I miss the crackle of a drawn cigarette.  I used to smoke one every morning over coffee and pellegrino; I felt wildly italian. 

These days, the closest I get to that feeling is sneaking instant coffee into the recreation yard on spaghetti and meatball day.  If I’m really lucky, one of the fluorescent lights will start to flicker out and cast an orange glow off the urine-yellow walls, but usually, I just stare up through the iron grate ceiling, begging the sky for enough air to dry the coffee I spilled in my bra as I snuck out; My eyes watering because the piping hot cup of coffee lay resting between my breasts. 

20 seconds: that is all the time it takes to make it past the guard.  Any longer than that, and the plastic cup will burn right through to the bone, and the smell of burning flesh will give me away.

I’m in jail because, frankly, I am an idiot.

“But, such a kind and optimistic idiot!” My former self would bargain.

So hard-wired was my optimism that I just knew that my first drink after 4 years of sobriety would be sprinkled with the holy-water of previous good deeds, and that in any blackout situation, Jesus -who I don’t believe, realistically, has any powers in the present day- would indeed, take the wheel.

I wasn’t entirely wrong; something other than my consciousness did take the wheel, and drove it directly into oncoming traffic.

I don’t remember drinking; I don’t remember getting into my car, or the moments that lead up to the crash.

This is what I do remember:

Taking my two boys sledding that morning, cleaning the apartment that my sister and I shared, crying because I had just found a social media account for a very young, and very pregnant girl embracing my boyfriend lovingly, – They shared the same last name, but they were, by the looks of their kiss, not related -,  chain smoking the the parking lot after a mild argument with my sister, panicking over how I would afford new brakes for the range rover I never wanted, but was dropped on me in my divorce, telling my sister that I would be right back, driving to a rapper’s house, watching two girls twerk on the kitchen floor, wanting badly to leave, a handsome man introducing himself to me, hennessy, wanting to die in a way that would not be considered suicide, because suicide felt shameful.

“Here is my body, world; Do what you can with it, but, please, do not return it.” Somewhere in this time frame, there is a body I had left, and given away to chance, walking around, honing in on whatever seemed dangerous, armed with nothing but a set of keys and the motor skills of a dizzy toddler.

the optimist, illustrations by sidney teles

I do not find my body again until I feel blood dripping from my broken nose, and realize that my car is no longer moving.  I look to my right, and see a man in the passenger seat.  “Who the fuck are you?” I asked.

He said nothing.

I still don’t know his name.  I don’t want to know his name.

Flashes of memories still sit somewhere in my mind.  Memories of the police cruiser driving me to the station, then to the jail.  I vaguely remember singing the blues loudly, and stomping my feet.  At some point a large man tried to kiss me in the pit; He thought a bloody nose on a woman was attractive as it indicated that I was a wild woman.  His optimism was as delusional as mine.

Before I was taken into booking, I was asked a series of questions: Had I ever been suicidal?

Yes.

When was I most recently suicidal?

Right now. “You’re suicidal right now?”

Yes.

“Go tell that officer standing over there what you just told me.”

I did, and I found myself then taken to an empty cell with a hole in the middle of the concrete floor to be used for bodily fluids.

I still didn’t know that I had badly injured a 19-year-old girl in another car.

After an unknown amount of hours in the empty, padded cell, I was moved to a special suicide watch unit.  I wasn’t allowed a mattress, blankets, or clothes, other than a stiff velcro ‘turtle suit’.

By this time, I remember the police officer telling me before we entered the station that “she is hurt pretty badly”.  This small snippet of audio is all I have, and I play it over and over in my head.  For 72 hours, I filled the unit with my sobs; the echoes vibrating through the cold metal cot I lay on.

Someone in a cell next to me shouted “Shut up! Shut the fuck up! It’s just jail!” Perhaps, for her, it was only jail. For me, it was a bright, empty hole, projecting images of a fragmented nightmare, in which I was the monster.  I was the phone call in the middle of the night telling a mother that her daughter has been badly hurt by a drunk driver.  I was the fear in a child’s heart when he woke up and realized that his mom never came home last night. I was the sudden realization that life can be lost while one is sleeping, and that even one’s most helpful and well-meaning neighbor is capable of unforgivable sin.