Tuesday, August 9, 2016

William Myrl; Letters to No One (57)

Dear No One, 

The problem with life is the lack of a coherent narrative. When you try to tell a story about it, the ending is superficial, circumscription by fiat. Stuff happens, and keeps happening, forever. The tale of my incarceration, as I relate it to you in my disjointed fashion, has a beginning but no end. One day it will end, and that ending will have absolutely nothing to do with any of the thousands of stories mucking about in the middle. Telling a story, one trouble of many is defining its salience, what is important and what is not. In jail, nothing is important. I mean its important to talk about nothing, because nothing is what happens, a lot.

When you're going to court, and there is a good bit of that for someone with charges in three jurisdictions, holding cells become a common experience. Some of them are small and empty, most are crowded and cramped. Hours are the usual price, though days sometimes drag by on concrete benches. You can look out and see an empty hallway, or a desk where felons like yourself can be processed. There may be a drunk tank nearby, or people being released. There is a hollow feeling, and everyone is tired. Thoughts circle, and people ask personal questions to distract themselves. It all bleeds into one mass now, whether I was alone or with others, like trying to remember every breakfast you've ever eaten. Sometimes I recited poetry in my head. The first I memorized was the Raven, my mom had to send it to me twice. They discarded the first copy because we weren't allowed to have things printed from a computer mailed to us. She had to hand write it.

I remember being so angry when the CO kept my mail the first time. I had been waiting for the poem, and they open it in front of you, then decide whether you can have it or not. You can't be angry about the big things, about being trapped, that wouldn't be healthy. Instead, we pin our hopes on trifles, stringing ourselves along from one kids meal to the next. Letters, meals, visits, television shows, new music or books; these things are buoys in dark water, and they begin to sink as soon as you take hold of them. So there is the next, and the next, until you reach land, or until you drown.

The library cart used to come around once a month, another buoy. It was never a specific day or time, and once a month was really once every four to six weeks. A library sat untouched behind plexiglass, we weren't allowed inside. They would have had to employ a librarian then.

Two books mattered that I remember. The first was a copy of Look Homeward Angel that I read to pieces, and the second was a small collection of Keats. Most of it has faded now, at my peak I memorized about two thirds of the thing - odes and sonnets mainly. This was something that couldn't be taken from me, even alone in a holding cell. Words repeated. I can recite the Raven backwards and out of order. I still do sometimes, standing in the pill line, five years gone from the jail where I learned it. The waiting doesn't stop, though the indignity of the tanks are thankfully removed, our lives are a series of waiting for things. It's the buoys again.

I've been too serious lately, I know. Next time, I'll tell you about how Spanky dressed as a baby, his sheet like a diaper, and took a shit in the middle of his cell while we all watched. Actually, that's pretty much the whole story. You couldn't look away.

William Myrl

Letters to No One 57

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