I like being alone. When my house is empty, except for me, I look forward to the quiet, and can go days without speaking to another human being. And not miss it. So when I wrote ‘Mistress’ and had Jayson leave on his solo, cross-country vision quest, I envied him a little bit. And it made me wonder what I would do, where I might go, if I were so fortunate one day to have the time, the means and the will to do one of my own.
And from those imaginings, I wrote–and continue to write (without an aim or schedule, whenever the spirit moves me) ‘Open Road: Jayson’s Travel Journal’, the companion novella to ‘Mistress’. Here’s an excerpt for Blog Stop
Wednesday Thursday (’cause I missed yesterday):
There was one dude on the block who kept a journal when I was inside. Muslim brother. He wrote all the time, day and night. Kept his head down, his lips moving as he wrote. I couldn’t tell whether he was praying or talking to himself. One time I asked him what he was mumbling about and he smiled.
“Talking to Allah, my brother,” he told me. “Al-Raḥmān, al-Raḥīm.”
His name was Ahmad. He never got into it with anybody and everyone left him alone. He wasn’t a prison Muslim, he was a real deal zealot, who was inside because he’d beat his teenage daughter to within an inch of her life when he found out she had a boyfriend. His case was in the papers and on television a lot because folks were a still looking cross-eyed at all Muslims because of 9/11.
I asked Ahmad about his case one time. Which broke code. You weren’t supposed to ask anybody about their case. But I asked because Ahmad looked like the most peace-loving dude you would ever meet, and seeing on television what he’d done to his own flesh and blood, I just couldn’t believe it. That he would do something like that.
“Man’s law, or the law of the Allah?” he’d responded. “Which should I choose? Lā ilāha illā Allāh”
Some of the other Muslims told me Ahmad was full of shit. And that if he truly followed God’s law, he would understand compassion. Rumor had it, Ahmad planned to finish the job he’d started on his daughter when he got out.
The only thing I guess I learned from Ahmad was that writing things down can be purifying. So I’m writing.
When I left New York yesterday, it was already dark. I thought about leaving at first light, but didn’t know whether I’d want to leave if I waited one more day. Especially after seeing Keisha. She cried before I left. Real tears, fat drops rolling down her face and dripping off the tip of her chin. And I wanted to stay to comfort her, but knew I couldn’t because then it might get really hard to leave. And I had to, because I have some things to work out, and on top of all that, I’m not sure I trust her. I want her. I like her; hell, maybe more than like her . . . but I definitely don’t trust her. And what kind of messed-up shit is that? To want a woman you can’t even trust.
So I had to leave.
Right now I’m in a Motel 6 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I don’t know why except that I saw the exit signs and decided to check it out, because of that Billy Joel song. From my room, it looks like a depressing place to live. The song was depressing too now that I think about it—all about how someplace that was brimming and alive practically died.
That’s how I feel sometimes. Like maybe I died when I was inside. Not physically, but in other ways. In prison, I was Inmate # 01-B-8746 and now I’m not even that. And I’m not the Jayson Holmes who went in either–that cocky bastard got the shit beat out of him three days after he went in. So who am I now?
That’s what this journey cross-country is about. Finding out.
I won’t write anymore tonight. Too tired. A little scared. Wondering what I hell I’m doing traveling hundreds of miles away. I had to tell my P.O. because I have a five years tail on my sentence. He didn’t have to approve it but he did. His name’s Chester. Older white dude who looks like he’s been doing this for dog-years. He has runny eyes, a cloudy blue. Behind his glasses he stared at me when I told him my plan to travel and see the country. I expected him to ask me why, or what I was planning to do out there. I expected him to be suspicious. But he didn’t seem to be.
“I hope you find it,” he said.
I didn’t even tell him I was looking for anything. I didn’t even know for sure that I was. But I guess I am looking for something. And I hope to God I find it, too.
Journey: Jayson’s Travel Journals
I thought about heading south to Philly, but that seemed kind of obvious. So instead, today I headed west towards the Appalachian Mountains in the direction of Pittsburgh. I stopped once, so I could call Chloe. She sounded like she was crying but trying to hide it. I think she believes I’ll never come back. I wanted to tell her that the only way for me to really ‘come back’ is to go on this trip. See, I never really came back home from prison. For the longest time, working in Rey’s garage, going home to that small room in his house, sleeping with a bunch of women I didn’t care about … that wasn’t me, that was me in limbo, waiting for Jayson to come back. Like I was asleep and going through the motions of the dream, waiting to wake up.
In Altoona, a woman tried to pick me up in the parking lot of a gas station with a little diner attached. I thought she was just looking for a quick hook-up, and was thinking that maybe she had a hotel room nearby or something. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days and her breath smelled like crap, too. It took me a minute to realize that she was a hooker, one of those they call ‘lot lizards’, who walk through truck stops and do tricks for like ten or twenty bucks a pop. And once I realized what she was, I saw about a dozen other women like her. Kinda messed with my head a little, that I couldn’t even recognize hookers when I saw them.
What the hell am I doing out here?
My cousin Ty used to pay crackheads to suck his dick once in awhile. I could never do it. When he made fun of me, I told him it was because I was too attached to my dick and couldn’t imagine putting it just anywhere. He looked like he didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. Ty. Stupid-ass Tyrone. One of these days, I’ll stop being mad at him, but I’m sure as hell not there yet. Not even close.
I wanted to call Keisha when I found a motel for the night. Just before I closed my eyes, I thought about her and the way she says my name. Jaaay, with the ‘aaaa’ elongated, like she’s caressing it with her tongue. Caressing it with her tongue. Yeah, that’s just what I need to be thinking about right now. I shouldn’t be thinking about that, or about her at all. So I’m going to just stop. For now anyway.
Until maybe tomorrow.
I fell in love while I was locked up. Nah. Not with a dude. Although that does happen, even to guys who weren’t gay before they came in. I have a theory, that the human heart is like that—it seeks out something, or someone to love. And if you live an unfulfilled life, it’s only because you never found that person, or that passion which filled your heart to capacity.
My third year in, I thought I found that. Her name was Donna Pierce. She was a law student in her final year of school who came onto the unit as part of a re-entry program. They showed us films about guys on the inside preparing to get out and coming to terms with the things they’d done, the time they missed and the lives they’d ruined. After the film, Donna led a discussion where I guess we inmates were supposed to see something of ourselves in the men on film.
Though she put up an image like she was comfortable sitting around on the unit with a bunch of beefy, horny convicts, I could tell that Donna was nervous. She didn’t know what to do with her arms and legs when she sat and spent lots of time arranging them, probably trying not to be too alluring. But hell, when you’re locked up, it doesn’t take much. Anything that bears hints of the feminine will make your dick hard. And Donna bore more than just hints. She had shoulder-length hair that she wore out whenever she came to the prison, and a deep, rich complexion that reminded me of Belgian dark chocolate. And her eyes, black as coal.
I remember the eyes and complexion now, but at the time I was more focused on her hands, slender and graceful, the slight hint of breasts she had—they were small, but more than enough for a dude in prison—and her beautiful, curvaceous hips. I went to watch her films, but never participated in the discussion afterwards, though I sat there staring at her. I mean, I hadn’t done a crime, so what the hell did any of that have to do with me, right? That’s what I thought at the time; that I was somehow going to come out of prison different or better than the other dudes who actually had done a crime. Stupid.
One day, after one of her screenings, Donna approached me. Usually the guys descended on her like locusts, asking questions they didn’t care about the answers to. This time, as I was about to saunter away, she stopped me. She didn’t just stop me, she touched me. She touched my arm. That was like lighting a fucking forest fire, having a woman touch me, all soft and gentle like that.
“Hey,” she said. “What’s your name? You always come to these discussions, but you never talk.”
“I’m Jayson,” I said.
And just that quickly, just because she looked at me in the eye, and because she was female and pretty and touched me with an intention other than custody and control, I was in love. Donna came back many times after that, and for a while, it seemed like she loved me too.
But that’s a story for another day.
The plan was that I would go due west toward Indiana, but a couple days ago, I woke up and decided that maybe I would drive north to Michigan instead, look across the lake and see Canada. I thought about maybe even going to Canada. Now that I have a felony conviction, traveling to other countries is going to be tricky. I can go to Canada and Mexico though, because all I’ll need to get back in is my drivers’ license.
Thinking about all the things that aren’t so easy anymore got me kind of moody, so I stopped in Bowling Green, then I saw signs for a place called Defiance and decided that that was where I needed to be. I drove into town around three a.m. and for about six miles there was a cop car behind me. My underarms got all prickly and sweaty and I started running down in my mind all the things I might get stopped for, and what might happen if they ran my license and realized I was an ex-con.
But they pulled off and went in a different direction after a while and I could breathe easy. Or I tried to, but my heart was still beating so hard I thought I might pass out. So I pulled over and about a mile up the road saw the sign for Marriott hotel. That’s way above budget for me, but I went anyway. And that’s where I’ve been for the last couple of nights. Whenever I try to make myself leave, my heart starts beating hard again and I get clammy palms. I think they’re panic attacks.
Isn’t that some funny shit? I never got panic attacks in prison, but I’m getting them now that I’m supposedly “free”?
This morning when I got tired of watching television, I called my sister, but she wasn’t home. Her husband answered and he tried to make conversation, asked me how I was, what I was seeing. He told me about deep vein thrombosis, which I guess can happen if you sit for too long, like on super long road-trips like the one I’m taking. I listened and thanked him and asked him to have Chloe call me when she got home. I’m being an asshole to him and I know it, but I can’t help it. He feels like an interloper in my life, like he just swooped in and took up possession of the only remaining person in the world who really, really knew me before …
So anyway, talking to him wasn’t satisfying and no way was I going outside. Not ready for that yet. So I called Keisha. She picked up the phone and I could hear how happy she was that it was me. She sounded breathless. Hearing her voice calmed me. I let her talk. She has a job at a coffee shop; she asked me where I was and whether I was excited to finally be on the move. I lied and told her that I was, then I told her to tell me all about her job, just so I could hear her voice.
While she talked I closed my eyes and pretended she wasn’t hundreds of miles away. With the phone on speaker, next to me on the pillow, it felt like she was right here. I already miss her. I can’t believe how shitty this feels. She’s too beautiful to be alone for long.
It’s April Fools’ Day, which makes perfect sense since that’s what I feel like. A fool.