She was stuck somewhere between purgatory and a dream. “I am not my trauma”, she whispered to herself. “I am not my trauma”. “I am not my trauma” she repeated, until she was jolted by a deafening knock on the door. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. Each knock pulsated like a mangled heartbeat beating itself to a pulp. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. Shooting up her veins and draining down into her throat. “GET UP!’, a male officer shouted. “GET UP YOUNG LADY!” GET UP!” Declining and in his mid-thirties, he was overweight and miserable, complete with a rape stash and treacherous breath. “Let’s go Amber, it’s time for court”, he hollered again, as tiny droplets of spit pranced through the lines engraved on the floor.
Amber leaped up like a frog trying to release its hind legs from the jaws of a fisher cat.
“Yes, Sir”, she stuttered as she stood up and wiped away the sleepies from the corners of her bright green eyes. She yawned and tossed her black oversized hoodie up and over her head, then nestled it down over her rounded bottom. With only her sweatshirt as a pillow and a cold metal cot to rest on, Amber awoke more unruly than usual. Using her fingers as a comb, she carefully untangled the tiny knots created from tossing back and forth throughout the night.
Amber had just turned seventeen and was arrested for the assault the night before. When she first arrived at the station, three police officers removed her black laced boots and confiscated her off-brand eyeglasses. Leaving her unable to see anything besides the striped cotton candy pink, and baby blue toe socks that were covering her feet.
“Protocol” one officer said, when Amber asked why she wasn’t allowed to have her glasses back. This was also the reason she was told; they removed and kept the strings from her sweatshirt. “Protocol”, they said. Protocol.
“Let’s get these cuffs back on ya, kid!”. “Put your hands through here”, another officer said, as he pointed towards the middle of the doorway. Amber sluggishly moved her feet forward and placed her youthful hands directly through the small opening located in the center of the doorframe. She felt one cold metal cuff slide gently under her left wrist, then swiftly SNAP together. She heard a key firmly lock it into place.
The same thing happened on the other hand. One cold metal cuff slid under her wrist, and SNAP! Only the right side was much, much tighter.
When Amber asked the officer if he would “please” loosen her cuff, he let out a Joker type laugh and blatantly ignored her request. He then hollered at her, “Step back while I open the door!”. She obeyed and immediately took three steps back.
She stepped back and watched as the officer opened the door to her holding cell and directed her outwards.
Amber’s feet jiggled like Jell-O, as they trudged heavily underneath her body. Heavier than the anchor her grandfather used to have on his pontoon boat when she was growing up. They dragged her dead-weighted body through the doorway and out into the hallway.
Her grandfather taught her how to drive his pontoon boat when she was just over 8 years old. He sat Amber down in the captain’s chair and placed her tiny hands at “one and two” upon the red and blue steering wheel. He was educated and spoke loudly and confidently with a strong Boston accent. “Look ova at tha dock, right in between those two houzes. That’s straight. Got it?”. “Keep ya eyes on that and go!” “Ya got this!”.
Amber watched nervously as he proudly released his strong, wrinkled hands from her smooth youthened ones, and compelled her to drive. She was scared shitless and desperately tried to quit, but he wouldn’t let her quit. He never did.
“Go Amber” “GO, GO, GO!” he cheered triumphantly, as she drove them perfectly towards the tiny wooden dock. Strategically placed between two homely little lake houses, she continued straight until the boat claimed the dockside.
“See, ya did it!” Oh, Amber I am so proud of ya girl!”, her grandfather boasted. Gleaming with pride, he swooped her frail body up into the air and gave her the type of hug only a father could give. She felt loved that day. She accomplished something. She was proud of herself and most importantly, Grampa was proud too.
She wondered if he would be proud of her now. Escorted without shoes on, handcuffed on her way to court in the same town he lived for most of his life? Would he be proud of her constant panic attacks in high school, that caused her to sneak out of any door and every window she could find? Would he be proud that she had no plans for her future and that she secretly wanted to slice her wrists open?
As she rode in the back of the police cruiser, Amber kept sliding back and forth along the hard, plastic seat. A seatbelt was nonexistent, and she lacked the physical ability to do anything, with handcuffs vehemently securing her hands behind her back. A female officer with gorgeous Disney princess-like blonde hair, drove in complete silence until they entered an underground parking lot, this one belonging to the city courthouse.
Everything was gloomy and the smell of the air was hauntingly unfamiliar.
The cold penetrated her bones while it licked the sweat off her neck.
Misery saturated her flesh, as her eyelids blackened.
“I am not my trauma”, she whispered to herself as she noticed the cruiser door open and finally heard the voice of the attractive policewoman. Her words were direct but gentle. “Come on Honey, it’s time to get out now”. Amber’s green eyes finally connected with someone else’s. Her beautiful baby blues were soothing. Amber nodded a silent “OK” and stepped out of the vehicle.
The kind officer led Amber down a narrow hallway to a large holding area.
She noticed all different types of men awaiting their trials. Most of them looked to be in their 20s or 30s and they all spew “cat calls” at her as she walked by. “Damn, Mami, look at that ass!”, “Mmmm mmm mmm, she looks good!”. Amber stared blankly at the floor while men old enough to be her father, whistled as she walked by.
One man specifically yelled, “Hey Baby!”, while flicking his tongue up and down, in between a V shape over his mouth. This not only petrified Amber, but it simultaneously infuriated her and made her want to vomit, at the exact same time.
The holding area for men, was stationed directly across the hall from where Amber was expected to stay… the holding area for women. A place where the women were much more experienced and much more terrifying than she could ever be.
The women’s holding area was much different than the men’s holding area. Amber wasn’t welcomed by any obnoxious cat calls or extended friendly gestures. Instead, she was given the finger as each one of them stared her up and down. Not one of the women offered up a seat next to them or asked Amber her name.
She claimed a seat next to the least intimidating woman. A tall, youthful, and quiet brunette with badly stained teeth. Amber inhaled a long, deep breath in through her nose, and forcefully out her mouth as she repeated to herself, “I am not my trauma”.
“I am not my trauma”.
“I am not my trauma”.
“I am not my trauma”.
Both the men and women’s holding areas were extremely filthy and unsanitary. The units were enclosed with long metal bars, replacing the large blue doors used at the local police station. There was only one toilet in each holding area with little to no privacy. The wall used to shelter the toilet was pre-pubescent and left everyone’s business fully exposed.
Certain men enjoyed watching women use the bathroom and would howl out the most sickening sexual remarks. An attention deprived dirty girl was watching a man jerk off as she finger banged herself on the jailhouse throne.
She’d “Houdini” the guards by pretending to use the bathroom. Perfectly positioned on the pooper, ready to give the perverts across the hall a prison peep show.
The rest of the women, Amber included, were mortified by the “Pooper Peeper”. But not one of them said or did anything.
That’s the thing in prison. Even junkies, hookers, killers and especially drug dealers, understand when the fun is over and when it’s time to take the game seriously.
It was an unspoken rule that Amber immediately appreciated, understood, and respected. This wasn’t the time to have an opinion and she realized it immediately.
It was crucial to her survival and to her freedom, to be on her very best behavior.
Men would relentlessly banter to the women’s holding area and vise versa. A woman in her late twenties with more track marks and scabs than Amber could count, knew a few of the guys that were detained. When she noticed Amber being cat-called by the same men, she squealed at her like a half-sliced pig, calling her a whore, slut and cunt.
Amber was an easy target, with her 17-year-old baby face and terrorized green eyes, that were instantly spray painted onto the concrete floor.
Those words, whore, slut and cunt did something different to her. They pierced through her gut like a shimmering new knife, ripping through the flesh of a baby buck.
Truthfully, Amber never stood a chance.
At 12 years old, her mother started calling her names like slut and cunt. A virgin and still inexperienced with her period, Amber was labeled as a whore. Trapped with a living corpse, poorly disguised as her mother. A miserable, rotting skin pole, that seeked pleasure in hurting others, as her one and only caretaker.
Although raised by happy, educated and exceptionally nurturing parents, her mother never learned how to love. She resented Amber and held her responsible for everything she could never achieve. Amber was constantly bullied by her mother and was countlessly told she was a “mistake”. Eternally referred to as the “abortion child”. “Should’ve had that abortion”, her mother squawked as her pale blue eyes bulged out of their boned sockets.
Her discolored yellow teeth thumped together like an angry rabbit.
“I am not my trauma”, Amber tried to convince herself.
“I am not my trauma”.
“I am not my trauma”.
But in reality, she was lost in her trauma.
Always “stuck in a fog”, as she often called it.
Caught in a tainted memory, that she constantly floated through and never found her way out of.
“Alright ladies, you four are up next”, a small woman with a round face shouted, as she pointed towards Amber and the three women sitting next to her. One of the women had short black hair and a huge gap between what she had left of her front teeth. She reeked of homemade “rollie” cigarettes. The kind you roll up yourself, with a big ole bag of stale tobacco you copped from Chippy’s corner store, a cheap rolling machine, and some paper tubes. Or if you were a real pro like Mama Sue and Dougie Bounds you said, “Fuck that piece of shit machine” and rolled them all by hand. Amber discovered that the real O. G’s never used a rolling machine. They just pinched the dry tobacco in between two fingers and perfectly caressed it into the center of the rolling tube. They repeated the process while lightly tapping the filter down onto a table or sturdy unit to “pack” the tobacco into place. The opened, exposed tip is then twisted together tightly, enclosing the tip of the cigarette, allowing it be lit and smoked.
Linda sat on the right side farthest from Amber. She was in her mid to late forties and bragged about having been HIV positive for the past decade. She was an alcoholic and pissed her pants when she was caught shoplifting from Cumberland Farms. She was still wearing the same piss-stained blue jeans she was arrested in and stank up the entire unit.
Amber and the other women stood up simultaneously and started moving towards the front of the holding area. Like the first day of preschool, they stood perfectly one behind the other and watched nervously as the guard unlocked the metal lock box and released the long metal poles that were used to restrain them.
“This way”. That’s it”. “Right down here”. The guard casually directed, as she led them down another long and incredibly gloomy hallway. Every wall was painted from top to bottom, in the most depressing shade of navy blue. There wasn’t any artwork or framed photos of respectable officials to admire. There wasn’t a soft, clean mat to carpet their footsteps. The lights above them were so miniscule and dimly lit, Amber could hardly tell if they were even working. Each light had been sluggishly fixated onto a large heap of concrete that hung directly above their heads. She noticed tiny specks of dust fall upon their hair, as the ceiling laid much lower than health violations would have legally permitted.
The officer halted the inmates, as they neared another holding cell. They watched as the guard took a different key out of her pocket and pressed it into the keypad. Instead of long metal poles, this lock was attached to a large metal door. The lights were enormous and oddly bright, compared to the lights in the blue hallway. Although, much smaller than the previous holding cell, the new cell comfortably fit the four of them.
Technically, five of them, since one of the inmates was visibly pregnant.
Her name was Marg, and she was truly breathtaking. Blessed with natural blonde ringlets that bounced perfectly off the tips of her shoulders. A full, voluptuous chest and plump rosemary lips mixed with the most beautiful, chocolate eyes. She couldn’t have been a day over 25 and was at least 25 weeks into her pregnancy.
They spent over an hour in complete silence, until Amber nestled up the courage to strike up a conversation with the expectant prisoner. She took a deep breath, in through her nose and forcefully out of her mouth as she playfully asked Marg if she was having a boy or a girl. Marge aggressively replied, “WHO CARES? I CAN’T KEEP IT ANYWAYS”, as she defensively turned her pregnant body away from Amber and the other inmates.
Marg, busy readjusting her position again, didn’t notice that a large portion of her shirt had accidentally lifted up, exposing most of her massive belly. She struggled to stretch her hot pink tank top, over her protruding uterus before the other girls noticed.
Before they noticed the infected track marks on Marg’s pregnant body.
Amber and most of the inmates tried to look past the infections debilitating throughout Marg’s body. They pretended not to see the self-inflicted wounds that were festering outside of Marg’s body, served directly to the body of her unborn child.
Amber wasn’t sure why she didn’t say anything to Marg or why she pretended like those track marks weren’t on a pregnant woman’s body. Could it be because Amber was still a baby herself? That she still needed her mother? That she too, lost her mother to drugs, disease, and sheer selfishness? According to her young and inexperienced mind, it wasn’t real. People just don’t shoot drugs into their pregnant bodies for their underdeveloped fetuses to feast upon.
The mood changed after that, and they didn’t talk about Marg’s pregnancy anymore.
Morgan Phaneuf is an aspiring poet and author from the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. A proud mother, wilderness enthusiast, and karaoke queen, she strives to bring consolation to those who relate to the uncomfortability expressed in her writing. Focusing on authentic experiences, she re-creates trauma into words of empowerment.
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