A Merry Little Christmas

I shared several poems with my creative writing class tonight including an untitled piece by Peter Meinke:

This is a poem to my son Peter
whom I have hurt a thousand times
whose large and vulnerable eyes
have glazed in pain at my ragings
thin wrists and fingers hung
boneless in despair, pale freckled back
bent in defeat, pillow soaked
by my failure to understand.
I have scarred through weakness
and impatience your frail confidence forever
because when I needed to strike
you were there to be hurt and because
I thought you knew
you were beautiful and fair
your bright eyes and hair
but now I see that no one knows that
about himself, but must be told
and retold until it takes hold
because I think anything can be killed
after a while, especially beauty
so I write this for life, for love, for
you, my oldest son Peter, age 10,
going on 11.

The lines “pale freckled back” and “beautiful and fair” had the class convinced that the poem was about molestation (which the poem is so obviously not about). This led to a discussion on father-son relationships and masculine-feminine qualifiers in which the inmates decreed it acceptable for a father to call his son “handsome” but not “beautiful,” which is, in their words, “gay.”

We also went over metaphors and similes, and I pointed out that the progression of seasons – spring, summer, fall, and winter – mimics the progression of life – birth, youth, decline, and death. (Apparently middle age is irrelevant; you’re either young and fabulous or old and decrepit.) It’s ironic that winter, the season we associate with the birth of Jesus Christ, should also symbolize death.

Figuratively speaking, winter of 2009 was sort of death. technically it was fall – mid-November – when the FBI agents showed up at my office, but it may as well have been winter. It was cold outside. And when the two agents had me follow them back to their car to sign some paperwork (they wanted permission to use my GigaTribe identity to expose other perpetrators), the older woman, the one in houndstooth, suggested I stand in the sunlight to keep warm. It occurred to me later that I was probably being photographed.

When I returned home that evening, I was surprised to find my apartment door still locked and standing. I expected it to have been knocked down and flattened, the door frame splintered by a swarm of incoming police and special agents (it’s funny how much of our knowledge of law enforcement comes from television). But the door was fine, just like the nice FBI lady promised it would be. “Your landlord lent us the spare,” she soothed. “We didn’t want to do anything to damage the historical integrity of the building.”

At first glance, the apartment looked the same as I had left it that morning. A still life. but then I noticed the throw blanket draped across the sofa. The careful folds of the fabric had been rearranged. The chair was slightly askew. And come to think of it, I could have sworn those books on the coffee table had been stacked face up, their spines pointed toward the kitchen. With keys still in hand, I stepped softly across the living room and peered down the hallway. Sure enough, the desk sat vacant, my computer gone.

You know that spot where you typically offload belongings – keys, mail, wallet – when you arrive home? sometimes it’s a foyer console or a bedroom dresser. Or maybe it’s that four feet of kitchen counter you refer to as the “bar” or “dinette.” The police had my spot pegged. that’s where I found the search warrant papers, right there beside the microwave where they knew I wouldn’t miss them. In fact, the papers looked so unassuming in their would-be proper place that I almost did miss them thinking they might have been mail from the day before – a utility bill or takeout menu. I stared at them with detached amusement.

The search warrant contained two parts. the first was a list of items the police were authorized to take: computers, electronics, recording equipment, physical media, books, tapes, magazine, journals – anything that might relate tot the charge; the second part was a handwritten list of items that were actually taken: two computers, one external hard drive, an XBOX 360, and seventy-something burned CDs and DVDs (they missed the USB thumb drive I kept in a drawer in the kitchen). after reading the warrant, I tore it up and flushed it down the toilet.

While I set about putting the apartment back together, and I considered all of the latex-gloved hands that had rifled through my belongings, hands that had combed through ever drawer, behind every cabinet, beneath every cushion. And then, after I had finished refolding and reorganizing, I sat on my unmade bed and cried.

I didn’t see thee the irony of the situation then – that my own embarrassment and shame were apropos of my victim’s sufferings.

To offset this year’s Seasonal Effective Disorder (medical-speak for the Winter Blues), I’ve kept my mind occupied with books, crosswords, Sudoku, and by watching the entire Myth Busters series on DVD in the library – anything to keep my mind off Christmas. I only had one minor breakdown: Terry Gross played a recording of Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” last night on Fresh Air, and I nearly opened a vein.

Earlier this afternoon, the staff corralled us into the chow hall to pick up our Christmas Goodie Bags, the most anticipated of all BOP offerings (although inmates complain they keep getting smaller every year). Each three-pound bag contained a hoard of potato chips, corn chips, caramel popcorn, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, off-brand Oreo’s, single-cup packets of Maxwell House instant coffee, peanut butter crackers, Lance-brand cheese crackers, Ritz-brand cheese crackers, mini Milky Ways, “fun-size” Snickers, glazed donuts, licorice whips, donut sticks, cereal bars, Jaw Breakers, Lemonheads, Atomic FireBalls, and cheese poofs. We also received a packet of instant cocoa in a Styrofoam cup.

I betcha the Styrofoam cup is the first thing confiscated at the next shakedown.

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