Justice or Not?

Jennifer Miller. Artist

 by Jennifer Miller 

We met at a retreat on social justice.  I was certain we were going to become fast friends. Karen and me.  She knew it wasn’t only about human rights, but animal rights, too.

The retreat had an impact.  I listened to stories of people who had been incarcerated for 30 years- some innocent, some just did dumb shit that landed them in the system, but all of them black men who lost their youth behind bars. I mean I did dumb shit when I was younger, too, but then I was white and my friend’s parents (who I was caught shoplifting with) had money.

And it wasn’t my first time at the rodeo. There was my neighbor in Florida who I ended up visiting (this was still in the day when I thought I could be someone’s savior).  My only reference for visiting prison was Hollywood.  It wasn’t like that.  We didn’t sit across from each other with a glass wall between us, actually we were in a large room with lots of “criminals” and their loved ones.  I was initially nervous (what if there was a prison uprising!) and naive, but it didn’t take me long to become just another number.  These visits (and letter writing in between visits) went on for a while until he got out of prison.  He thank me by fucking me on my living room couch and forgetting to tell me he had a woman waiting for him.  She ended up calling me (how did she get my number?!) and told me in no un-certain terms to “leave her man alone!”  No problem…. I was not ready to audition for Jerry Springer.

Later, my college-aged daughter started dating someone who had just gotten out of prison.  We met him giving a tour in a chocolate factory and you never would have guessed his checkered past.  He was charming, intelligent and gave us some extra free samples at the end of the tour!  I asked her during my last visit why we pick challenging people with difficult histories and she told me she’s decided it’s time she go to therapy to find out. Smart girl.  I need to ask myself that same question.  I mean, in my defense, not always.  I married a sane and steady Eddie and that was my life for close to 25 years.  Maybe it’s the whole “bad boy” phenomenon… we like the challenge, the puzzle, the need to be needed.  We need to focus on someone besides ourselves since we don’t know exactly who we are.  Besides the drama is a great distraction.  The boys goes off to war-prison while you’re left wondering when they will come back and, more importantly, how they will come back.  The pre-occupation is perfect.  And this is seductive for someone who needs a Nurse Nightingale cause!  But why not get busy having our own adventures rather all this sleeping-beauty-waiting-for-them-to-come-home crap!

When my daughter moved to California to finish college, her boyfriend, who was on probation, couldn’t leave Florida unless they were married.  So, guess what she did?  I mean I get it, he needed someone to believe in him, someone to give him a second chance and his parents had their own major issues.  It worked for a while, they bought a house, adopted two dogs and they were on their way, until they weren’t on their way.  Slowly I started to watch him unravel until the last time I saw him he wasn’t there.  I mean he was sitting in front of me, but he was stoned or shitfaced and I knew saying something was not an option.

A month later, during a second visit, the veneer had cracked and he told my daughter he didn’t want to be married anymore.  He wanted his freedom.  How would things be different if girls were expected to have their own adventures and weren’t taught that a relationship is the cornerstone for happiness?  Perhaps that little announcement would be less devastating?  Regardless, it’s hard to watch someone you love self-destruct.  What can you do when someone you love would prefer sitting in a bar nursing his beer and looking for excitement (while rejecting that success is being married, having a house and a couple of over-sized dogs)?  Because if he “had it all” then why did he feel so empty?  Beer won’t solve the issue, of course, but the lie is very seductive.  That emptiness, along with grief, anger, anxiety is all part of the human experience.  I get it… it’s hard lesson to swallow…sober.  Getting stoned takes the edge off, but it doesn’t last and then what?

At least this time I know I’m not Nurse Nightingale— no fantasy that I can save him from self-destructing if that is what he’s hell-bent on doing.  Which left me more available for my own little coming-home reality.  My dog took the edge off as we napped and cuddle a good chunk of the day, but I wanted some arms around me.  I called Pete.  Remember him?  15 years later my old lover pops up and I allow myself to go there.  We never had a time to explore before, but maybe this time it will be different!  Only after all the sexy and seductive flirting there no invitation to visit, a missed connection while I was in the Midwest and phone calls spread months apart like doctor’s appointments.  This was following my “shit or get off the pot” text because I was confused.  Or was I?  My goodbye text was met with an apology, but the behavior didn’t change afterwards so I had my answer before I had my answer.

“Let’s be friends.”  His life is full of school age children and a new job.  He seem to have it all –adventure and intimacy, only it wasn’t going to be with me.  At least not in the way I had allowed myself to imagine.  The problem was I believed my fantasy.  Of course, it’s easy to say it’s a “timing thing” and a “geography thing,” because it is true, but, if the signals had been more consistent there could have been a different outcome.  I’m sad about it.  But instead of feeling sad it’s time to have a relapse (!).  The problem with that solution is the initial high (I mean in the beginning the man stayed up half the night reading my writings!) eventually gets replaced with the withdrawal.  And then comes the panic attack about getting older and never finding a partner.  But acceptance is coming more quickly now.

Maybe I’m not giving his “friend” idea enough credit?  But his inconsistent efforts, his early flirty behavior being replaced with his hyper busyness and then apologizing, his revealing himself and then his distancing himself leaves me cold.  I realize the easy thing would be to just say “who gives a shit,” but the truth is being more vulnerable and saying I’m really disappointed.  And I’m afraid, maybe my being intense/real scared him off.  I told him about my untidy world, but that was after he opened up and shared so much with me so I thought I was going in the right direction.

It doesn’t really matter the truth is we just never got a chance (again) to just spend time together and to really learn each other.  He once told me women fall in love with him all the time like it was a quandary or problem.  Maybe he just likes to be chased, because I paid attention and did my best to match him rather than chasing him (and if the high is about being chased and I don’t chase the hunt is over). I’ve been with men whose drug is collecting women. Those men won’t get into a sustainable relationship. Finally, it’s understanding it’s not that women aren’t that compelling, or the relationship can’t be the adventure it’s not about her at all actually, it’s about him.

Masturbation seems a good response to this crap. I also relapsed and went back on Bumble, sent one message to a guy who texted me again after a TWO-YEAR absence.  I sent him a one sentence response.  My motto NOW is only offering the same amount of effort you receive.  I thought about texting, Ervin, the last real hot guy I met in person.  I saw big potential with him until he told me he was married (but at least this time he told me before we slept together… progress!)  In the end you just have to sit with it and, if you’re lucky, have ice cream in your freezer.  I think the partner thing is also about finding home.  I’m realizing despite spending over two years to create a home in New Orleans, and over two years taking care of my dad, in New Orleans all of that doesn’t really make a home or, if it did, it no longer matters.  The house is done.  My dad is gone.  It’s the like the busyness has often helped me deal with the emptiness, but here I am sitting, in what I call my home with no ice cream, feeling slightly lost.  It’s okay, at least my “relapse” was quick (I did NOT text Ervin).

The house doesn’t need me.  My dad doesn’t need me.  Pete doesn’t need a girlfriend.  Okay, I confess I got busy looking for a house that “needed” me in Chicago (or Ashville, NC).  If my daughter’s marriage fails, she will come back to Chicago and I will be waiting for her.  But it’s more than that.  I love New Orleans, but is it REALLY my home?  And being a landlord means I have to share my home and this leads me back to my original point.  Do you remember my new best friend, Karen?  She asked me to help her and her new boyfriend, who happened to be a convicted sex offender, who was innocent, of course, at the social justice workshop. How could I not help? Her current landlord wasn’t digging the idea of her ex-con boyfriend moving in (she claimed it was because he was black and the landlord was a racist…of course, I’m not that!) and, of course, I had space and how could I not help?  On top of that they were going to get their first month’s rent and a security deposit from an agency (“First 72”) that helps offenders who were just released from prison.  What could go wrong?  Besides we had already discussed using my commercial space to sell artwork from people who were incarcerated as a way for them to make legit money!  Finally, a real purpose!  The need is real.  The USA has the largest prison population in the WORLD and Louisiana is leading the way.  It didn’t take long (once they had the keys) for the shit to hit the fan and suddenly Ms. Do-gooder wanted them out.  They were experts at working the system, only this time it was a person rather than a “system.”  They stopped paying rent because they didn’t “trust me” to give them their security deposit back (which ironically wasn’t even their money it was from First 72).  And so, a shitty game of chess ensued– will they leave after I post the five day’s notice or will I need a court order to evict them?  The moral of the story is desperate people do whatever it takes and lonely people do whatever it takes to look for purpose (or maybe just to look good) and old people look for a way to feel relevant in a culture that makes us invisible.

Too many times I’ve prostituted myself to work for that Hollywood ending.  And I think about “injustice,” but whose view of truth prevails?  You can spin a story any which way.  Despite their promise to keep their puppy in a kennel when they weren’t there (which was most of them time) they let the puppy piss and shit all over my carpet/floors.  They apartment was filthy when they finally moved out, but I am sure they justified themselves because I “deserved” it.  I wanted to send them a nasty ass message and tell them what the owe me, but I knew better than to expect a check or apology, but what part is about needing to be heard?  How does this equal vindication? There will be no satisfaction, no “truth and reconciliation.”  I’m learning how to walk away and move on, but it’s hard for me.  It really is.

I’m learning growing silent is not the same thing as becoming obsolete or compliant.  How do other people deal with this shit?  I decided I needed to pay more attention.  Of course, the easiest way is to PRETEND that things are equitable and fair!  I mean the Supreme Court just struck down affirmative action!  But then as if on cue I was at a hotel recently and overheard the following conversation with the front desk and a guy trying to check in.  I had gone back to the front desk to report that the sink in the bathroom was cracked.  I took photos of the sink- my affirmative action—so I wouldn’t be charged for the sink.

“We’re sold out,” she informed the dude.

“But I paid for a room,” he responded calmly.

Impressive, I thought, but will this last?

She repeated herself (imagine a person filing their fingernails here).

“There must be a room.  How can I pay for a room if there isn’t a room available.”

She mentions something about “third party booking” and to call them.

When he realizes he talking to a brick wall he turns around and mutters “FUCK.”

“Call the booking agent to get your money back,” she says like she could give a shit.

“What’s the number?”

“I don’t know.”

Where is the apology?  It’s missing in action.

As I’m leaving the lobby, I say to him:

“I’m sorry that happened, sir.”

I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone “sir” before in my life, but it seems my best option as I’m trying to find something resembling humanity.

Like trauma and grief these things add up and take a toll on our soul.

Later, my friend tells me (after telling her about my nightmare tenants) “karma is a bitch,” but that circles back to the idea of justice and fairness and we all know it doesn’t always add up.

I don’t know it’s complicated. Revenge… punishment…justice.  But who is the judge?

I just try and pretend that the universe is sending me lessons.  Of course, they aren’t always the lessons I want.  So, not that direction, not those people, not that project, not that house, not that cause, not that man.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for my yes.