“I’m not putting on your socks, chica.” I said sharply, “You’re seven months pregnant. It. Is. Not. Happening.”
“But you’re freezing. Your lips are blue, and the deputies aren’t gonna bring you another pair. Take. My. Socks.” She was standing barefoot, staring at me huddled in bed, holding her socks in her jail-tattooed hand.
“It’s my fault,” I soothed her, “I should have made sure there weren’t holes in them during clothing exchange. I’ll figure it out tomorrow. It’s just as cold for you in here. Put your socks on, chica. For the baby.”
She made a face at me, because I pulled the baby card, but obliged– sitting on her bunk, stretching past her belly to pull them up. I jumped down from my bunk to help and she admonished me.
“You’re going to ruin your bladder if you do that this whole time. It’s gonna pop straight out your vag.”
I tugged her socks up and laughed. “I don’t think that’s how science works, kiddo.”
She shrugged. “I want you to have the lower bunk when I leave. Just take it. The cops’ll do the paperwork if you don’t ask them.”
“I’m good on the top bunk,” I said, “The climb up and jump down doesn’t bug me.”
“It’s not about you, it’s about the next girl, and setting a tone. This is your room after I leave.” She tried to sprawl out on the narrow bunk but her belly extended every which way. I tucked her in, and then grabbed my blanket, tented it around myself, and squatted on the floor beside her.
“I’ll be okay. Besides, you don’t know the next girl. She’ll probably be nice.”
Her eyes narrowed and she looked at me. “I know every next girl who comes through here, or someone just like her. They’re never nice.”
I smiled, “You’re nice. I’m nice.”
She scoffed, “I’m not nice, and you’re the exception. I’ve never seen anyone like you in here and I’ve seen some real girlscouts.”
“I was never a girlscout,” I commented.
“If you went up to a door, and asked them to buy some cookies,” she asked, “What would happen?”
I was stymied. “Well, um, I’d probably sell a cookie?”
“Girlscout!” she proclaimed triumphantly. “Shoot, you aren’t even used to your feet being cold.” Then, “Hey, I didn’t say fuck. I’m getting better! You’re helping.”
I winced. “Okay, good. But now let’s try not saying it every time we don’t say it.”
She shrugged and I watched her lotion her belly, gently patting the baby inside. She’d been kind to me since before I even entered the cell. Her want for a better life gave me a sense of peace I wouldn’t find for months after she left. Her advice would see me through the sentence I didn’t yet know I had to serve.
“You’re used to your feet being cold?” I asked out of idle curiosity.
“When I have, I have. And when I didn’t, well. They let you out these doors at 2am, in whatever clothes you were wearing when they pulled you out of your house at whatever time of night. I’ve been out there, on the dark streets, in a nightgown, barefoot. I’ve stayed in shelters when I couldn’t get mom to come home. They don’t have socks to give out like tickets, not everyone’s got it like that.”
The baby started to move and we were distracted, watching him shift around, unaware that he was in a cage within a cage. Minutes passed, the lights went out, and I took the cue. I climbed into my bunk, and sang a song about the wild geese, and snow whispers, and how they knew it was time to go.
“Must be nice,” she yawned.
“Snow?” I asked, thinking she was talking about the song.
“No,” she chuckled. “Just, living that kinda life. Where doors open. Where you don’t have to be cold. Imagine always feeling like you can find a place or way to warm your feet, without having to hustle for it.”
She yawned into a sleep and I stayed up for a bit to think about what she had said. To imagine. I folded little toilet paper flowers for her to wake up to, and I left them on our table. Then I went to sleep.
I woke up to extra pairs of socks, hanging from my bunk like Christmas stockings.
“Don’t ask,” she said, “Just wear them all at the same time so the cops don’t see, alright?”
“I could have dealt with the cold, chica.” I argued, as I slipped on the contraband socks, feeling the feeling slowly come back to my toes.
“Probably,” she said, “But you were lying there, and I was looking at the flowers you left, and I suddenly understood. Why people would open their doors if you knocked.”
I looked at her, prompting her to continue, as I climbed gently off the bunk, in cautious just-in-case consideration of my bladder.
“It’s because you don’t know any better. And no one wants to be the first person to teach you the world is cold, dark, and unfriendly.”
I laughed. “If the world is so unfriendly, how did I end up with an awesome bunky?”
She rolled her eyes. “Okay, Rara. Your bunky is awesome, doors open if you knock, and there’s always some way to warm your feet.”
“Tell another true story,” I replied, “I like them.”
“Nah,” she said, balancing precariously on the stool. “You tell a story now, and we’ll try to brainwash this little guy to not know any better either.”
I patted her belly in agreement and sat beside her, moving the flowers to the side. “A long time ago,” I began, “When the Earth was still new, and all the best green things were blossoming from kindness, and all the best sparkly things were being formed from possibility, there lived a boy who was born in a cage inside a cage. A boy who would know the sweetness of freedom, even on bitter days. A boy who would know the truth of warmth, even on cold nights…”
It’s #Sockvember! Patrick Michael is collecting socks for the homeless in his area till the 30th of this month. Any type of new pair is welcome. You can send it directly to his address which you can find on his blog:
I don’t have any sort of organization or point to these memories. They’re all just little bursts of thoughts and feelings. They’re the ones that flash through my mind when someone implies that I should be so happy to be away from that space. Jail wasn’t all bad. Prison wasn’t all bad. I don’t recommend it, but it really wasn’t all bad.
The doors were locked, but I found kindness in the cage, and plenty of ways to keep my heart and toes warm.
How do you keep your heart and toes warm?