likely he writes them from solitary confinement. He locks himself away in there by choice to save himself from the unspeakable horrors he endures because of the crimes he committed. He doesn’t have to tell me this. I already know it’s true.

In another lifetime he used to write me poems and draw me beautiful pictures with colored pencils. I saved every piece he sent me. I tucked the art away carefully inside sheet protectors inside a large, black, three-ring binder. I never read back over the letters, although sometimes I would sit and flip through his artwork and tell myself it was such a shame that he was wasting his life away in prison when he could be making a profit from his art, not to mention a name for himself. He never did like what was good for him.

He used to call me collect two, three, four, five times a day. When he was in county the calls were cheap, only sixty cents but once he got to prison the calls were $5.60 for fifteen minutes. Twice my phone was turned off because I owed over a thousand dollars from collect calls alone. I went out of town twice to visit him. It was depressing to have to take my shoes off at the check point and to be patted down. I brought along a ziplock bag full of twenty dollars worth of quarters so we could eat food from the little vending machines. He used to complain that he was always so hungry, that not only did they not feed the inmates enough in prison but the food they served wasn’t fit for stray dogs. These visits were different than in county. In county we were separated by plexiglass and spoke to each other on phones that made the other’s voice sound a million lightyears away when in reality we were maybe five feet away. Maybe less. At the prison, we were allowed one hug when we first saw each other and one before we parted ways.

Some days I would sit on my bed and stare anxiously at my answering machine and listen as he left ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty messages in a row. Most times all I heard was the recording that always preceeded his calls- “You have a collect call from, Q, an inmate at <insert correctional facility name here.> (Because it changed a few times, he moved around a bit.) To accept the call, press one. To decline, press two or simply hang up.”

Sometimes I would sit with my hands over my ears because even the sound of his voice sent me into a state of terror. Sometimes I would lie down and press my pillow tightly over my head. I never simply left the room. This was before anything violent had happened in our relationship, yet his voice sent fear vibrating straight through every last one of my nerve endings.

Sometimes weeks would go by before I received a letter from him. When I finally did receive one, it would be angry and full of insults, truly hurtful words about what he assumed I was doing when I wasn’t answering his calls. I used to write to him five days a week and I sent three letters on Thursdays so he would have one to read on Saturdays and Sundays. I told myself my letters helped him. It was so hard to write those letters. I struggled with what to say. I knew he expected me to tell him how much I loved him and missed him, how excited I was for plans for the future.

I never wrote anything during those three years other than letters to him. In a way, it was still practice at writing fiction. I told him what he wanted to hear because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t. He used to tell me that he had people watching me, keeping tabs on me and his retellings of my whereabouts and activities were usually pretty accurate. It frightened me. He frightened me.

When I moved on, two years into his prison sentence, I threw out every last one of his letters. Over a hundred and twenty total. I’m guessing. I don’t really remember. When I moved to Texas to be with him, I saw that he had kept all of mine. He had them neatly banded together and tucked safely away in a shoebox. Throughout all of the horrifying years I spent with him, all of the times he broke my heart, he never threw out those letters and now that he’s found himself in the same predicament as he was in when we started those letters all those years ago, I wonder if he misses my handwriting, my words. I wonder if he wishes he had never taken them for granted. I wish I would’ve kept them and had them printed into a book so I could remind myself more often that I was a good person, even back then.