“At the L.A. County Jail” by Rachel Walters

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I’m at the Los Angeles County Jail, also known as the Twin Towers. The right hand of my wristwatch clicks, as I wait for the loudspeaker to spit out my family name. Just a few hours ago I woke up naked on my living room floor, panicking at the buzzing sound of my phone. I knew whatever it was was going to make me relive something regrettable I said or did. I only remember Christmas lights spinning, the smell of holiday spiced rum, and my fists pounding cement. My head now felt like Christmas lights barely flickering like they were left on until June. Maybe there’s a lesson here I wonder as I look around me. This correctional facility waiting room is crammed with bloodlines begging to become corrected. There are so many children here accompanied by their mothers all visiting their fathers and sons. Generations lost to an unforgiving system. My head aches as the children run around like a stampede as they impatiently wait to see their parents. Their mothers tugging at them and giving them slight reprimands to calm down. Nobody wants to do anything to call attention to themselves in the presence of so many police officers and sheriffs. To the left of me sits a man in a sweater, he looks like the kind of father I saw on television. My dad was one of those parents that only come around on the holidays or birthdays, if you’re lucky. This man wears glasses that have read bedtime stories. He leans over to me, looking away from his book. He begins to tell me a story that I don’t ask for but I listen anyway. He tells me how his son shattered the mirror of his girlfriend’s young face and left behind only beautiful shards of stained glass and a broken bedside clock that no longer ticks. They were in some cheap motel in the desert. He was a rehab runaway and schizophrenic. It wasn’t until someone complained about the smell of overripe flesh that the housekeepers found him next to her body. He was still pressed against her like pages of an unopened motel bible—I can’t help but wonder if they could smell his regret over the rot. Some stories are better saved for the news I think and hope my face isn’t showing too much horror. The man says his son shouldn’t be here and my head decides to take a break from pounding. I overhear other people sharing their stories of what brought them here. What brought them to this room a few days before Christmas. I imagine what it must be like to sit in a cold concrete box, no family, no real food, just alone with your thoughts. The Father’s voice tightens like a clergy collar when he asks why I am here. I tell him that my dad snubbed out the butt of his cigarette on my sister’s ashtray eyelid. He calls him a bad man. I think to myself, at least he didn’t snuff out a life. My last name echoes overhead so loud, even I am embarrassed by it. I wish the man well. I don’t yet know the impact that that story will have on me. All of the hours I will dedicate to searching for him and for her, only to find the same sad story over and over. All of the tears these families must have shed at the same sad story of the man who kills the woman over and over. I enter the phonebooth where I see my father behind scratched plexiglass, with nothing but time in the world. Yes bad. Yes a man. Who played Candyland cross-legged on the living room floor and they don’t know that you always let me win. I feel a sense of gratitude pass though my body and for a split second I am not morning the father I wished I had. I may have never had a bedtime story read to me but I still turned out somewhat functioning. The headache is back to remind me why I am here. That we are all capable of so many bad choices. We are all only ever one bad decision away from being locked behind cold concrete on Christmas Day.

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