When Sabrina asked me to write a guest blog I agreed instantly, I owe her that. Inside I was full of dread, I have written many pieces and interviews in the launching of the two Moses novels; I felt I was out of things to say. To repeat myself seems like a waste of space. So I did what I always do. I started typing; the tale below is what came…
“Drop trow' and spread ‘em.”
Day one Pelican Bay. I’m staring at five to twenty. I’m scared. They have a row of us lined up. We all rode in together. We all have our prison denims on. A crew cut bull walks behind us. Every man in turn spreads his ass cheeks so they can look for contraband. I have never felt smaller in my life. Not even when the drunken neighbor beat the six year old me. I could hear my mother listening to the Christian TV preacher through the wall. I would have called out her name if I hadn’t known she was too drunk to help.
In the hospital Luke sat on the end of my bed. “Fuck him Mo. Mr. beat-my little-brother fell down his front stairs this morning; should have seen the look on his face when I kicked his nuts in.” He was laughing. So was I.
“I said spread ‘em, you deaf, new boy?” The slap of the baton on my inner thigh got my attention. Luke wasn’t in Pelican Bay. I was alone as the day I was born. Closing my eyes I pulled my cheeks apart.
“You think you gots it hard ‘cause some bull wants to look up your ass?” I was in my cell staring into space. Lost. Benny had deep ebony skin and a fringe of white hair ringing his skull. “Every time we come back from visitation, same deal. Go see the dentist, they check your ass. Go to court, they check your ass. Rough? Bullshit. Rough is being the poor slob whose job it is to spend his days looking up other men’s asses. That mother fucker has it rough forty hours a week. I bet all he sees at night when he closes his eyes is one unending line of convict ass.” That was the first smile I had since being sentenced. Thing about surviving is learning to have some perspective.
Next day I was walking across the yard. It was balkanized into small nation states. The free-weights were controlled by white convicts. The bleachers and picnic tables were Mexican turf. And the blacks owned the basketball court and surrounding area. Benny was leaning against the chain link firing up a cig when I walked up.
“Hey Benny how’s it going.”
“Keep on rolling white boy, no room for you over here.” I started to say something but he turned his back on me. Fuck him. I did three laps around the inner parameter of the yard. As I ran my body started to relax, sweat ran down my back and soaked into my shirt. Salt stung my eyes. I'd been drunk when I stole the car that landed me in the slam. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you why I took it. A new BMW, the prick tossed me the keys like I lived to serve him. He wrapped his arm around five feet of amazing curves and blonde hair. She shot me a smile and he led her like a prized possession into the club. His only mistake was thinking I was the valet. The babe knew I wasn't, but she didn’t tell him. I knew a guy who knew a guy who was always looking for a warm car. I heard he paid ok. Never did find out. I made it from San Diego almost to Hollywood before I was busted. Judge looked up my army record, saw I was dishonorably discharged and decided to make an example out of me. I was panting when I walked off the yard. My thoughts full of the blonde and her smile.
My head hit the brick wall an instant after my back. There was a swastika tatt on the ham-sized arm that slammed me again into the wall. A group of skins stood with their backs to us, blocking the guard's view. My knees started to buckle. I knew if I went down I was dead. “Are you a race betrayer? I seen you pal around with that nigger.” When he blinked he had an A on one eyelid and a B on the other. “You a tall little bitch ain’t you?”
I lunged forward bringing my knee up. He released me to protect his groin. I slammed my forehead full force down on his nose. Blood sprayed across his face. He laughed. His fist felt like a sledgehammer driving the air from my chest. With fist and boot he drove me to the ground. “Breeze is the name… and you are my mother fucking bitch.” Was the last I heard as I fell into a dark place where he couldn’t touch me.
Shards of pain split through my mind. Light seared grey matter. My arm was in a plaster cast. Through the one eye I could open I saw Benny, he was leaning on a broom and watching me. “Man you are one fucked up white boy. Maybe you should get some Nazi bullshit tattoos and join the Brand.”
“Fuck them.” I was fighting to sound sure of my words. “No one tells me who I can talk to.”
“Then you best put a dress on. Breeze is saying you his now.”
“Benny, can I tell you the truth?”
“Fuck no white boy. This ain’t no place for truth. No confession gonna' save your ass. You hold your shit together. Bury your feelings a mile deep. Whatever you do don’t show no fear. Son they will eat you alive. Do you know who you gots to count on in here? Not a goddamn person.”
Friday I was released from the infirmary. I had been inside Pelican Bay for six days. In the dining hall they fed us in shifts. I had the great fortune to go in with A group. Across the room Breeze watched me. He smiled and winked, and somewhere deep inside I snapped. I charged. I used my cast as a club, pain ripped with every blow. I didn’t give a fuck. Three of the Brand went down before I made it to Breeze.
When I woke up in the hospital my arm was reset. My leg was in a splint and a tube drained fluid from my left lung where I had been stabbed. Benny leaned on that same broom watching me. “Glad to see you survived white boy. Even if it did cost me a deck.”
“You bet I would die?”
“Seemed prudent. Damn son, Breeze gonna' be one mad mother if he ever gets out of solitary.”
“So? Fuck him.” Benny started to laugh and didn’t stop until tears ran down his face.
“You may just make it.”
“Or die trying.”
“Yeah, or die trying.”
I never did see Breeze again. Some said he was poisoned in solitary. That and the fact that Benny delivered the chow to solitary might or might not mean a thing. The Brand thought it did. We found Benny hanging by a sheet from the second tier.
Does this short tale say anything about me or my writing process? I’m not sure. What I can tell you is I crank up the music and let words fly. I type until I’m done. It gets scary sailing without a chart or compass, three months into a novel and no land in sight. But I know the only way through is by typing. I am as I type this, struggling to find the thread of ONE MORE BODY, the third Moses book. I can feel it lurking in the dark. If I just keep pounding it will find form.
I am also polishing the final draft of a memoir; that in some ways is easier. I mean hell I lived it, and in others it's the hardest thing I have written. It is full of sex drugs guns and violence. It is noir. It is my life. I want to get it right. The problem is I was raised in a home where truth wasn’t honored. What really happened in any given event is open to wide interpretation; unless you ask my mother then she will tell you the one and only true truth. Wonderful except my mother makes up history before it happens. She retrofits the narrative to fit her current views.
Growing up, myth was more important than fact.
“A lot of families have elephants in the living room,” my big sister Lisa said, “we had a herd of angry rhinos.” And that was the truth. We filled the space where the truth had been with mythic lies. As teenagers my siblings and I lived life writ large. We invented ourselves as baby gangsters and Robin Hoods. We shot 8mm films and .38 caliber revolvers. We created myths. We hid from the truth.
I have been writing most of my life, but it wasn’t until the last few years that I stopped writing crap and started being honest. The truth is not my natural angle of repose. The messy way I write, stumbling in the dark, I do because if I slow down enough to work out a solid plan I will make shit up. Call it what it is, I will lie to try and make myself look good.
And so here I am. Pounding more words. All that I write I do so to discover truth. The fact that I created Benny, makes him no less real to me, no less heroic. If I could write him a better ending and still tell the truth I would. Sorry Benny.