The years in between

Di Lenola, Jose Lauriano



The Years In Between I by Jose Lauriano Di Lenola The tall gray wall encircles fifty-five acres of land. Spired towers with narrow steel doors, loop-hole windows and floodlights straddle the wall, like spines on a fearsome dragon. Rolling farm land, dotted with copses, comprises the surrounding landscape. The tops of a red brick village are visible inside the wall. A keep; infirmary, cafeteria and other structures provide the inhabitants’ needs. The keep, the highest building, supports a flat roof with a network of steel catwalks. Barred windows stand shoulder to shoulder) highlighted by brown stone pediments. At odd moments my eye will catch an unexpected detail of construction; transporting me back to the days of my youth. Awakening memories of story-book castles surrounded by mysterious forests, of sand castles topped with flags. If this were another time and place it could pass for a castle. It is a prison-—Attica. a marvel of twentieth—century architecture. And though it's a prison. at moments such as tonight. I reminisce in the beauty of what I see. Outside the window; snow has begun to fall. The puffy flakes; illuminated by a nearby tower, dance in pirouettes around brick buildings and through Di Lenola/The Years In Between Page 2 chain~link fences topped with rasor wire. The whisper of a winter wind carries through the night. while sporadic pings pop from steam pipes. Leaning into the cell door. I peer through bars out the window. forearms resting high upon the frame. When the flakes tire. they drift to the shadowy corners. Beyond the wall. trees wobble in the wind as they cling to the remnants of their leaves. Form and movement carry their own nuance. As the son of a deaf mother. American Sign Language was.the first form of communication I learned. Many years have passed since my hands have formed that beautiful language. but I still remember some signs. SNOW: a slow. downward sweep of the hands. fingers splayed and shimmering. TREE: forearm held parallel to the body. palm in. fingers spread and reaching to the sky. ASL is spatial. visual. iconic. and left an indelible mark upon my imagination. Thus the scene before me plays vividly in my mind. Then. all sounds fade into the background of my thoughts. while the snow continues to dance. In that instant. entranced. I'm swept away. Ascending through the window. over the wall and trees. back through flurries of time.i 1996. I was seventeen years old. in Great Meadow Correctional Facility. Spartan in design. no decorations. murals. or statues; nothing to lessen the .feel of prison. only bars and bricks. the spaces in between filled with the stink of sweat and layers of dirt. Shortly after arrival all inmates had to attend a two~week orientation program. On the first day I left the cafeteria and made my way outside. The summer sun hung radiant and fresh grass caressed my nose. As I rounded a _corner and approached the cluster of buildings. I stopped. some twenty yards away. a tree appeared inia sall patch of tended grass. Brown bark and green leaves blazed with color and texture. .Di Lenola/The Years In Between Page 3 I approached the tree, haltingly, feet heavy on hot pavement, and soothed my hands across its flesh. plucked leaves from lower branches. Ihe gritty texture pulsed with life. In a place where everything was smooth stone and steel, the sensation was electric.- Later that day. after the barrage of mind-numbing tests; I stood gazing at the tree. A convergence of memories formed around it. Old memories seen anew. the manner in which they replayed themselves is what I recall most. I stood on the grass beneath a lush tree, swathed in a mid—sumer sun that flitted between branches and leaves. Protectivelyl I clutched all my worldly possessions in small arms: a couple sets of worn clothes and a battered toy held together with electrical tape. I was five years old. Before me stood my new home: where I was to live with my aunt: uncle; and their daughter Angela. The gray paint shone. windows sparkled and unbroken lattice framed the porch. I recall wondering why I couldn't live with my ’ mother anymore: and not having the courage to ask. Smiling, reassuring, my aunt was at my side. Her nails long and manicured, fingers decorated with gold rings. With encouraging words she invited me into the house and showed me around. A clean smell lingering with a hint of oregano and garlic saturated the air. Trinkets in niches decorated several rooms. Flamingos in various poses. sand castles sprinkled with glitter and topped with flags. I enjoyed the castles most. The grit and glitter rubbed off onto my hands and turned up in unexpected places. That was my introduction to fantasy where the world was my own to create. Realms I frequented ‘throughout my childood. I believed there was a place for me: I had only to find it. Often I sought out small isolated corners of the house (under the dining Di Lenola/The Years In Between ' bage 4 table, behind a couch) and in the surrounding neighborhood. The tree in front of the house is one place I visited most. I'd sit beneath it as cars passed. The world around me would vanish, only thoughts of my mother remained: what _was she doing. was she well and did she miss me. During summer vacations my brother would visit for a few weeks. Many — afternoons we sat on the curb. under the tree: eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We must have eaten hundreds of sandwiches beneath its branches. Our favorite game was "my car." If you saw a car you liked you called "my car" before the other person had a chance. We also imagined all the places we could go in them. Most often my journeys took me to see my mother, but I never shared those thoughts with my brother. I was too young and self-contained to understand how our mother's absence affected him as well. A When the months of waiting turned into years, the hope I clung to of her eventual return crumbled. Beyond the ability of my mind to bear, I stopped visiting the tree. Amidst confusion and rejection. I retreated to a lonely box of silent suffering. And a thought stuck with me: if mother doesn't love me: I who would? It would be a long time before I trusted enough to open the lid and share what I kept inside. The significance of those moments didn't register at that time; Later: when childhood memories surfaced, demanding to be faced and reconciled: I ' understood. The tree was the place I went when I felt lonely. when I missed my V mother and wanted to remember her. However, it seems no matter how young or old. I'm always waiting for_her. Such is my hope for her love. Four years old, I'm sitting in a nauseous smoke-filled living room. My mother, in the next room, has been gone a long time. I'm waiting for her. Di lenola/The Years In Between I V» I _ V ' Page 5 A lamp on the coffee table in the center of the room radiates dim light: the shade a diaphanous purple velvet covered with grime. Muttering conversations echo from shadowy corners_where men lounge on threadbare couches. Occasionally a face emerges, laughing, followed by gesticulating hands. They float upon waves of dense smoke. I'm afraid of these strangers. Across from me sits a man. his hair disheveled. skin a light amber; and , eyes droopy; rocking forward and backl forward and back. Between us.a table and atop it random cigarette packs. stripped of their cellophane and scattered about. He picks one up and plays with it, rolling it between his pudgy fingers. Frequently my mother would bring me to that apartment, and it was the same every time. She in the bedroom. and the living room smoky; strange. I've revisited this memory countless times. The peculiar quality of it was not lost one me, but I could not unravel the significance. I In the late 1980's we moved out of Rochester to a small rural town thirty minutes south. An idyllic countryside of courteous neighbors.'undisturbed tranquility. and farmland whose smell drifted on the summer breeze. My aunt and uncle had had enough of the city and took us away from its 1 influences and to a better school. It didn't work out so well for me and wouldn't have mattered where we moved. The lack of a relationship with my mother affected me in many ways. Most significantly, feeling unloved and distrustful-of love when it did come. i V During childhood through much of my adolescence I lived as a quiet kid. Though I was well liked and easily made friends. I felt like an outsider looking for a way to fit in. Like most kids I thought I was the only one suffering. I grew to be fiercely private with my thoughts and feelings. A friend once said to me that after four years of knowing me, I had never shared Di Leno]-a/'-file YBEIS In Betfl I A ' Page 6 a persona1_feeling with him. I didn't know how to respond without opening up, trusting him. I deflected the statement as I deftly do when people tread too close. .There were many incidents.that contributed to these feelings, two I can easily recall: one with my mother, the other with my aunt. I One night I lay in my mother's kitchen, on a sticky linoleum floor, playing with my favorite toy: a red and black battery operated robot that bumed into things while making robot noises. It had bumped into my mother's Jboyfriend, a sinewy man who smelled of cigarettes and alcohol, one too many times. He grabbed the robot, smashed it to the floor and back-handed me~-sending me crashing after the pieces. .I looked to my mother, without signing, eyes pleading and eyebrows raised questioningly. In ASL, facial gestures speak as meaningfully as signing. My mother stomped her feet, yelled incoherently and admonished me for always. being in the way. I couldnlt understand what I did wrong, and why she didn't protect me. The other incident took-place with my cousin Angela. Before moving out of Rochester we got along well. But something changed when we moved to the country. My uncle traveled five to six months at a time playing the drums. While my aunt worked late into the evening as a manager in a restaurant. After school, Angela and I would have fierce fights. Often the result was me crying on the phone with my aunt, asking her to do something about our battles. She vwould threaten us with punishment, but never carried through with it and I finally had enough. I decided to run away. That way my aunt would get worried when I didn't come home. She would search for me, take me home in loving arms and stop the daily fights. She never came. Some of the resentment I felt for my mother Di Lénola/The Years In Beween -Page 7 transferred to my aunt. I laugh now. It was a silly plan. I often went out into the woods when I ‘felt lonely. spending hours on end walking the trails. Several years ago.I experienced a deep depression and loneliness —not a unique ordeal of prison- and called my aunt looking for reassurance. love: something. It was the first time she expressed her ideas of what I endured at the hands of my mother: "I knew living with your mother wasn't the best thing for you. and so we took you in--we're your family and-family will always be ‘ pthere." Because she didn't ask a direct question. I never confirmed nor denied her assumption. I.hung the phone up. still not reassured. still floundering in loneliness. I I visited my mother through those years in the country. Four weeks each summer and some holidays my aunt would send me to stay with my grandother: during those years my mother lived with her. My hope flowered and I thought that by spending time with her she would remember her love for me and.take me_' back. But she would seclude herself in her bedroom while I played with my toys outside her door. I My mother had everything she needed in her bedroom. emerging only to use the bathroom. go to the store. or to spend a tense moment with my grandother and me. one day she came running out of her room yelling. Through the hallway to the living-room she ran pointing to the floor, using the sign for "look.". and "don't you see." After that it frightened me to be around her and during future visits I avoided her as best I could. Eventually my grandmother moved to an apartment closer to where my aunt and uncle lived. My mother went back ‘.4 to the city. and I never asked to see her. My use of LSD started from wanting to belong. But the_addiction formed when its effects allowed me to block out memories and feelings about my youth Di Lenola/The Years In Between 1 ii I _ ‘ page 8 and mother. Through the use of LSD I crated my secret place: like the magical places I searched out and visited as a[was mine to envision any way I wanted, complete with denizens like me. I kept a journal —a small cloth covered book, littered with introspective writing- questing for answers. Curious about my childhood, I asked a friend to drive me around Rochester to find that smoky apartment of my youth. I didnft find it and so settled on a visit to the tree I knew as a child, searching for solace. I never found it and spent the rest of the day in a drug—induced ‘/ lstupor. .I am thirteen years old, in a soothing smoke—fi11ed living room. A coffee table separating two worn dirty couches make up the furniture. The table is covered in cigarette burns, with a lamp and a smallpile of marijuana. Under a shaded window mismatched stereo equipment and CD's litter the floor. The speakers stand like a choir around the room singing music from Nine Inch ' Nails. The bass singer sends shockwaves of air carving through inebriating smoke. Sitting across from me is the dealer, hunched over the table between us, rocking back and forth, back and forth, his bald head covered in a sheen of sweat. His ear-lobe pierced and stretched by a black indigenous hoop. With“ brown-stained fingers he removes a cellophane wrapper from a pack of cigarettes. Picking up a pinch of marijuana with fore—finger and thumb, the other three raised, reminds me-of the sign FICK. He places the marijuana in the "baggie,5 heedlessly twists it closed and hands it to me. A rolling wave of nausea and dizziness overcomes me. I leave, barely noticing the bag clutched in my hands. Standing in the driveway, mist seeps between skin and bone, a chill crawls up my spine. The sky is overcast, gray Di Lenola/The Years In Beween ‘ p ‘ - page 9 and dismal, foreboding. My stoned eyes take in the run-down drug house, feeling a familiarity in it. I turn and start humbly for home: weeping. It was a drug spot. I understand that childhood memory now. I was atva fucking drug spot at four years old, while my mother got high and earned her keep in the next room. The vision dims and recedes. I'm swiftly back in my cell. Thirty years old. It has been thirteen years since that summer day in Great Meadow. The I obsessive reliving of my childhood has abated, yet there are moments such as tonight, when I think of my mother. It took many years to understand how my relationship with her affected me. The hardest struggle was dealing with the conflicting emotions of love and resentment. I love her because she is my mother. Yet, because that love is dim and unsure, I feel less of a son to her, and guilty because of it. I despise her for her drugs and abusive men. she chose drugs over her own children and I ' can't understand that. For many years I wanted to blame her for all I endured, throw all of my hurt in her face, make her feel what I was denied. I could never go through with it. I wondered.what different choices I might have made had I stayed with her. Maybe my life would have turned out much worse. Like the memories of the tree, my mother reaches out to_me. Unfailingly, she sends cards for every occasion, signed, "Love so much, mom Stephanie." It's a strange way to sign a card. As if I needed a reminder that she is my mother. I A I _ It took me six years to work up the nerve and another two to draft a response. Many versions wound up in the wastebasket. Motivated not out of ‘ genuine concern, but from years of having no concern for her: I only wrote two Di Lenola/The Years In Between Page lo or three times. One desperately long night I sat in my cell confronted by memories of my childhood. by feelings of loneliness and abandonment. I had to come to terms with them. I had to let my mother go in order to save my life. To make it out of prison sane. To do that I left behind those smoke-filled living rooms and ended my obsession with LSD. A drug not easily obtainable in prison. though if I'd wanted it bad enough I could have gotten it. The quiet. reserved child in’ me had to grow up, speak. and cry out for help. I have a better understanding of my mother now after experiencing addiction. For my own sanity I forgave her——in my heart. H Turning away from the trees. wall. and snow -wiggling my fingers— I stare _ off into the back wall of my cell. Picturing my mother a word comes to mind: sadly I can not recall the sign: forgiveness.

Author: Di Lenola, Jose Lauriano

Author Location: New York

Date: June 28, 2017

Genre: Essay

Extent: 10 pages

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