Sunday, April 30, 2006

From dustmop to death row

The camera started it.

My CPU sits in a compartment of my desk and backs against a wall. Stacked next to the desk are three file storage boxes and a red plastic milk carton full of dumb bells which have to be moved so that I can find a portal to plug the camera in.

This morning, the boxes are still in the middle of the floor. Yesterday’s obsessing over the camera means that my weekday housekeeping method - “Stop and drop” - has left the entire apartment littered with paperwork, clothing, coffee cups, scissors, tools, shoes and books. The debris is still in place. The laundry isn’t done. The dishes are crusting up nicely in the sink. I have one day in which to take care of this, so I don’t.

I don’t because suddenly I’ve hit the tipping point with stuff. Instead of tidying my unkempt house, I begin to empty a deep clothes closet which is hiding four more stuffed-to-the-top file storage boxes, suitcases, shoes I never wore in the first place, and broken electronics. They are shoved to the back so I can’t see them, but I know they’re there.

I’m thinking about something KD mentioned. We’d been discussing Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui” – a deceptively unassuming looking little book guaranteed to make the most sentimental of us pitch family photos, heirloom jewelry that reminds us of our nastiest aunt, 80% of our clothing and half our books. KD says that what got to her was the idea that every item of stuff we own has gravity. The musty, graveyard, dead energy of stuff accumulating dust in the closets, vampire like, begins to suck the energy out of our lives. Stuff that reminds of unpleasant times in our lives (even if the item is in use) is even worse. The photo album of your crummy marriage, the beautiful ring Boy or Girlfriend From Hell bought you, the thin clothes or fat clothes you no longer wear – vampires, all of them. Sucking the very life out of you.

I filled nine garbage bags with personal letters. Two file storage boxes alone were letters from a six year relationship. One was crammed with research I slaved to pull together. I held my breath and dumped them. Perfectly Useful office supplies. Gone. Floppy disks by the dozens, filled with writing I will have no trace of. Goodbye. Letters from family and friends, all but a few from my father. Adios.

The bags were so heavy I dragged them down the hall, bumped them, step to step down three flights of stairs, heaved up the huge hinged lid of the dumpster and pushed them in. I did this six or seven times, adding the dozen cardboard boxes you keep in case you need to return something in the original packaging
and – well – basically – anything else that didn’t immediately get out of the way.

I have three file boxes left and a clear path through my walk-in storage closet.
And I figure I’m less than halfway there. The books are next. Then the clothes. Then the filing cabinet.

Strange what I keep. A few photographs I’d forgotten I had. Letters written by my father when I was twenty-three or four.

And the documents from one case of wrongful conviction, one man I can’t forget -

My friend, Running Feet, on death row in Florida. He loved to fish and garden. He spent as much time in the woods as his life allowed. A man in his seventies who, one day, in a fit of exhaustion and hopelessness, sent me all his legal files. “You’re a writer,” he said, “I’m tired. Maybe you can do something with them.” The story is horrific. The miscarriages of justice so monumental that I don’t know where to begin.

There are police reports, forensic evidence reports, witness statements. And there is an appeal brief that covers much of Running Feet’s personal history. The testimony of a senior officer as to what his unit suffered in Korea when the Chinese army swept down in the thousands and his battalion was left to defend while the other troupes retreated. Stories of a man, barely literate, suffering brain injuries, scarred by abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, who was deemed fit to defend himself on murder charges, even though, during the trial, he leapt off an upper tier in the prison to a cement floor, trying to kill himself.

He named me Anigatogewi. The Cherokee word for, “wild potato,” because, he said, “wherever you plant it, it grows.” He asked his ancestors to look after me. He told me never, ever to send money. Just the letters.

Someday, Running Feet, I hope I can tell a little of your story. Meanwhile, your stuff is safe and sound. And your story is still here with me. Please tell your ancestors I haven't forgotten.

**Running Feet's legal name is George Porter and I've just found the following link: