Feeling Like Florida

ANNE:

Would I really move to Turkey just to avoid the shame factor of phone calls from prison? There’s more to it, of course.

Once you are actually talking to your loved one, the call is of such poor quality and they speak so softly, that you can barely make out what they’re saying. Why the poor quality? Shouldn’t $1 a minute buy you some top-notch connection, considering that I can call England for 1 cent a minute, or free with Skype, and it sounds like I’m in the room with my friend? A great deal of time is wasted by me asking Vince, “What? I can’t hear you–say that again!”

They speak softly, or at least my son does, because he is surrounded by men he wouldn’t want thinking he’s a pussy if they overheard him expressing some real emotion.

Then, the call is fraught with tension because you’re keenly aware that you’ve got to say everything in 10 minutes, and you’ve got no idea when you might be able to talk again. There’s all the baggage from the past, the urge to say, “You idiot!” and “I’m so scared for you!” and “My heart is breaking” and “You’d better fucking figure it out this time!” all at once.

There are the logistical questions you need to cover, like what is the actual sentence, when you’ll be eligible for parole, is this the facility where you’ll be for the duration or will they move you?

And of course you are aware that some redneck cop-wanna-be prison guard may be listening to the call.

On this first call he actually had some things to say that I’d been waiting seven years to hear.

It feels like a dream now, that conversation. Like he was under water, his voice so low I only caught half the words. I know he said, “Mom, I know I’m done. I’m done with all those things I was doing that got me in here.” He went on, and from the tone of his voice I could tell he was confiding something big…but I couldn’t make out his words.

He had been sober for five years, then relapsed seven years before now. Since his plunge from sobriety he had held me at arms’ length, saying things like, “You’re going to have to accept my lifestyle, mom, or you just won’t see me.” His lifestyle: drinking a case of beer and bottle of whiskey a day and—this was clear to me now—using all the drugs he’s been charged with possessing: meth, heroin, pot, and cocaine.

I could only make out a handful of his words. Then I caught a whole sentence, “I haven’t felt this way since Florida.” Florida, where he had lived in a halfway house for a year after four months at Hazelden, his third shot at treatment. Where he had been on medication for bipolar disorder. “I just want to get back to Florida.” It was like Florida was a state of mind as much as a place.

“You can!” I exclaimed, “You can go anywhere because you’re a cook and you can get a job in 5 minutes.”

“I don’t know if I want to be a cook any more, Mom.”

I had a thought but bit my mom-tongue from saying, “You could finish your degree in prison! You could become a lawyer!” I also didn’t ask, “Are you going to AA”, “Have you seen a psychiatrist?” or “Do they have a good library there?” or any other mom-like questions.

I wanted answers but asking could annoy and alienate him, I knew from experience. The 10 minutes were up. We said our “I love yous.”

I almost wished he’d never call again.

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