Morning dawned gloomy, continuing the June pattern of damp and dreary. I rose and showered, a tedious endeavour what saw me take a trimmer and a clean-up razor across the breath and width of my transforming head.
Clothing mattered only as far as items I cared not if lost; they would ship home. Post cleansing and dressing, I surfed the internet for one final time, visited my usual haunts, read, posted a snarky remark on twitter, sent texts and emails to friends, and, considering the process something akin to cyber-seppuku, shut down the desktop, unplugged it and its peripherals, reprising the disconnect with every electrical appliance extant in the room.
Following plan, story element three hundred ninety seven posted the night before, freezing the contributions at this number ever into the future, at least in terms of online enhancement. In the coming days, weeks, and even months, what my mind had tossed there tied me to a place only I could go from childhood forward.
You are a survivor, friends told me. Look what you made it through in the past, look at who you are now! A month before, I comforted some of them when we learned my path, a final necessary step to endure on my transition to better, long understood and expected. The ensuing thirty-one days flew by, lost in preparation, lost in story writing, lost in communicating with friends so near, yet who would soon be so far away.
After the cyber disconnect, we drove to the bank for further final action and preparation, and then it was back roads, southward. Two o’clock the paper said, giving my appointed time. Don’t be late. With two hours to spare, I checked in.
For forty-five minutes, I rooted in a lobby chair watching people enter and leave the building, casually chatting, not bothering to look my way. At last one asked me to the desk, reviewed some questions, took what I carried, and led me around the side, toward a body scanner. Shoes off, metal on conveyor, pass on through, beyond the locking gate. Off to the side, the control room operated in semi-darkness, looking like a mini version of a nuclear power plant nerve centre.
In a place called R & D and not meaning research and development, paperwork ensued. A change of clothing, to khaki, nakedness in front of two men, a separation of parts I preferred covered, hands trying to shelter things I just don’t like made visible to male beings.
A chat with a nurse seeking medical information, not the last time these questions would come my way, followed by seating in a room, alone, awaiting my turn for another round of activity. Returning to the desk, two guys entered, prompting those on duty to shift me to the safe side, away from the meanies in orange, shackled hands and feet and to each other. Within a half-hour, I too coloured out as a human pumpkin.
First came a long walk free of limb, still in khaki, across acres of concrete, led to a brick structure. At the door, my hands went behind my back, an involuntary posterior partnering necessary to escort me through door one, door two, and into a small room with but a slit in the door, cuffs removed through the slot. Off with the khaki, moon those looking – with cheek-split separation, and here, do you like orange?
By three PM, now dazed, cuffed too tight, and a whole lot confused, a short walk around a corner and past remote controlled gates led me to a temporary refuge, one with a four feet by eight inch window showing nothing but dreariness and concrete and fence. Oppositional to the window, a heavy door with slit passageway and viewing window shut tight behind me, affixed in place by the echoing sound of many keys, one working. Standing with my back to the slot they removed the metal binding, freeing my already sore wrists. Those keys would rattle in my head, a sound I loathed.
Off came the orange, leaving me in brown underwear. Onto a bed with a blue plastic pad an inch and a half thick. The room stood semi-self-sufficient, what with a curtainless shower near the bed and a stainless steel toilet and sink combination off on a diagonal wall opposite. The air carried a chill, fed by the workings of an unnecessary air conditioning setting.
Lukewarm food arrived ninety minutes later, through the slot. Someone came around with books around 8PM, and I slid one off the cart through the slot, not realising I’d never see the book cart again and I’d finish this one in hours.
On the overnight, every hour or so, a rap on the door and a ‘are you all right’ query disturbed my sleep. Around ten in the morning, a few of the guardians arrived outside my door. One chastised me for not knowing it was their official time of accounting; the others looked apologetic. Stand, he told me. Okay, I’ll stand, just tell me when, since I’ve no timepiece in here.
The next day, that being day two and Sunday, the same dude challenged for a number. Number? I don’t have a number. His response to my truthfulness was a threat not to fuck with him again. Whatever. I received the number on the process out, a day later. A medical person showed and checked my arm, since I knew the mandatory PPD test created the need for this isolation. He thought it abnormal and subject to review the next day, adding a new worry for the coming overnight.
You are a survivor; you can take anything they dish out.
Monday, another in the endless parade of rainy days, I felt confident the twelve by eight room would retreat into memory. Back into the orange, anticipating, followed by hours of hope and no action. Around eleven, a medical staffer declared positive news by judging my test negative, examining my arm through the slot. Three hours later, talking from the other side of the door, a counsellor told me his goal was to spring me by day’s end, but if not, in the morning. By three, I did the reverse walk. Out of orange, into khaki, across the acres of cement, back to where I started, for a discharging.
A discharging? Out custody, they call it. New clothing came my way, hunter green, overall, a rather pleasant colour for someone partial to forest green. Instructions followed… out the front door, through the parking lot…with no escort, on my own, not quite in custody, not quite feeling free.
Front door? Parking lot? On my own? Imagery swirled in my mind, orange, khaki, handcuffs that formed a ring of bruises around my wrists, razor wire, remote controlled gates, slots in door, tiny windows, door raps and lights shining in face during the night, of others along that section, quiet by day, calling out crazy loopy by night. I left it all behind. Walked out the door, into the parking lot, right where I’d arrived three days before. I could walk up the grassy hill, perhaps a quarter mile direct line of sight, but I hitched a ride with another who flagged down the khaki and orange bus headed for our destination.
We drove for less than a mile by road, into the parking lot of what looked to be a modern day warehouse, parking lot to its front, a pleasant looking place, lots of wide open space and grass and trees, a scattering of picnic tables, and not a fence anywhere, save for one little stretch of wooden pool fence over to the right, of no consequence. Everything else was open. We walked in the front door of a building with no door locks, and there I lived for the next six hundred and thirty one days, out of the total six hundred thirty four of involuntary servitude.
I’ll cover camp life at another time.