Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tears Not Cried

How to spot an ashamed person

"I not ashamed of nothin' I done." There was conviction and proud defiance in Joaquin's voice, daring anyone within hearing to contradict him. No one cared to.

Sometimes I end up in odd rooms with odd people because I have no place to go. This was another cheap apartment - like where I live - and all of us in there knew we'd never shake up the world or amount to much. We'd labor and toil, boast falsely, block out the drowning drudgery of our day-to-day lives, stay silent on the fears of the piling years of more of the same until the day comes we pass from the earth as unannounced as when we arrived. Yes, it was the loser's room (again).

I liked Joaquin but it was clear he lived in pain. He'd done a stretch in the county jail and I assume that was sort of like going through basic training. It sharpens your focus one way or the other, for better or worse. Joaquin clearly didn't want to go back to what got him in the stir (burglary) but he felt hopeless in the outside world, never coming to terms with what he'd done. He wasn't gonna be sorry for nothin'!

Porter (he was always just called Porter) was sitting over in the corner chiming in as he saw fit. He was the best dressed of us wearing his button down long sleeved shirt. What Joaquin had informed me, though, was that was to hide the track marks on his arm. Porter was on probation and I had to believe it was just a matter of time before he got sent back. A true tragedy in this world in that the people sending him back are the true criminals. They call it criminal justice for a reason.

Marvin was a scrawny blonde, talkative in his deception. I got the feeling if he stopped talking he was afraid he might hear himself. For the life of me I can't remember a word out of his mouth though I can recall the sound of him quite well. Heck, all four of us were scared but it was Joaquin's defiant stand that jumped out at me. It was out of tune with the nothingness of the room's conversation. I knew there was a story to be told.

Joaquin hooked a ride with me in my jalopy on the way to hell's nightmare inferno work. That's how I got a peek into his world. But it was the odd occasion where I picked him up from his mother's house where I got the untold story.

He was a different person there, still maintaining the image of a son with potential, that "No, you were a good Mom" insistent smile of a failed child, not a drop of honesty as to his real life. Easy to see with the religious iconography deeply embedded into the house she was a conservative woman whose values required approval. It was at that point I imagined what it must have been like when the news was broken to her of her only son's arrest and conviction. What would the neighbors think?

Around her, it was like Joaquin was in perpetual apology mode. So no wonder he lashed out like he did when he said he wasn't sorry for anything in his life. He was tired of bowing and scraping before his mother, but what else could he do? She was the one last person who had faith in him in this cold world of stone hearts. Like the rest of us, he needed a woman to make him whole, to allow him to break away - to allow forgiveness.

I sensed his jail time was a black mark branded upon his life in Joaquin's mind. Explaining that to a wanted girl would be the same as explaining it to his mother. In other words, there was no way. Just keeping on and getting by would never be enough to rectify what he'd done to the family name. That was a thorn in his side and Lord knows, I certainly had no advice to offer on that account as I dragged out the buffer from the janitor closet.

So easy to see self-sabotage in others. So obvious that if the right girl came along she'd care less about his prison time. I'd wanted to say that to him but I had no proof having not received forgiveness myself. It happens in the movies anyway.

This was over three years ago. I drifted, he drifted. Lost souls never congregate together long lest we become too well known. But I never forgot that huge thumb of guilt pressing down on Joaquin's head, pressuring him as he sought hopeless refuge in six packs of delusion. Joaquin was sorry - overwhelmingly sorry - for what he'd done. Or maybe it's more accurate to say it was of what he'd perceived he'd done. Banks burgle pockets every day so how much of a crime was Joaquin's in the greater scheme of things?

Apparently, redemption eluded him over the years. The voices of worthlessness and failure won out, driving his tears out in the worst way possible. I read his name in the paper in conjunction with a string of home robberies. His favorite victim? Elderly women. I felt frustrated I couldn't go to court and explain it was really his mother he was robbing in absentia. For this he got two 20-year terms. Hey, ma, look at me now.

We like things to be black and white. I'm sure the relatives of the grandmothers he robbed take relish in Joaquin's harsh sentencing. Our so-called Department of Corrections will dehumanize and brutalize him in the same way he did his victims - probably more so. This is how we hope to fix the world. Perhaps if we found out a little but more about the truth of everyone we just might actually make the world a better place.

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