Saturday, August 13, 2005

The prologue

Christ. I’m standing in a muggy courtroom in a small god-only-knows-where town in Tennessee, my husband by my side, waiting to see my son. My barely-twenty son. The one locked in my memory, adorable, grinning, ten years old—netting crabs on sun-stroked afternoons at the beach. Today he will be wearing a uniform of wide black and white bands. The attorney has prepared me: he won’t look good.

The judge is speaking. “Somebody tell me when the prisoners get here. It’s hot in the holding room—there isn’t any air conditioning back there.”

He proceeds with cases from the audience, petty theft and unpaid rent. The small room is packed, standing room only. I peruse the other attendees: a girl with her arm in a cast; a woman slowly rocking a sleeping baby; a wizened man with no teeth; several well-dressed people.

The attorney appears, stomach over his belt and eyebrows every which way: come with me. We follow him into a side room, a room with a conference table and four chairs. In front of two of the chairs are grey felt hats, meticulously positioned. The owners of the hats appear, a pair of young troopers, clean cut, compassionate eyes, barely older than my boy.

The attorney introduces us. “These here are the officers who stopped your son.”

We shake hands and a potent moment hangs in the air before they begin to tell the story. Bobby first. “It was evident to me when I stopped him that he has a very serious problem. At first we thought trafficking: car from Illinois, his license from Florida, no suitcase with him. Those are all signs of trafficking. But he only had two hypodermic needles with him, and two constricting arm bands. No scales, no baggies. What really surprised me was all the caps all over the car—you know, those little caps that come on the needles? They were everywhere. And the metal tins they cook the stuff in, those were all over the place, too—front seat and back.”

He stops, seeing my sudden tears, and his tone gets gentler. “I don’t mean to upset you, Ma'am.”

Of course not. Why would he want to upset me? He’s just a Tennessee law enforcement officer keeping a junkie off the streets. He doesn’t know me, doesn’t know my boy. Doesn’t know what led to this point.

Doesn’t know about that terrible day last Christmas, when I first began to drown.

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