November brings a temporary peace to the compound. The waning light of early dusk casts us beneath a collective shadow. The cold winds and rains unite us against a common enemy. The shorter days persuade us to forgive. November helps cool the blood and steady pulse after the heat and desperation of summer.
During the fall of my junior year in college, Jamie and I, along with another couple, took to spending our Friday nights at a Denny’s that straddled the border between a poor Hispanic neighborhood and Dallas’s gay club scene. In the evenings between six and eight, the restaurant was a mob of Mexican families on tight budgets. But by three in the morning, after the clubs ran dry (Texas state law prohibits bars from selling alcohol past two A.M.), the restaurant was a colorful after-party of queers and drag queens with mad appetites for scrambled eggs and hash browns. It was during the between lull, after the last of the Mexicans had mopped up their children from the floors and paid their bills and while the queers were still at home warming up on vodka shots, that my friends and I would arrive for our weekly gatherings.
Ricky always worked Friday nights. He was a wispy, flamboyant man who played mother hen to us four young college boys. When he wasn’t at our table lavishing us with free milkshakes and obscene amounts of extra napkins and sugar packets, our conversations often centered around what we imagined Ricky’s personal life must be like. We suspected, with amusement, that despite his bubbly personality, he was secretly a very lonely man (we assumed that any middle-aged person who waits tables at Denny’s would have to be lonely), and that if we ever found some other place to eat on Friday nights, poor Ricky, distraught by our absence, would be driven to self-destruction and wind up hanging himself in the employee bathroom.
Later, after we’d had our laughs and tipped our penances, I felt frightened that the world might be as cruel as me.
I called Jamie recently–he and his newly wed partner live in Paris–and he asked me if time seems to be moving faster; it’s been a year and a half since I surrendered. I said it was, and he said that was good. But time moving fast isn’t the point. I’m not anxious for my twenties to expire. I’m not looking forward to starting my life from scratch at the age of thirty-five, and with a criminal record. The psychologist told me once that I was lucky for getting prison out of the way while I’m still young. “Be glad you’re not like some of my clients who get sent away in their sixties,” he said. “you’ll still have your whole life ahead of you when you get out.” I disagreed. I told him I’d rather enjoy my youth and spend old age behind bars instead. “Prison can’t be much different from a convalescent home, anyway.” I said. “They both have bland food and on-site medical care.”
Of course, they’re not the same. I would’t want to die in prison. We had a man die a few months ago. He went into medical complaining of chest pains, and the nurse told him it was indigestion. She suggested he buy Tums from the commissary. The next day, he collapsed dead of a heart attack in the middle of the yard.