When I got back this evening after walking the track, it was to find Gordo weeping at the desk in my cell. He was telling Rod that he didn’t know what to do, whether to call, whether to write. He said he hadn’t slept or eaten since she broke the news to him yesterday over the phone. Rod attempted humor as a means of consolation: “But if you don’t eat, you won’t be Gordo. You’ll be Flaco.” But Gordo was inconsolable. His girlfriend of five years, with whom he has two daughters, is pregnant with another man’s child.
My former cellmate Bo once told me that prison relationships never last more than three years. Old couples are the one exception; couples beyond their fifties usually stick together. “At that age,” Bo said, “nobody else wants them anyway.”
Lyle was the first person I told about the indictment. I came home from work at lunchtime and found him sitting in the living room watching Food Network. Ina Garten was cooking a roast chicken for Jeffrey. Lyle was so happy to see me; the poor kid thought I had come to take him out for a surprise lunch. A surprise indeed. I sat down beside him on the couch, muted Ina, and reached into my shoulder bag for the indictment letter I had received that morning. “There’s something I need to tell you,” I said. His smile faltered. On TV, Ina, in her usual billowy blue button-up, was lathering a bird with butter, no doubt saying to her audience, “What could be bad about that?”
I removed the letter from its envelope–the return address read Federal Justice Department–and handed it to Lyle. I suppose it was the cowardly thing to do, to have him read about the indictment rather than tell him. But I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. Later when I told my parents, I called them “pictures” instead of pornography; and when I told my brother, I referred to the subjects as “teenagers” and “underage” instead of children. Euphemisms.
In the months leading up to incarceration, life had felt like a vacation approaching its end. I felt a sense of weary urgency to wring what little of paradise was left before packing up. The apartment became a sort of hotel room in which Lyle and I traipsed in and out of, a temporary home base where we counted the remainder of our money before heading out to dinners and movies and coffees and frozen yogurts. We lived by no agenda, by no routine. One night we decided to build a fort in the middle of the living room like we had done as kids, but it didn’t work. We sat defeated on the floor beside the overturned couch amidst blankets and pillows and strands of Christmas lights feeling old and depressed. I said to Lyle, “This used to be easier.”
I knew we wouldn’t last. I knew that, like an unwatered house plant, the relationship would eventually starve and wither. But I didn’t tell Lyle this. He was too young, too naive, too much in love. I assumed he’d figure it out on his own.
I suspect the relationship began to fail even before prison, when we realized that probation was no longer a possibility and that I’d serve at least five years in prison, more likely seven to ten according to my lawyer’s own (too low) estimate. As sentencing approached, as our vacation came to a close, I found a crumb trail of dating sites and text messages from another boy on Lyle’s phone. In retaliation (and out of fear that I’d be celibate for the next ten years), on the Saturday before I was due to surrender, I invited a man up to the apartment while Lyle was away at work and we fucked on the couch my parents bought me. Afterwards, while dressing, he looked around the bare living room and asked if I was moving somewhere. “Mississippi,” I said. “For work.”
Lyle and I lasted barely a year, nowhere near the three Bo predicted. The gulf that had appeared while we were still in the free world only widened after I came to prison. Lyle eventually graduated college; landed a job in nursing; bought a new car, a coupe, slut red. His friends and scene changed. He got his teeth capped and began tanning on weekends. The letters and visits stopped. Life happened.
The keys were finally turned in March when, during one of our weekly phone calls, Lyle, exasperated, said he couldn’t put his life on hold anymore. It sounded like a line fed to him by one of his new friends. And so the plant was dead, pulled and bagged. and I was grateful.