The Visit

By Meg Worden

Memoir


It’s visiting day, and somewhere my son, Aidan, who just turned two, is getting ready. They drove twelve hours to get here and my mom said they were staying at the La Quinta in Bryan, but that means nothing to me. Confined to the walled eighteen acres of this prison, I am completely ignorant of the size or layout of the city I live in.

Going to visit Mommy they’ll be saying and in my mind I see him raise his arms so my grandmother can pull his shirt over his head, his thick hair standing up from sleep. I imagine the strain of keeping him still to redress him, tie his shoes. It’s seven forty-five.

My stomach is twisted up in bittersweet knots while I pull on my khakis, tie my own steel toed shoes, tuck and button and make certain I’m visiting-room-regulation-ready. I look at my watch. It’s seven fifty-two. Five minutes later I check my watch again. It’s still seven fifty-two. Time is moving slower than usual. It feel like I’ve been preserved. Embalmed.

I sit on the tight, tucked edge of my bunk, I’m longing to see him and wracked with the anxiety of how, after six months, I might go about being a mother for half a day. I have to focus to hold my body still while gale force winds arc up over my heart, through my throat and crash like waves into my belly. It’s seven fifty-nine.

“Attention! Attention in the Unit! Inmate 15894-045, you have a visitor.” The sound comes crashing in and though I expected it, I am startled and so is my roommate, Boobs, who turns onto her side and adjusts her earplugs, causing the metal bunk bed to shift and hit the cinderblock wall with a thud. The springs beneath her plastic mattress let out a shrill and painful squeal. A voice across the building screams at the intercom, “Shut the fuck up!” another in response to the first voice, “Naw! You shut up!” and “For real! I’m sleeping here!” The fact that addicts are so naturally adept at self-destruction makes the shouting, the general din of this place, reeks of overkill.

“Attention in the UNIT! Inmate 15894-045, report to the visiting room ASAP!”

Another blast through the sleeping unit stirs another chain reaction of groans, shifts and protests. A few room lights switch on as I gather my courage and head for the door. He is here. He is waiting to see me.

Dark pavement recedes under my steps, it plods away under the swollen sky as I walk the length of the compound towards the visiting room with its little playground, board games, vending machines and tears. The humid morning steams and softens the wrinkles in my clothes; heavy doors loom large. What lies beyond them, looms even larger. In a couple of minutes I’ll be with him. I’ll be able to hold him. The empty ache of separation has made him seem like a dream. A sweet, but fleeting, dream.

I watch my hand reach out and grip the solid door handle and pull it towards me, I smell the acrid years of microwaved ham sandwiches and pizza rolls and hear hinges whine my arrival. The officer looks up, and, even though she knew I was coming, she’s clearly annoyed to see me. “It’s about time,” she says. “Do the Dance.”

The dance is legs wide, arms to either side like wings while she pats me down. Later I will strip naked in the bathroom, and I will be searched more intimately, but, right now, I don’t care about violation or my lack of civil rights. There is no periphery, there is only the point. My son, all legs and black hair a-blur. He is here and he is running.

When his thunderclap of a body collides with my own, the impact takes my breath. He clings, face buried in my collar where he will stay for thirty full minutes. I wrap my arms around his heartbeat, his warm weight, and I know he is real.

“We were first in line,” my mom says.

“Im glad,” I reply.

“We miss you,” says my Grandma.

“Thanks for coming,” I say.

No one really knows what to talk about. There’s no language for this, no points of common ground. My grandmother holds her purse close, a silver cross hangs around her neck. I consider telling her how I’ve learned to say the Hail Mary in Spanish, but reconsider when words fail me. It’s superfluous information. Like I’m talking about making ashtrays at summer camp. My mother just stares, her head cocked. She comes up close and starts petting Aidan’s hair.

“Are you glad to see Momma?” she asks this rhetorical question an octave too high, and a head too close to my ear. She keeps staring, keeps drinking us in, shaking her head and smiling a smile that threatens to melt into tears, threatens to spill over, to fill the room and leave no space for anyone else to feel anything. I turn away. I want this moment to be mine. I don’t want anything to interrupt me and my arms and this boy growing sweaty in the curve of my neck.

“Let’s find a table,” I suggest.

We sit near the indoor play area, next to the vending machines and I close my eyes for a minute. I want to cry, am desperate to cry, but don’t.

“See that man over there in the cowboy boots, Meg?” Grandma says, nodding toward the exit door. “He was next to us in line. He visits that blond lady there.” She nods again in the same direction. “He told us her story, it’s so sad. She’s innocent, got framed.” Now the head nodding gets rhythmic, matches the tsktsk of her lips while she contemplates the injustice of this place. It’s weird to hear my Grandma say “framed.”

While I appreciate her ability to believe, her desire to see it all as so unfair because I’m here I’m socially inept and out of practice making small talk. I don’t want to be the center of attention, don’t want to have nothing to say, don’t feel like I have the fortitude to explain the inexplicable. My answer comes out sharper, more sarcastic than I mean it to.

“Yeah, right. Her and everyone else here. I wonder how much he puts in her commisary account every month.”

My grandma’s face falls. She looks tired, sad and stricken. I wish at that moment that I was a gentler, more patient human being. I don’t know how to right what I’ve said because It’s true, about the woman using her cowboy, but who cares, I just feel so out of words, so incapeable of talking right now. I inhale the smell of his hair. I want to contain it. To keep it in my lungs, to float with it up and up and up until we both dissapear into the wide Texas sky outside of this room, away from everyone and everything awkward and all the things said and unsaid.

I get it, I’m here, It’s what happened. I sleep with regret, I practice faith, surrender, I do my best to make it all worth something, accept it, be grateful, blah, blah…but, Goddamnit, I think. This is my baby and I want to go home.

Home. The word dissolves, transforms as I think it. It becomes abstract, loses meaning, wrings out the weight of what’s lost and washes it in wretched isolation. My tears spill onto Aidan’s salty hair, onto his uncharacteristic stillness, his tiny high-top shoes. He squeezes in tighter, our hearts pound together. Louder, like the volume in the room as families continue to navigate security procedures and wait in turn for their particular inmate.

Our story, The Story, repeats itself. Children cling, mothers weep and we all become participants in the same heartache, playing our very best games of everything-is-alright, wishing we were anywere but here. I look around and it feels like I’m standing between mirrors, witness to the infinite reflection and mine is in every khaki uniform in the room. I feel the lines of separation become blurred and my raft of isolation is temporarily beached. The desolate city fills with people, and the flames subside.

As the day wears on, my Grandmother, my Mother and I, we talk more freely, even laugh while we become weary trying to wrestle with the minutes, knowing it will be months before we see each other again. I push Aidan in the swing, buy him strawberry Pop Tarts from the vending machine. I rock him in a chair while he naps, whispering, “Soon, little man, I’ll be back with you soon.”


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Meg Worden is a mother, master of complications and manifestor of abundance. She has been a columnist for the Lovely County Citizen in Eureka Springs AR and placed first for Ascent Magazine’s text writing contest in 2008. Meg believes a sense of humor is far more important than a sense of direction and knows for a fact she can laugh wildly amidst severest woe. Currently Meg is living in Portland, OR where she stays up late at night working on her memoir project about the two years she spent in Federal Prison. Find her at megworden.com

37 responses to “The Visit”

  1. Meg, your resilience is as evident as your talent. Like a lot of us, I’ve come to dread memoir (“Here’s this awful thing that happened to me and only me! Pay attention!”), but you writing is measured. The story is heartbreaking and you have the skill and instinct to let it tell itself, while quietly navigating. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  2. Meg Worden says:

    Thank you, Litsa, that is a perfect compliment. I am right there with you when I look at my work sometimes and all I see is “I,I,I,I…”
    Nice to hear you enjoyed the story.

  3. Art Edwards says:

    I’d just like to echo Litsa.This material so easily could be sentimental, or cold. You straddle the line, which is just what we want from someone taking us to this place and situation.

    Bravo!

    Art

  4. Simon Smithson says:

    I feel almost voyeuristic reading your retellings of prison, Meg. But when it comes to the sweetness of moments with your son, I’m just pleased to be able to read them.

    And it’s so strange to think you had no idea of the city around you.

    • Meg Worden says:

      That’s really nice to hear, Simon, thank you.

      That voyeuristic quality makes it challenging to write about because I feel pressured to give it deeper meaning, to try and make it more relatable so it’s not just me using a story that makes people curious to see the inside of this world. I’d rather it be a story that, while drawing readers in with curiosity, it tells a broader story of human nature.

      *Hopefully*, when the whole thing is written, it will.

      But part of it is still just giving people the opportunity to peek into a world that many people have so many pre-conceived ideas about. It’s nice to be able to shift paradigms a little and shine the light on what absurdity so much of it is..

      And if none of that grand shit happens, it’s just fun to write.

      Am I even make sense? Good Lord I’m having the most non sensical day.
      My potential to be random is at level orange.

  5. Gloria says:

    I’ll echo what everyone else has said: your voice is sublime. Where you could be maudlin, you’re stalwart.

    I absolutely love this ending.

  6. Meg Worden says:

    Gloria, I could eat you up I love you so.

  7. Irene Zion says:

    Meg,

    I just can’t even imagine what that did to you.
    Can’t even imagine.

    • Meg Worden says:

      Thanks, Irene.
      It was really something.
      But just that. Something.
      We all have our Somethings.
      And we are fine, stronger, more connected to our core selves maybe, maybe more aware of our saddest selves so we can be more complete.

      Many amazing things happened to me there.
      Not because of, but IN SPITE of, and awful system.
      I was really driven because I had this unavoidable impetus to make it worth something for him.

      And I think I’m probably a better mother on this side of things. I had to learn to let go, hold on, let go, etc…

      I wouldn’t change it. But so glad it’s over. And my heart breaks daily for the many children without parents thanks to a totally sad and defective system and its “war on drugs”.

  8. Solar says:

    I feel like the fact that I’m weeping makes this my moment, a moment that holds you in this past where you might not be ok. But this is your moment and you are more than ok, as you have transcended beyond measure. It’s hard for me to be objective and think I am only this transfixed and moved because of how fucking brilliant you are; your subtle selections, not a moment lost, how I live inside every word. Yet, even if I had been a stranger, I no longer would be. But I get to be subjective too: sad, angry, aching, awed, inspired and totally and completely in love.

    • Meg Worden says:

      It’s your moment too, if you want it. If it’s not more than me I’ll choke on the hubris.
      Please, share it with me.

      The daily onslaught of real catastrophe in the world had made putting this on here this week feel strange. It’s nothing compared to other things.

      And we are ok. Gratefully, genuinely, ok.

      Thank you for being such a fan and friend and tireless generator of generous comments.

      Love.

  9. You have so adeptly and heartbreakingly described how it feels to be somewhere and nowhere at the same time…. I held my breath as I read and I waited for it to be over. For you.

  10. Reno J. Romero says:

    meg:

    meg, this was beautiful. of course, sad and all that, but the words expressed here are amazing. i wish that i could sit here and say that i understand your feelings completely but i can’t. i could just attempt. i’m sure, like some of the others, i’d like to read more of your thoughts/stories of what you experienced while away. greedy on my part? sure. you bet. but experiences like this combine so much emotion, so much to say/write. ok, i’m yapping. thanks, meg. you’re a great writer.

    always,
    reno romero

  11. Matt says:

    When his thunderclap of a body collides with my own, the impact takes my breath.

    That line, right there, floored me. This is already a story full of weight and impact, but that one right there just leaps across the room to slap you in the face.

    Nicely done.

  12. Meg Worden says:

    Thank you Matt. So nice.

  13. aviva says:

    meg, this made me cry, and made my heart swell with pride and gladness over your fortitude. your son is lucky to have such a mother.

  14. Sara Habein says:

    “Enjoy” seems like the wrong word, but this was a great, heart-punching read. I look forward to the whole book.

  15. Zoe Brock says:

    Meg. In just one short read of your suffering, survival and grace you’ve made me feel stronger and braver and more capable. Thank you. Solar has great taste in people, just don’t ever let you set up with one of exes 😉

    xxxxxxxx zoe

  16. Hank Cherry says:

    Such incredible beauty here. I visit a friend in a federal joint. Every couple years they move him around, and the places somehow always look the same, from the entrance the towers the visiting room to the small to nothing towns they put the federal prisons.

    The inmate number thing you did jumped out at me. It is so dehumanizing.

    I feel like I know you now. Thanks!

    Hank.

    • Meg Worden says:

      So glad you stopped by, H. Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, the Feds are strange. so oddly tidy, contained in every sense of the word.
      Say Hey to your friend from me next time your there.
      My heart goes out to anyone locked in this system.

      Cheers, Friend.
      Meg

  17. Dana says:

    Meg, I look forward to reading the rest of your story. Beautifully told.

  18. Meg Worden says:

    Thanks, Dana. I can’t wait till I finally get the whole thing out. 🙂

  19. Melissa Worden Thornton says:

    Meg,

    It is so lovely for me to be able to read you writing about a life that began the reason you are my role model today. You have a magical and admirable way of breathing and moving through life so honestly and beautifully. I enjoy reading every word and my love and respect for you grows with each one. I am a better person knowing you and am eternally grateful! Xo, M

    • Melissa Worden Thornton says:

      Of course, I would love you even if you weren’t brilliant and amazing. But it is definitely an experience for me to soak up your writing, especially when I am in place of complete confusion and frustration. You make it easier for me to size up, or size DOWN rather, my obstacles and look for solutions rather than sit in the torturous hell of delusion that they are unsurmountable. 🙂 xo,M

      • Meg Worden says:

        So nice to hear from you here, Mel. You are so sweet. Wish you were closer so we could make playlists and laugh through the night.

        xoxo

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