Sunday, September 16, 2018

A trip down frisk and walk lane

It was 1980 something and that's all I'll say to prevent calculations on my age and halt any questions about whether or not I ever wore parachute pants to any important functions.  But I will say without any hesitation that it was a simpler time.  Kids ran around all over the place, teenagers ran around all over the place, and as I think about it now, it's really a wonder that any of us made it out alive. 

I kinda had my crowd that I hung around with in what I like to call my "tan and go" days...... where my appointment with a lawn chair in the backyard was #1 on my summer time schedule, completing all beauty tasks at once.... savage tan, free hair highlights and what I like to think of now as plenty of Vitamin D all stocked up to prevent osteoporosis.  And somewhere between my relaxation time, friend time and the ability to eat an entire pizza and still wear a bikini... I met a fella that walked right into my summer and left me with one of the best stories I've ever told. 

But I think the most complicated piece of that summer puzzle was that, at the time, I wasn't really this guy's friend nearly as much as he was mine.  Dare I say, as much as he decided that he was to be mine, ... and mine forever?  It was like a daily Valentine of friendship, until he got sent off to a prison and all those collect calls from the pay phone in the common room were running up a bill for me and my parents. 

I met this young man when he was a lost and lonely, out of school, young adult, trying to find his way in the Big D by lying to me and others about his past.  He said he was an orphan and had been raised at the local children's home until the age of 18, when he was tossed out into adulthood and the relative insecurity of unemployment and poverty.  I do remember that he somehow had enough money for a truck  - as well as a truck load of booze just about every weekend, but at the age of high school ignorance, none of that made me question the reality of his tale.

We met through a mutual friend, and it was one of those, good girl hangs out with her boyfriend and all his guy friends all the live long day until about 4pm when she was due at her part time job, or out into the yard to work on her tan kinds of relationships.  Y'all, I was way busy living and loving, and not thinking a day ahead of the one I was in.  And this guy just jumped into our little circle as if he had been there all along, and with stories of a common bond that he liked to tell of him and me in such a loving way that made me wish they were all true.  Turns out either I was very forgetful, or he was very imaginative in his tales of our good times shared and friendship grown into a lifetime story of mutual admiration.  He remembered all the times I was nice to him and all the ways I had helped him, and basically remembered me as a younger stand in for the mother that he said he never had.  And I was obviously scatterbrained, forgetful, or just self absorbed in the way 18 year old girls can be.  But God gives us all grace and mercy so somehow I must've absorbed enough of it to share. 

Turns out he was homeless. I'm not sure I even knew that till way into time spent with him.  I guess I noticed that he spent a lot of time at my friend's house, and that he appeared and disappeared pretty often and not on any certain schedule.  But the eyes of young people tend to fog over at the thought of anything deeper than a few hours and some laughs.  I think I figured it out when none of us had seen him for a few days and an impromptu search party located him camped in his truck in the mall parking lot.

He sort of vanished about the time I left for college.  Maybe it was during or after his stint in the county jail where I was privileged to be listed as his family member and allowed to visit.  How did I deserve such an honor?  I'm not sure other than the fact that maybe God had run out of people to give it to at the time;  so he chose me.

Time went by and I was off learning how to be an adult on my own.  I had been living in an apartment in my little college town for a while when one day I got a surprise visitor.  My new old friend had tracked me down, and looking back now, I may or may not have been an accessory to something or other  - or maybe just a safe hideout.  I only remember going out to eat.   

But he left again, as quickly as he showed up - and I didn't hear from him for quite some time till I got a collect call from the whatever whatever unit of the Texas Penitentiary System.  I knew who it was before I accepted the charges, and opened an all new, yet final chapter of Me and My Convict.

He said that he  had been accused of something that wasn't true, that there was a young lady involved that he loved very much, and that a baby on the way was because of their luckiness in this life in finding each other.  It was a version of his story that made me happy for him,... though a different version of the story got him 35 years for aggravated sexual assault.  True or not?  I may never know, but he said he was going to name the baby after me.  Because that's what friends do.  Now there may or may not be a little Kristi, roaming her way through young adulthood searching for her namesake and wondering who the heck spelled Kristi with a K in the front and an I at the end and made it so she can't even get a can of Coke with her name on it.

And out of the sheer goodness of my heart, and feelings of guilt if I ignored the situation, I have walked myself right into both the Dallas County jail as well as a maximum security facility in the south of Texas.  The Max Security, as we regulars like to call it, was just a little road trip from my place of higher education - so it was really both a gesture of Christian love as well as a once in a lifetime learning experience. Kind of like when people travel to Africa and go on safari and say that it changed them forever?  A trip down frisk and walk lane will most certainly change a girl forever in much the same fashion.

I remember not knowing exactly what to wear to a prison visit, but think I chose something to make sure that I wouldn't blend in too much with the locals, and be accidentally mistaken for someone who came to stay the night.  Knowing me it was probably a dress and a smile, because, y'all, I was raised a healthy mixture of both right and wrong.

And I know it meant the world to him to know that I would make the drive to see him.  And you can fully trust that not only did I renew my friendship with you know who on that trip, but I made all new friends with the prison guards - so much so that they gave me a personal escort down that long and lonely hallway.  Maybe they do that for everyone.  Maybe just for the ones who look they're not quite sure of prison protocol and etiquette.  

It was a Saturday morning.  I arrived, checked in my necessaries, and waited in an almost all metal room for I wasn't sure what.  I wasn't entirely sure what made me decide to take that drive; but I did it and hoped for the best that I would make it safely home to watch Designing Women on TV later that night.

My friend took a while  to get to me.  I didn't know that they get to change into their good outfits for visit day.  Now I do.  And he looked good.  But mostly he looked happy.  And I guess I did, too.  I don't even remember what we talked about other than maybe him and me and some good ol' stories of things I probably just nodded yes to a whole lot.  But I knew even that day that visits like this couldn't be my forever routine  - and there came a time when I just stopped. Because it was time.

I still can't tell you why I almost cry when I remember our visits.  Maybe it's the idea of a life lost to crime - the crime of not being part of a family to guide you into adulthood in a good and proper way.  Maybe it's because I remember how much he wanted a friend, and how much he wanted me to be her.  He liked to tell people that I was his sister - like he was missing out on so much for so long, that when kind and fun finally met him, he took full hold and loved on it like nobody's business.

It's a story anyway.  It's a piece of who I used to be, and who I hope I still might be given the situation of someone in need.  My friend was maybe the loneliest person I ever knew, outside of myself.  He needed friends and family and discipline and routine and a place to feel safe and at home.  Give a young man a truck, no job and very little to look forward to, and you'll get back just as much in return. Maybe even with a few tall tales, and a newfound criminal tendency to go with them. 

I don't remember a single conversation with him about his faith or his choices, only conversations partly created from a faulty memory... or out of a need to have a connection with someone who would be a temporary parking spot for all his troubles.  I do remember plenty of lazy summer days spent with people still young enough to not worry about every last detail of a person's questionable character.  But mostly I remember being young enough to not be so quick to judge and say no before ever considering the possibility of a friendship.  At the time I never thought about how much a willingness to agree on a happy story that never actually took place could mean to a person who just needed a first line to a new chapter.  

I think about him every now and then, how he appeared out of nowhere with a made up past and a hopeful future of finding his place and his people.  I may never know the end of his story, other than what I find on Google that tells me his expected release date.  It looks like two consecutive, fairly long sentences.  

That young man had a lot of love to give, and I was lucky to be someone he chose to give it to.  I desperately needed that at the time, too.  I find it a forever mystery of how Lost and can meet Lonely, say hello and form a forever bond, -  sometimes working out better than others.  But for the lucky ones, we walk out of it together a little bit better than we started.     

Friends are good for that.

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