Free Hugs

The other day I happened to catch a snippet of a story about a man giving away free hugs.  I think it was for Gay Pride Week or maybe a march or something.

I’m not sure and it doesn’t matter.  His hugs weren’t confined to the gay community.  They were offered to whoever needed one.

I found that gesture to be remarkably compassionate and generous.  He wasn’t afraid, or intimated or judgmental.  He was just a kind man who thought people needed a hug.

I started thinking, “if others would take the time to offer free hugs, wouldn’t this world be a little bit more wonderful?”

Young people could offer free hugs to older people.  Older people who did their jobs raising, caring for, and protecting children but are now ignored, forgotten, or have simply been discarded.  Maybe those young people could bring their children to offer free hugs as well.  Some older people never see, or never even get to know their own grandchildren.

Throughout my earlier life, I had been hugged.  Those hugs should have been meaningful, but they were uncomfortable, obligatory hugs.  They were drunken hugs.  And many of them were guilt-driven hugs.  There was nothing I hated more.

I imagine there’s nothing better than the warmth of a genuine hug.  Many of you know the feeling…but I don’t.

 

 

 

Ah…How I Love To Play With Scammers

Earlier today, I got a call.  I was going to answer my usual way when I don’t recognize a number, which is…”Erectile Dysfunction Hotline.  How may I direct your call?”  But it was an automated message;

“Hello.  My name is Kathy Jackson.  I am calling you from Microsoft refund department. Please do not hang up.  You have paid for your computer technical support a few months ago and we are calling to refund your money, as the company has been ordered to close down. Please call us on our toll free number 1-844-284-6148.”

Me:  Okay…let’s play.  Dialing number (after disguising mine.)  Called five times.  Finally, a man answers.

Him:  (In thick foreign accent.)  “Yes, may I help you?”

Me:  “I’m returning a call from Kathy Jackson.”

Him:  “Oh yes.  I am from Microsoft and you recently paid for technical support, yes?”

Me:  (Lying.)  “Why yes, I did.”

Him:  “Can you tell me please, how much did you pay?”

Me:  “$2000.00.”

Him:  (In surprised voice.)  “$2000.00?  Let me check on how much refund you will receive.”

Me:  “Great.  (In little girl voice)  But are they really shutting down?  That makes me so sad.”

Him:  “Yes, unfortunately.  You will get $299.00 back.  Now, are you near your computer?”

Me:  “Why, yes I am.”

Him:  “Okay, do you have Google Chrome?”

Me: (Lying again)  “No.  I have Firefox.”

Him:  “That’s okay.  Now go to the search bar and type in the following. (www.qsupport.us)

Me:  (Pretending that I did) ask, “shouldn’t that last part be .com?”

Him:  “No.  It should be .US.  Did you put address into your computer?”

Me:  “I did, but I want to talk about my money.  When do I get it?”

Him:  “As soon as you type in the address.  We will send you a form to fill out in order to receive your refund.”

Me:  “Oh, I see.  I’m a little confused though.  I’ve never done business with Microsoft, so I don’t understand why they’re sending me a refund. What is the name of the company again?”

Him:  “The Microsoft Rainbow Refund Department.”

Me:  (Laughing hysterically)  “And what is your name?”

Him:  My name is Jack Dawson.”

Me:  (Laughing even more hysterically)  “Seriously?  You are not going to believe this.  My name is Rose Dewitt Bukater!  What are the odds?!”

Jack:  “Did you put the address in the search bar?”

Me:  “No.  I’m ‘askeered’.”

Him:  (I don’t think he understood me, but that’s okay.  I didn’t understand most of what he was saying either.)  “Just put the address in the search bar so you can fill out the form for your refund.”

Me:  “I want my refund to come in the mail.”

Him:  “We can’t send it in the mail.  It must come through your computer.  Are you going to do what I ask or should I cancel the check?” 

Me:  (Talking faster than a frog dancing on a hotplate) “No.  Don’t do that. I want my refund, but I’d really prefer that you send it through the mail.  I mean…you can’t trust these pesky scammers these days.  They call from foreign countries and pretend to be American.  They’ll do anything to try to con people…hacking into computers and stealing identities, and God knows what else.  A lot of times, they want to infect your computer with a virus, and the worst is when they call and tell you that there are arrest warrants out for you, and you’re going to be put in handcuffs and toted off to jail.  Can you imagine?  I could just go on and on.  You know what I mean Jack?  But I want to talk about my money.  Jack?  Are you still there? Jack?”

Shucks.  And here I was…all ready to go out and buy myself a new bonnet.

 

 

 

 

 

The Question – Chapter Four

April returned to her cell.  Roberta was waiting.  She looked at her, but said nothing.  April had never spoken about her crime, and although Roberta had told her all the gory details of her own, she knew that April would tell her in her own good time…or maybe she wouldn’t.

April had stopped going to the visitation room years ago.  Roberta never went.  She knew, like April, that no one would ever come to see her.  She was a disgrace.  All of her fair-weather friends as well as the ones she considered to be loyal, had abandoned her.

She mused that it was always about what she had done to her husband.  It was never about what he had done to her.  He had lied to her for years.  He had cheated on her.  He had a child with another woman.

She had devoted her life to him, had been a dutiful wife, and had taken care of him when he was seriously ill.  “That’s the way it is,” she once said.  “The ones who destroy everything, suddenly become the victims in everyone’s eyes.”

True, Roberto was indeed a victim, but no one tried to understand what it must have been like for her.  What was it like, finding out that her entire life had been a lie?  Why did no one see her as the victim of a lowlife, deceptive Lothario?  She didn’t know and she had long since stopped caring.

Two more years went by and once again, April was being considered for parole.  The board consisted of the same tired quorum of special commissioners, with the exception of a new, young man named Roger Carson, who all but announced, “I’m going to flex my muscles.”

He looked at April and took the lead.  “I see that you have been somewhat uncooperative through the years.  Let me ask you something.  You do understand that there’s still time for you to have a life, or do you want to die in prison?”

April reacted with the same blank expression the others had been seeing for years as she asked, “you say there’s still time for me to have a life?  What kind of life?  A solitary life?  That’s what I have here, and I don’t know if your records reflect anything other than my refusal to answer the question, but I have never had one visitor since I entered this steel and concrete purgatory.  Tell me, Mr. Carson.  What would be different?”

Mr. Taylor said, “very well Ms. Drummond.  As I have stated numerous times, we have a certain amount of sympathy, but the fact is, you committed murder.  You took revenge and…”  Before he could finish, Roger inserted with a smirk, “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.  I think Niche said that.”

April looked at him and said, “that was said by Confusious, you moron.  Dig two graves?  He’s the one in the ground, isn’t he?”

Mr. Taylor smiled slightly and said, “Okay, Ms. Drummond.”  April waited for the question.

“If you had it to do over, would you do anything differently?”

April calmly said, “that monster raped and murdered my child.  I hunted him down and broke into his house.  I went into his bedroom and blew his brains out.”

“Again,” said Mr. Taylor.  “If you had it to do over, would you do anything differently?”

Through gritted teeth, April said, “YES.  I WOULD HAVE MADE HIM SUFFER.  I would have made him beg for mercy.  I would have made him beg for his life.  Then, I would have made him beg for death.”

Mr. Taylor once again stamped “DENIED” on her form.

 

Het Einde.

 

The Question – Chapter Three

April’s parole hearing was scheduled for 10 o’clock that morning.  She sat in her cell, stared at the wall and waited until the guards came for her. Roberta asked if she wanted to be alone.  April said she didn’t care.

Roberta tried to lighten the mood by saying, “you know it’s not called a parole hearing around here.  It’s called a ‘hopeful denial’ hearing.”

April knew her consideration for release hinged on “the question.”  It always did.  Sitting motionless in a chair in front of a panel of people who thought they knew what reform and readiness to rejoin society really meant, she resented being judged by their rules.

Rules that were written years ago onto a now obsolete pile of papers, and adopted as absolute law, constructed to make the “exert specialists” feel good about giving a lowly convict a second chance.

Say the right thing…beg…cry…plead.  Boast about starting a class for the inmates who could barely read…say you were growing your hair to be donated to children with cancer…and the one that got the most attention…tell them that you had found your God.  Anything convincing enough to make the “powers that be” believe that you had been reformed…worked.

April knew the spiel.  She knew what she had to say, and she knew what they wanted to hear.

The first to speak was Mr. Taylor, a stout, sweaty, bespectacled man, who began the usual inquisition with his pseudo, soft-spoken benevolence, as if talking to a child.  He had been on the panel before and hadn’t changed, other than being a few years older, as was April.

At some point during the hearing, he said, “Ms. Drummond.  We understand the immense grief you have suffered…”

Before he could finish, April looked at him and said, “do you?  Do you really?  How many of you have suffered immense grief?”

The panel looked back and forth at each other as if somewhat embarrassed.  Mr. Taylor said, “despite the horrific events you endured, you cannot take the law into your own hands.  That is why we have a judicial system.  If everyone took the law into their own hands, there would be utter chaos. Don’t you agree?”

April looked at him and said, “no.  There would be justice.”

Mr. Taylor sighed…and asked “the question.”  April sat in the chair, still motionless and silent.

“Ms. Drummond,” he said.  “The only reason you have been considered for parole is due to certain extenuating circumstances.  There is and always has been a certain amount of sympathy for you but…you must answer the question.”

Two full minutes of silence was interrupted only by the sound of “DENIED” being stamped on the application.

 

To be continued___________

 

 

The Question – Chapter Two

Six years and two parole hearings later, April Drummond, Inmate #11124721, now 44 years old, was notified of a third upcoming hearing. That’s when she would be asked…the question.

During that time, she acquired a cellmate, an unlikely sidekick named Roberta Nix.  Roberta was 60 years old, and was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for accidentally shooting her husband…five times.

The day she arrived in her worn-out orange scrubs and matching flip-flops, carrying equally worn-out sheets and the paltry amount of toiletries provided, Roberta immediately recognized the hierarchy, as she listened to the cat-calls and heard the intimidation tactics used by BB and her family.

April didn’t participate in the usual initiation and barely glanced up as Roberta strolled into her new “home.”  Like April, Roberta wasn’t interested in joining BB’s family, nor was she interested in having to service the other inmates.  At her age, she felt as though she had already paid enough dues.

April seemed to be protected by some kind of invisible shield.  Roberta wasn’t sure how or why, but noticed that the other inmates stayed clear of her.  Being smart, she knew that April could by association, provide insurance for her own safety…if she played her cards right.

Their collaboration started slowly; each testing the other’s loyalty, each divulging only the minimum amount of information about their lives before, and neither ever discussing the details of their crimes.

It was a year before Roberta began talking.  She married a man named Roberto when she was 16 years old.  His real name was Robert, but he thought Roberto sounded a little more exotic.  Everyone used to call them “the Robbies.”

Roberto, 10 years her senior, was a successful businessman who loved to make money, and loved to spend it even more.  He found Roberta at the local cafe, serving “a meat and three” to the local blue collar workers; workers with names like Bubba, Cooter, Josephus, Homer and Rufus.

The delicious homemade cooking wooed Roberto into the cafe week after week, and week after week he arrived, accompanied by a different young woman who was easy on the eyes, and appeared overly eager to please their older companion with public displays of affection.

Roberta knew women like that, and she knew men like him.  He had definitely caught her eye, but she played it cool.  “The ones who don’t pay them no mind, will lure them in every time,” her daddy once said…and she paid attention.  The more she ignored him, the hotter his pursuit became.

She let him chase her until she “caught” him, and entered into a lifestyle she never dreamed possible.

He shaped and molded her into a perfect lady.  He showered her with luxury and she slowly emerged as the queen of the castle; the lady of the lounge; the consummate hostess and the personification of the ideal wife.

Their union produced no offspring, of which she was disappointed, but also almost equally grateful.  Roberto was a selfish man, and through the years she had learned to be just as selfish.

When Roberto was 70, he was stricken with an undiagnosable illness that left him almost bed-bound.  Having been the epitome of healthy living, his affliction was a mystery and left his doctor scratching his head.

Roberta was his angel of mercy, devoting all of her time to his care.  She fed him, cleaned him, read to him, and tried everything to keep up his spirits.  She didn’t want him to give up and made it clear to him that she hadn’t married a quitter.

He slowly began to recover, thanks in no small part to her dedicated steadfastness.  His doctor was again, scratching his head.  “I don’t know what you did for him, but whatever it was, it certainly worked.  I expect him to make a full recovery.”  Roberta smiled and said, “all I did was love him.”  The doctor patted her on the back, smiled and said, “well, that was enough.”

A week later, Roberto was out on the veranda, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.  Roberta smiled, excused herself and went inside with the promise of a quick return.  She had an idea.

She was going to look for old cards that she had given him through the years; birthday cards, anniversary cards, silly cards and of course, romantic, suggestive cards.  She thought they might elicit smiles and laughter and bring back good memories.

What she found was not what she was looking for.  There, among all the cards from her, were cards and letters from a woman named Lisa.  Lisa? One of her dearest friends was named Lisa.  As she was gathering them, she was shaking.

She picked up the telephone and called Lisa.  When she answered, Roberta dispensed with the niceties and said, “how long have you been fucking my husband?”  Lisa was silent for a few seconds and said, “I want you to know that we never meant to hurt you.”  Roberta raised her voice and repeated, “HOW LONG?”  Lisa quietly said, “for about ten years.”

Roberta hung up and went outside.  Roberto looked at her and smiled, but the smile disappeared when Roberta threw the cards and letters on the table next to him.  “What are these?” she demanded.  Roberto looked down and said, “I want you to know that we never meant to hurt you.”

Roberta said, “you sound like a fucking parrot.  That’s exactly what Lisa said.  How could you?  She said it had been going on for about ten years. Is that true?  When did it end?”

Roberto looked at her and said, “it hasn’t ended, but not because we’re still involved or because I love her.  It just a tryst that got out of hand.  You know I love you.  I always have and I always will.”

“What does that mean?  It was just a tryst that got out of hand?” Roberta asked.

Roberto looked down and said, “we have a daughter together.  That’s why I couldn’t completely end it with her.”

Roberta got up and walked back into the house, while Roberto was begging her to forgive him.  She got her purse and pulled out the pink handled revolver he had given her for protection.  She calmly walked back outside, pointed it at him and emptied the chamber.

 

To be continued_________

 

The Question – Chapter One

As April Drummond looks at her etiolated image reflected in the dirty, almost opaque windows of Craggy Prison, she counts the steel bars that separate her from the outside world…and waits.  She waits for the monthly visit that she desperately wants, but knows will never come.

She is inconsequential.  She is unimportant.  She is insignificant.  She is irrelevant.  She is nonessential.  She is meaningless.  She is picayune.

She is also a murderer.

There are no words of comfort from the guard, who watches her every move, as she sits and waits.  There is only a slight look of fear when her visitation time is up, and no one has come.

April has a look in her eyes…the kind of look that unnerves you.  The kind of look that makes you shudder.  The kind of look that makes you question whether she is predator or prey.  The kind of look that foments the common reaction of fight or flight, when confronted by fear.  For those reasons, other inmates don’t bother her, but those aren’t the only reasons.

A one time interaction with another prisoner named BB, aka Big Bertha, aka Big Bitch, who invited April to join her “family,” became folklore legend.

BB, an unsympathetic bully, was born in this very prison, and as if written in a playbook, she found her way back “home” when she was just 23.

Her mother, (street name Jasmine) was a drug addict, who got pinched for prostitution after she solicited an undercover police officer.

Jasmine told BB that she didn’t know who her father was, but whoever he was, for a minute or a month, he was surely a happy man after having “been with her.”

The day before Jasmine was to be released, she was stabbed to death by another inmate.

It was well known that BB ruled the prison, had a few guards in her pockets, had her defenders, her enforcers and her family, which included several “daughters,” and three “wives,” and was not the kind of prisoner you ignored, challenged, or turned down.

Although BB wasn’t a large woman, she was powerful and intimidating. April, being diminutive, was mistakenly considered an easy mark by BB and her family.  When she refused BB for the last time, the family gathered around her like a pack of angry wolves.

April grabbed BB’s left breast and twisted it like a corkscrew.  BB screamed in agonizing pain, and dropped to her knees.  After she surrendered, she attempted to smile as she said, “I forgot that you were a murderer.”

April leaned over and whispered, “don’t forget it again.”

At 38, she is three years into her forty year sentence, which carries the possibility of parole after ten years, or possibly sooner if she is a model prisoner, or overcrowding becomes an issue.

Everyone who is incarcerated declares their innocence, but not April.  She is the only guilty inmate in the prison.

 

To be continued_______________

 

Happy Birthday…To Sir

When I was just a little girl,
I had a Panda bear.
I kept him in a plastic bag,
To keep him clean in there.

I got him for my birthday,
When I was four or five.
I said a prayer and asked the Lord,
To make him come alive.

My granny gave him to me,
He always stayed with her.
She asked me what his name was,
I said, “I call him Sir.”

She’d sometimes let me take him out,
But only if I’d swear,
To not fall down and dirty him,
My little Panda bear.

I hardly got to play with him,
She feared he would get smudged.
I tried to understand the why,
And never hold a grudge.

I grew up and moved away,
And I left Sir behind,
But I knew he would never be,
Far out of sight or mind.

The years went by, and my life changed.
My world had been derailed.
I never thought that what I’d built,
Would ultimately fail.

I went back to that old house,
To walk down memory lane.
Echoes of the past reminded me,
Of my loneliness and pain.

I thought of Sir and wondered if,
Like me, he’d lost his way.
Or if he’d been discarded,
And cast into the Frey.

I found him in the attic,
Amongst my mama’s stash.
He was in a plastic bag,
With other bits of trash.

The memories came flooding back,
We were quite the pair.
A bruised and broken little girl,
And her ragged Panda bear.

My only friend when I was young,
Who listened to me cry.
Who never slapped me in the face,
And never told a lie.

His shiny coat was grey and black,
His eyes were not so clear,
But he was coming home with me,
My little Panda bear.

They say when you’re alone and old,
You talk to things not there.
I just nod and say okay,
And wink at Panda bear.