It took them forever to process Dan. Days went by, and we were incommunicado, as though he had simply ceased to exist. It was unsettling, after being so completely preoccupied with him and the case for so many years, and now I was useless. Like running at full speed into a brick wall, I came to a sudden stop. There was nothing left to do but wait. I was in a state of total panic, silently writing frantic letters- pages and pages full of love, hope, sadness, loneliness, more love. I felt that in spite of whatever emotions I was feeling, it was my duty to reach out to him in some way to cheer him up, give him hope, let him know we were in this together, that he was not alone. The sheer fact that he was in prison blew my mind when I stopped to think about it. The trick was not to stop and think- to just write and write and sleep and count the minutes. Unfortunately, I didn’t know where to send these letters so they piled up one by one, the tears of my life enclosed into each and every envelope.
It suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea where he was or even if he actually was in fact in prison at all. Maybe they sent him somewhere else after the post office. What if he just kept walking. Or perhaps some degenerate could have mugged him for his stamp and envelope? He didn't even have a wallet with him. One of the more far fetched ideas that I dreamed up was that this could all be the most elaborate way to dump a wife in the history of mankind. My head swirled with scenarios, all of them insane, each one nuttier that the last. I wrote a lot of letters. I have pretty penmanship.
We had decided not to tell anyone that he was going to prison- not our friends, family, absolutely no one in order to spare them the fear and pain. Anyway the arrest had happened so many years before that most people assumed he had already gone to prison and was back. Some people even assumed that Dan was dead since we had fallen off the face of earth. The only people who knew what was really happening were his top two lawyers, the Judge, the prosecutors, a crazy wacked out FBI agent and one of Dan’s very close friends, and maybe some residual journalists from the back woods of podunk Central Florida who still followed his case although it had lost it's allure to them over the years and they mostly left us alone. The tremendous weight of this secret bore down on me in an unimaginable way, especially since I was half-mad with anxiety at not knowing exactly where he was in the first place.
During this time, I had the heart-wrenching task of attending my little sister’s wedding- sans the hubby. Awkward- especially as it had only been two days since I had dropped him off at the courthouse to surrender. I was still a bit PTSD-ish from it all. At the last moment, we had begged the Judge to delay the self-surrender date by two days so Dan could attend the wedding too, but the Judge told us he had had enough of this case and that was that. It was the strangest juxtaposition of total happiness about the wedding and utter desolation that he was incarcerated. Being a Gemini must have helped me cope because I hid the scared side of me and put on the happiest most carefree face ever. The show must go on! One solo family function coming right up.
Somehow I managed to put on my gown, help with pre-wedding stuff, chauffeur various family members to the wedding, pose for pictures, watch the ceremony, dance, eat cake and socialize with hundreds of people all without shedding a tear- and with a great big smile stuck onto my face. Every time someone hugged me and asked where Dan was, I had to cover and apologize that he couldn't make it. He is very popular at family events- to this day we cannot get through the Passover Seder without cracking up in hysterics during marror. My father uses giant romaine lettuce leaves for the ceremony and the first time Dan attended a Seder we were all sitting in stoic silence waiting for the blessing. Suddenly I heard a snort and some giggles. I glance up and my sister is red in the face trying not to laugh- I realize Dan had held up his leaves like bunny ears over his head. For us kids, we would never have dared do anything remotely as scandalous, but somehow when Dan did it, it was funny. But this, this was not funny at all- I missed my sidekick, the person who made difficult things easier to bear.
At the end of the wedding I snuck outside for a few minutes to breathe and be silent for a moment. Being that fake happy on the outside for so many hours was exhausting. As I looked up into the Brooklyn night, I realized I was only a few blocks from MDC Brooklyn. I could see the top of the building from the wedding hall and I stared at it wondering who was in there. I had been reading up about prisons online, trying to educate myself and that was the facility identified as the Federal Prison in Brooklyn. At the time though, unaware of just how close he was, all I thought about was how sad all the other inmate’s families must be, knowing their loved ones were stuck inside, completely oblivious to the fact that my loved one was there too. I lay in bed later that night crying silently in the dark. This was going to be a long five years.
My phone hadn’t rung in a week, I jumped out of my skin as Bittersweet Symphony filled the room. I saw ‘Unknown’ on the caller id and knew immediately it was him. Naturally, I burst into my new trademark tears and managed to choke out a hello.
“Hello,” she said, “You have a prepaid call from an inmate at a federal prison. Hang up to deny this call or to accept, press five, now”
I have come to both love and hate her, my recorded nemesis with the singsong lilting tone who brings my darling’s voice on the line, yet always reminds me that this call is being recorded, that he is far away from home and that we have limited minutes with which to talk. She represents this moment of happiness he is calling but simultaneously it is so sad that this is how he calls me. I sat up and opened both eyes so I wouldn’t press the wrong number by accident.
I pushed five.
“Da-an?” I cannot even say his entire name without bawling. Stop sniffling, he won’t be able to hear you, you big baby.
“Hey darling, they finally got my phones working. I love you- are you ok?”
Sniff. Sniff. Do not cry, breathe, how can he sound so cheerful, he’s in prison! How can he be so happy when he’s locked away and can’t come home to me- wait- you need to answer, he asked a question. The words tumbled out too quickly.
“I’m fine, I just was so scared all week, I didn’t know where you were, the last time we talked you were going to the post office, did they get your money order in Iowa, are you ok, are you eating, are the people scary, I miss you so much, the wedding was so beautiful but I cried and cried after because it was so hard to be there without you.”
Pause to inhale. I had so many questions!
“Ok, slow down. First of all, I am ok. I’m a new fish- that is what they call the new guys, and there is a group of us that came in together. They got the money in Iowa, which is how I have money to use the phone. You wouldn’t believe some of the people I’ve met and I’ll tell you all about it when I see you at visiting ok?”
There's visiting? Internal celebration- hurray! I get to visit! I started planning my outfit, and oh I would have to borrow a car from my parents. I couldn’t ask him everything I wanted to know. Was he scared? Had anyone hurt him? Was he eating? I was so excited that he had actually called and then I suddenly remembered-
“I get to visit? Wait- WHERE ARE YOU?”
“Yes, you get to visit, I mailed you the form and I’m in Brooklyn at the MDC. I have to go there’s a line of people waiting for the phones, I’ll call you later tonight, I love you- oh hey and babe, can you send more money?”
Can you send more money…I should put that on a t-shirt.
Can you send more money…I should put that on a t-shirt.