He watched the guys come in from smoke break. There was an incredibly tall, pasty white dude, with dyed black hair all roostered and matted in the back, talking with a short kid who would have been a dreamboat if drugs hadn’t acne’d up his face. The kid was young enough that the acne gave him youth realness. The tall dude had a face like a hatchet and was wearing clothes that looked hopeful; here was another man who didn’t wear sport-affiliated, wicking mesh polyblend.
This guy had on tired black jeans, a striped pullover a la Kurt Cobain, and what may have in a former life been nice black oxfords whose leather edges were worn to gray fur. “He’s dressed like me,” he thought. And the adorable youngster with the pustules wore a creditably tailored short blazer and skinny jeans of the moment.
He turned his head to take in the rest of the gents and noticed that the other few guys not wearing gym clothes were also white and wiry but shrouded in camo hoodies or inside-out sweat jackets. What could be on those inside-out clothes? What normally-flaunted allegiance were those inside-out sweatshirts mediating, would bring their wearer unwanted attention? He was wearing his own version of this, an inside-out sweatshirt, but his had a picture of an irritated Victorian cat being interrupted while reading a book.
Not for the first time was he grateful he was a human palimpsest of snakes and flames, symbols and skulls. His tattoos were vital to his credibility because everything he mediated unconsciously were telltale signs of something a little…queer. Camo, he ascertained, was the white, Carolina-country version of the Dick’s Sporting Good sale gear that everyone else was wearing.
The tall white guy was teasing the boy affectionately. The kid punched at the pasty guy, who dodged in slow motion. “Getcha dirty dick-beaters offa me!” tall guy said with a fake Jersey accent. At least, he thought it was fake. “Ya dirty dick-mitts!” The kid cracked up.
Next to him was this foolish looking man, probably previously homeless, with no teeth and a few missing fingers. Some black guys, the same ones who were messing with the front desk folks, were surrounding the fool. “Jerry, hey Jerry,” dancing around him, “Do that thing you do,” and the other guy was saying “Yeah, he ain’t seen it Jerr….”
The cacophony, visual and aural, was too much; he was entering his “Junky Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors” phase of early detox. Anyway, looking at that sad white dude gave him the creeps-sympathy feeling and that was just too much sensation to bear.
“All right Gentlemen! Line up at the door!” barked a harried attendant.
He wanted to meet tall pasty hatchet-faced dude. Dude would be sympatico perhaps. And that young man, too, whose down-and-out chic coded smart cool du jour.
“Everybody’s got to go to class!” barked a helpful inmate.
His head turned sideways, back and forth. Class?
The harried aide interrupted. “Peterson. Your counselor’s on his way up here; he’s gonna put you in your classes.”
A beefy, ginger haired guy next to him leaned in a little too closely and whispered:
“Hey, can I ask you a question?” And without waiting for an answer, “How come you don’t have shoe laces in your shoes?”
Figuring he’d be doing a lot of up-and-down from the bed and wanting a slip-on shoe, he had peremptorily removed the laces and left them on Suzie’s car floor on the way to Butner. But,he knew what the ginger really meant: Had some staff member taken his laces from him in an effort to prevent suicide?
“It’s just easier this way,” he said, but he knew he didn’t make any sense. His brain could only come up with half of what was actually necessary for a conversation.
“Oh, it’s easier,” nodding.
Then, because that couldn’t really be an answer, “Because you know, sometimes they won’t let you have ‘em if you’re depressed. I know, there were guys like this the last place I was.”
“No, no man, no.”
Fortune favored the mumbler in that moment.
“Mr. Peterson?” It was his counselor Gary. “If you’ll come with me, we can figure out exactly what classes you should be attending.”
Sitting in a gray drywall room with overlarge windows looking out onto the hallway, he thought, I have a mother. I have a father. I have a brother. I had a wife.
Gary shuffled papers and said, “Well now.” Gary asked questions and listened. Then said “I’m going to put you in these classes, tell me what you think.” He thought, “I don’t even know what you mean by “classes.”
Gary looked like an elementary school science teacher, which is to say, he looked nerdish and childless but not wifeless. The questions were thoughtful, and Gary patiently allowed time for the answers to spool out. But it was extremely unpleasant; Gary required a litany of trauma from him, a recitation of the worst things: assault, deaths, violence, neglect.
He told Gary about being raped, if that’s what you called it—that’s what the Savannah Rape Crisis Center assured him it was—he had barely been penetrated. He had been abducted and punched in the head enough to induce unconsciousness; it was a terrifying experience he never relished retrieving. It did have the disconcerting ability to pop up in strongly flavored bits and pieces whenever he was stressed; he imagined horrible memories would be his companion in this detox effort, much as all the rest of the shit-on-shit party mix running around his head was.
Gary said, “I’m going to put you in our Trauma Group. It’s for people who have experienced these kinds of things, there’s a few people in it and they all have different things they’re dealing with, but the one thing they all have in common is PTSD.”
“I was diagnosed with PTSD back then.”
“What kind of treatment did you get?” Gary asked.
“I went for one session and never went back. I spent most of the time telling the counselor how sad I felt for the guy’s mother, who surely didn’t raise her child to be a violent rapist. I couldn’t get near my own pain—I was so fucked up and crazy I just overwrote the whole experience with this narrative about feeling sorry for him and his family—I guess it helped me to cope…I dunno, I was such a fucked up mess then.”