Friday, April 13, 2007

"Hope I die before I get old"

I was what? Fifty-two, I think. Some nerve, huh? In some of the other pictures, you can see the tattoo on my upper left arm - the tarot card, Strength - a lady closing a lion's jaws, so I had to be over fifty. The tattoo was a gift for my 50th birthday. My friend, beautiful Cristina, is the photographer and later we put her in the body suit and I take the camera. The cats needed no costumes.

Some people buy a little red sports car. For the pictures, I am a little red sports car.

See how thin I am? I'm not bragging, here. I am thin because my marriage is finished and my husband and I are painfully living together in the house we couldn't sell for nine agonizing months. I can barely eat or sleep. I am thin because I'd come to love someone wrongfully serving a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit. I am thin because my pre-fifty world and all my notions of how it works have collapsed. At first it caved a little on the sides, got soft and wobbled. It wasn't long before it couldn't hold at all. I am thin because I no longer belong anywhere. And I am the bad guy. I'm the one leaving a marriage everyone used as an example of "See? It can work."

I am thin and wearing a see-through spider lace body suit, posing for a camera because I have rediscovered that I am still a sexual being and because the pictures will make a man in a far-away prison cell happy. Just for a day, maybe, an hour, he'll forget the walls and the shouting male voices and the way it all closes in - a constant menace. Just for a little, he'll just be a man looking at the woman he loves. I can't send him a book or a pair of socks - but I can send the pictures.

I am thin because I've become one of those talk-show women - or at least that's how I feel. I don't feel like I belong to any race, to any culture. And people I thought would credit me with some intelligence are looking at me like I'm some kind of geek. Not all people. My close friends understand some, or they worry, and sometimes they're as outraged as I am at what I'm learning about how justice works. I have crossed a line and the only thing I know how to do is keep walking.

At this time, I'm writing. I am devouring books on race, justice, the penal system. I publish some writing. Preaching to the choir. I do research for a Prison Action Committee. Each step I take is one step farther on the wrong side of the looking glass - where the rules are backwards or tricks of the dark. Each step strips away a little of my privileged naivety. White. Middle-class. Surely that kind of thing doesn't happen here.

I am fifty-two or thereabouts. I have been patted down, screamed at by guards, processed through metal and drug detectors, and ordered to leave because the prison regulations for visitors didn't tell me that I could not bring a purse and store it in my locker.

I have walked, barefoot in the rain, high heels in hand, a mile or so through Southern Missouri farmland to leave the offending purse with surprised and kind strangers at an auto body shop in the middle of nowhere, down the highway. I have traveled over 1500 miles for the visit. The people at the auto body find someone to drive me back, bless them.

I am fifty-two and I am exhausted beyond belief. I am thin. I am a raw nerve resting against a high tension wire. I am grief and stupid bravery. I am love and loss and horrible awareness and can't be reasoned with.

"Cowgirl of the century" Marko called me - understanding more than I could let myself, and even as young as he was then, what kind of price I'd pay.

I look at the picture and have ambivalent reactions. I'm glad I'm not there anymore. I've learned not to tilt at the world and that screaming doesn't wake the dead. I've learned to swallow the things that break my heart and make me rage. I've learned that bravery is best used with careful strategy and needs to be balanced with a little care for life and metaphorical limb.

And I think...that even though I was more brave than wise, I am not sorry. For any of it. But most of all, I am not sorry for having loved.

Rather my life as it is and was than to let death find me saying, "What? But I still have to...."