I got smacked in the face with my wealth yesterday. I thought I was helping her out, giving her a ride to see her son in prison. I hadn’t spent much time considering why she couldn’t drive herself. I hadn’t spent much time wondering what all separated her experience from mine. I could only see how we were sisters, how we were united in the terrible experience of motherhood from afar, behind razor wire and across county lines, accessible only when the bureaucracy that contains our children determines. I saw our connectedness. I didn’t know that string was a barely visible thread. My earnest heart was blind to all, my desire so great to help that I missed all the needs I could have been fulfilling.
I picked up Mom and Grandma to drive them to the prison an hour and a half away. We stowed Grandma’s walker in the trunk and began to know each other. I discovered that this was a surprise visit, the son didn’t know we were coming as I had assumed. I remember all the visits with Arrow, carefully planned. He would call the morning of the visit to see if we had left yet, he would call when he thought we were getting close. His anxiety was so great, his ability to wait in short supply. He always knew we were coming for a visit. Many times he would call just as we were turning into the prison grounds or were half way there to alert us to a change: a lockdown in the entire prison, visits canceled for all due to a shortage of staff, a holiday that was changing the regular schedule. We would all share our disappointment as we turned around, sought a park or play place for Plum, headed home. Still, he always knew. Because we had money to send to keep his phone account funded, I couldn’t survive otherwise. I couldn’t. Even when the $20 I sent was the last that I had, it was in my mind a necessity. Now I see that is a luxury. I knew it somewhere back then but that is how I survived my son being incarcerated. We talked almost daily, for 2 1/2 years. This mom and grandmother did not have that luxury. The $20 would have been spent a hundred times over on other necessities. Real necessities. So no, her son did not know we were driving there for a visit and maybe could have saved us a trip but was surely saved the excruciating disappointment of knowing his mother was just that close, only to be denied.
As we drove we talked about the all the hurdles one must jump in order to actually make it inside to visit. We were celebrating that we were finally making the drive. I mentioned guards telling us our clothing didn’t meet the criteria for the visiting room, even after we had carefully checked and rechecked before leaving home. Mom asked me if her skirt would be okay. A quick glance to the backseat told me I had missed that detail in the loading of the walker, in the rush to go. No, no, I think that will be an issue. Let’s stop at the closest dollar store and just grab some pants. No worries, we have had to do it several times. I assured her not to be concerned, it doesn’t have to be the prettiest thing, just do the job. I am an ass sometimes. She picked out a pair of pants that had a matching tank top she would save for later, I pulled out my card to pay as she promised to pay me when she got a check again (I declined the offer) and she went to change. She raved about her new pants. She called her boyfriend. She told her mom she has a new matching top. Stopping to buy throw away clothes just to get in to see my son is a luxury. Stopping to buy clothes to see hers was a bonus gift, something that made her feel special and excited and new. Later I realized that stop made the day more bearable, she at least got a new outfit. From the dollar store. A luxury.
The day was a bust, we were denied the visit even though the hours are given on the website and on the answering machine. We will try again. But more than that, I was given a chance to have my wounds examined, aired bit, determine just how fresh or healed they were. I realized that while my Arrow is mad at me now for boundaries set after his release, I know I supported him to my utmost ability while he was experiencing the worst of what the justice system has to offer addicts. I know that he and I are outliers. I know that while we suffered, our suffering was still in luxury. He had a continual flow of pictures of his home and his son. He had Amazon deliveries of books and newspaper subscriptions. His commissary account was never empty. His visits were as often as allowed. We never were unable to see him due to our own economic hardships: lack of transportation, inability to purchase clothing to meet fuzzy standards, basic reading skills that allowed us to complete the tricky forms. We live richly and he did so while in prison.
They asked if we could stop at the local quick mart to grab a gallon of milk, they had enough food stamps to cover it. I wanted to take them to the larger grocery store but they had arranged a ride for that later, to do bigger shopping. They just needed milk for now. Shopping at the quick mart is how people in poverty are drained of their money. I hated sitting in the car while Mom went into buy milk. We don’t ever buy milk there, we know it is way too costly. That is luxury, the ability to save money by shopping wisely. She bought 2 gallons to save a trip. My heart sank as I watched her lug them to the car. She could have gotten 3 at the grocery store in my end of town.
Many of my bubbles were burst yesterday and I am sitting in the mess of it. I am newly wounded, newly convicted that I have much I don’t need or even want and others survive on so little. Of course I knew that already but when smacked in the face with it as I drove my car and carried passengers who ask how much I will charge to pick up their son when he is finally released. I know I have more to do in showing I am giving of me, not holding out my hand to take from them. When Mom asked if we could maybe text each other sometimes, now that I have her number, I agreed. She asked if maybe I would send her a prayer sometimes. This seems like a starting place. Where I can redeem myself from my rich girl preconceptions and remember that we are actually still sisters. We are united in hurting over our children. We share a Father. This Father wants me to see His hurting children and get my wounds reopened and get hurting alongside them because I have given all of me. One ride to a prison is just not going to be enough. That would be a luxury.