Authors: Kimberly Wollenburg
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Retail, #Personal Memoir, #Nonfiction
Copyright 2012 by Kimberly Wollenburg
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
IBSN 9 781480 0800010
This book is a memoir. The events in this book
have been reproduced
from the author’s memory, extensive journals, letters, various medical records and court documents.
have been changed
“Let enough people into your closet and there’s no room left for your skeletons.”
~ Kevin Smith
For anyone who’s ever said, “I can’t.”
There are precious few things in this life of which I am certain. One is the love I have for my son, Andy.
I was just shy of my twenty-third birthday when Andy was born. My pregnancy was intentional. My son was no accident, but my brief marriage was.
I was two months pregnant and decided I should marry the “sperm donor” and make an honest woman of myself. Three weeks after the ceremony, he hit me and I threw him out. The divorce was final a couple of months after Andy was born. I told my ex that if he left us alone, I would never go after the child support, and that was fine with him. We never saw him again.
As certain as I’ve always been about being a mother, I was unprepared for the depth and breadth of my love for my son.
Andy was born with Down syndrome, and there were medical problems. He had esophageal atrasia, meaning there was no connection between his esophagus and stomach, so there was no way to feed him. He was in neo-natal intensive care for the first month and a half of his life, and he was two days old when he underwent his first surgery to put a gastrostomy tube in his stomach so that he could eat. He was five days old when Dr. Curnow repaired the atrasia.
For six hours, I sat envisioning
Andy’s delicate skin being sliced open with gleaming surgical steel, and of hands the size of my son’s torso removing one of his ribs and repositioning his tiny organs.
The first time I held him was just before that operation. As I was savoring the moment, holding the six and a half pound person I’d been waiting so long to meet, a nurse clipped a lock of his hair and made prints of a hand and foot. “Just in case,” she said. No one had to explain. I knew how serious the situation was.
The feeling I had as I held him to my chest was almost indescribable. My heart felt so full, I thought it might explode. A wave of love, so pure it made my bones ache, washed over me. I couldn’t hug him tight enough. I wanted to slip him under my skin so I could get him as close to me as possible.
Even attached to monitors and machines, he was perfect. There was a feeding tube hanging from his recently sawed open tummy and he smelled like a hospital: all adhesive tape, antiseptic
and iodine. And he was perfect. He was the yummiest baby I’d ever seen.
When I finally was able to bring him home, I would spend hours just staring into those eyes. Like pools of cerulean. We would stare into each other’s souls, and I knew that he had always been a part of me.
Andy spent the first three years of his life in and out of the hospital. There were complications with the initial repair of his esophagus. It was stricturing, trying to close again. He had a hiatal hernia, causing his stomach to creep up into his chest. At final count, Andy had fifteen surgeries, twelve of which occurred before he was two years old.
The constant hospitalizations and anesthesia compromised his immune system and he would get sick which, of course, meant more time spent in the hospital. He had two complete blood transfusions.
Between stays, when he was home, I fed him through the G-tube that hung out of the furious red scar in his tummy, and wheeled an oxygen tank around everywhere we went.
And he was perfect.
But those first three years were hell, and if someone had told me I would have to live through all of that, I would have said they were crazy. No way was I strong enough to handle all of that, especially as a single mother.
But I was. And I did. And it was worth every horrifying minute.
I tell Andy he’s my bug in a boy suit, my perfect person and the best human I’ve ever known. I tell him this every day, because he is. One of the only things I’m certain of in this life is the excruciating love I have for my son.
The other thing of which I am certain is this: no one wants to be an addict.
Nobody wakes up one morning and says, “This is the day I will begin to destroy my life and the lives of those who love me. Today, I will begin my suicide. I’ll start taking poison. Not all at once, but a little at a time, so I can experience a long, slow agonizing death.”
I’ve heard it said, that if you drop a frog into a pan of boiling water, it will flop around and do anything to escape. But if you put that same frog in a pan of cool water, place it on the stove
and heat it up ever so slowly to the point of boiling, the frog won’t realize what’s happening to it and will stay there until it’s dead. That’s how it is with addiction. Death comes slowly.
I doubt anyone has ever said to themselves, “My goal in life is to lie, cheat, steal and beg to get my poison and I will sacrifice everything I have in pursuit of my own death. I will give up my life and give up my hope. I will give up my dreams and my self-respect. I will give my soul.”
No one wants to be an addict.
Especially a meth addict.
Meth is dirty and disgusting.
The media shows us that i
by shady characters with facial sores and no teeth in trailer houses and sheds.
Everything we hear and see tells us that m
eth is a low class drug for low class people like white trash and Mexicans. In my city, there are towering billboards of the ugliest, scariest people you’ve ever seen: teeth rotted out, lips cracked and infected, skin hanging from the sharp angles of their bones, matted, dirty hair and body sores.
Disgusting people, disgusting drug.
How easy it is to dismiss them and categorize them as an almost different species because, after all, there’s no way in hell you or I would mess around with meth. We’re not those kinds of people. We’re not stupid. We have lives and dignity and no one with any self-respect would even
of sinking to such murky depths.
That’s what I thought, too.
At the time of my arrest, I’d been using meth for over five years. Every single day. All day long. Without exception. I was what’s known as a “functioning addict.” I worked two legitimate jobs, was raising my son by myself, had a house and a man I thought I was in love with. On the outside, everything seemed fine. But barely scratch the surface, and the chaos of my living hell was frightening.
I started using meth to study on the weekends. Then more often during the week to get through my workday and still have the energy to do what I needed to do in the evening: laundry, dishes, dinner, therapy with Andy and my own studies. I was an honor student, a teaching assistant and a research assistant at the state school and hospital.
It wasn’t long before I needed meth. Once I started, I was trapped. If I quit using, I’d fall asleep for days and I’d get behind. I couldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t fail, so I just kept going.
The flip side of this is that I didn’t like myself very much. To be honest, I hated myself. Altering my reality with drugs took me outside of my own head so I didn’t have to deal with the constant looping voice of negativity:
not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty, not a good enough mom, stupid, lazy, ugly...
No one could ever make me feel worse than I could. I’d perfected my self-loathing for most of my life. Meth took me away from all of that. With it, I could do everything I wanted and needed to do. I lost weight, I felt smarter and funnier than I ever had before. My self-confidence was off the chart. Meth made me feel like a whole person. It made me feel normal.
It also robbed me of all my ambition. Everything else quickly became moot. All I wanted to do was get high.
I call Allan from booking after being fingerprinted, photographed and processed. “You need to call Jill for me.”
“You want me to wake her up?”
“Yes! I’m on call and someone has to take the phones. Will you make sure Andy gets ready in time for the bus?”
“Yeah. Are you okay?”
Of course I’m not okay! Why can’t you take care of me
for a change?
“I’m okay. I’ll be arraigned tomorrow, and then we’ll know more.” I don’t expect him to say, “I love you.” He never has, but it would mean everything to me just now. As I hang up, the desk sergeant calls my name. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I’m thirty-eight years old, and I’ve just been arrested for felony possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
I’m embarrassed. I want to tell the officers I’m different. I’m not like the other people in here. I’m educated, own a home and pay taxes. I’m a bail bondsman. I don’t belong here. I should get to go home. A female guard takes me to a room and tells me to strip. This is the worst part for me. I’m completely humiliated. Standing naked in the cold room, ashamed of being on display in front of this woman, I’m sobbing like a sniveling child. It’s the first time I’ve cried since this whole thing started. Everything I’m facing, everything I’ve been through tonight, and this is what undoes me. With my stretch marks showing and thirty-eight-year-old breasts hanging unsupported, the guard tells me to turn around and bend over.
“Squat and cough,” she says. This series of routine procedures is more humiliating than the arrest. Stripped of all facades, all the outer layers that protect me, I’m vulnerable and exposed. Standing here naked, it’s just me and I hate myself. I’m ashamed of my nakedness and ashamed that I’m crying. The officer looks at me as if I’m a slug on a sidewalk: something she’d rather not see, but here I am anyway.
When I finally get my blue jail uniform, I stop crying, grateful that I’m covered again. A guard leads me and two other women down a long hall. One of them is talking non-stop to the guard. Long, rambling tweaker sentences, with no punctuation, about who’s still here and who just got out. She’s obviously been here before.
The guard leads us through locked doors and down corridors where overhead fluorescents glare obscenely. I have no idea what to expect in county jail. I’ve worked for Jill, writing bail bonds, for three years, so I know my way around, but it’s different on this side. It’s the difference between driving by an asylum and admiring the landscape, and being on a ward in the same asylum. I’m used to talking to defendants through a glass partition, getting their signature on the dotted line, posting their bond at the window and chatting with the sergeants at the front desk, but I’ve never seen the inside. Walking down the concrete corridor feels like walking into the abyss.
Do not show fear
. I tell myself.
And don’t cry
. I can’t cry. That would be even more humiliating than being strip-searched. We stop at a door, and a guard on the inside buzzes us in. The lights are dim in the dormitory. It’s the middle of the night, but everyone is awake. There are two levels of double bunk beds. I have no idea how many women are here. I can feel their eyes sizing me up. I look past the sea of faces.
The guard is male, and he’s telling me the rules, though I barely hear his voice. I get a plastic cup with a toothbrush, trial size bar of soap, plastic spoon, sweatshirt, blanket and a sheet through which I could easily read a book. He points me to my bunk.
Jesus. This is worse than I imagined
, I think, looking down at the skeleton of metal that is my bed. I start to lay my sheet over the criss-crossing metal straps, when a woman comes over and stops me.
“You need to get your mattress,” she says. “Hey!” She yells at the guard. “She didn’t get no mattress!”
“It’s okay,” I tell her. “I can get it.” But she’s already dragging a thin, worn mattress up the stairs. She smiles at me and I can see she’s only got one front tooth. She shows me how to slip the mattress into the sheet the same way I’d slide a sandwich into a baggie, and before retreating to her bunk a few feet away tells me if I need anything just ask her.
Despite the guard’s intermittent warnings to shut up and go to sleep, the hushed chatter is constant. I take off my oversized sneakers. They’ve removed the laces. They don’t want anyone hanging herself in here, although I don’t know how it would be possible. There’s absolutely no privacy. Even the toilet is exposed with only a half wall on one side so the male guards can’t watch the women drop their pants and squat down on the cold plastic.
I fold the sweatshirt into a makeshift pillow and lie down. I’m still in shock from the arrest. I can’t get my mind around the fact that I’m actually in jail. Lying there with my face in my arms, all I can think about is Andy. I wish I were at home. I wish I could crawl into bed with him until morning. It’s cold here, and I feel so alone. How easy it would be to get lost in the system and erased from the outside world. I know it’s silly. I know that’s not going to happen, but that’s how anonymous I feel. My tears flow silently into my folded sweatshirt, and I drift into sleep thinking, “My
. What have I done?”
High-pitched giggling wakes me up. There’s a woman a couple of bunks away cackling insanely. Other women are telling her to shut the fuck up, but she just keeps on in a way that makes my skin crawl.
“Shut up, Lisa ‘ya fucking bitch!”
“What the hell’s wrong with her?”
All of this drama plays in the background as I fade in and out of sleep with no concept of time. Lisa’s laughing that crazy laugh and the women are still trying to get her to stop. In the morning, she’s gone. I’ve slept through breakfast, and the others are back at their bunks talking loudly or pacing back and forth across the length of the dorm. I sit up and listen without looking at anyone. I found out a long time ago that listening provides me far more information than if I were to ask questions.
I hear that the guards have taken the laughing girl to the psych ward early this morning. I discover that many of these women have been here for months awaiting either trial or transport to prison. Most of them are young but there are women here who look as if they’re in their 50s or 60s. In jail there’s no makeup allowed. Nor are hairdryers, curling irons or tweezers. It’s easy to tell which ones are in here on drug charges. They’re skinny, with sucked-in, scarred faces, sores on their arms and rotting teeth. They twitch and jerk because of damage to their nervous systems and pace back and forth like caged animals.
With some, it’s more difficult to guess why they’re here. They look normal, whatever that means. I overhear one of them talking about her impending deportation back to
. There’s a woman in the bunk next to me who looks like she’s in her sixties. She keeps mostly to herself, reading a tattered Harlequin Romance – the only type of book available other than
the Bible and the Alcoholics Anonymous handbook. Eventually, someone else asks my name.
“Kim,” I say.
“Possession of meth with intent, possession of paraphernalia and possession of marijuana.”
“Cool. How much did they get?”
“Just two rocks, my personal stash, my pipe and a little hash. I think they were disappointed they didn’t get more.”
A guard yells my name and takes me down to booking. Jill’s there on the other side of the glass waiting for me. I pick up the phone to talk to my boss.
“I got pulled over last night right after I got gas. I was on my way to collect money from that guy. You know, the one whose girlfriend skipped out on her bond? They pulled me over and said they saw something on the floor under my feet. They wouldn’t tell me what it was, but they dragged me out, brought in the dogs and searched the whole car.”
I don’t tell her about the drugs they found. Or the $1250. Or my ledger. Or my scale. Or the list of undercover cops and paid informants they found in a pocket of my bail bond bag. She doesn’t ask, so I don’t tell her.
“You’re going to be arraigned at 10:00 this morning. I called your parents and Larry and they’ll be there in court. I assume you want Larry, right? That’s who you used for Kilo and Allan.”
“Good. I’ll post your bond as soon as they set it. Are you okay?”
“I’m okay. The cops were assholes last night, and it’s pretty weird in here, but I’m okay.”
“Kim, you have to be straight with me. Right now. Are you guilty? I need to know before I post bail.”
I think for a split second before I answer. I don’t know about the popcorn yet. What I do know is that it is impossible for me to have anything on any floor in my car, unless someone planted it there, and it’s for this reason that I’m able to say with confidence, “No. I don’t know what they think they found on the floor. They wouldn’t show me. But I swear to
, there was nothing there.”
She thinks the whole reason for my arrest is because of something they saw in the car, but she’s owned the bail bond business for eight years. She has to sense that something doesn’t add up, but she doesn’t want to know, and I don’t want to shatter her illusion of me as someone who’s way too smart to be involved with meth. She’s also the only shot I have at getting out of jail. I know my parents would never bail me out. Just like I know that Allan isn’t even thinking of how he could post bail even though I’ve bonded him out twice: once for possession of marijuana and once for failure to pay child support. All I know is that my son’s birthday is in a few days, and Jill is my only hope for being home with him. Right now, he’s all that matters to me.
When I get back to my bunk, a couple of the women come over to talk to me. “Was it a bondsman? Are you getting out?”
“It was my boss, and yes, as soon as we find out what my bail is, she’ll get me out of here.”
“Lucky. What do you do?”
I’m a drug dealer
. “I’m a bail bondsman.”
“What! Are you serious? Which company?”
It’s a badge of honor for people here: which bond company they use, who knows which bondsman’s name, which company is most lenient and which ones will hunt you down mercilessly. I tell them and word spreads quickly. Soon, they’re asking me all kinds of questions about my job. Everyone has a story about their bail or a friend’s or that of someone in their family. I answer some of their questions, then lie down and drift off again. I’m coming down from meth. I haven’t hit the pipe in twelve hours. This is the longest break I’ve had from it in over five years, other than when I was in Mexico, but I had coke then. Right now, I’m crashing.
I barely stay awake through my arraignment and when I get back to the dorm, Morpheus seduces me. Just before lunch, a guard calls “Commissary! Line up! Bottom tier first!”
The place buzzes with excitement. Two women come back with huge cardboard boxes filled with soda, noodles, packaged cookies, paper, shampoo and even underwear. Peanut butter seems to be a real coup. Another inmate walks back with one pre-stamped envelope, three small sheets of blank paper and a pen. It’s the same kind of pen I had to use in booking – rubbery, small and very hard to write with.
“Where did you get all that?” I ask the woman in the bunk across from mine. She eyes me suspiciously and shoves her loot
into the plastic bin. Opening a tepid Diet Coke, she says, “Weekly commissary. You can order stuff off the list if someone puts money on your books.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“All kinds of shit. Here.”
She hands me a sheet of paper with all the available items. On the front there’s a list of food: crackers, cookies and all kinds of snacks. The back is divided into three sections. One is for toiletries: everyday items like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs and tampons. The next section is clothing: nightshirts, underwear, bras, socks, shoes, pants, shirts and sweatshirts. The last section is for miscellaneous items like writing paper and pre-stamped envelopes. There are prices and check boxes next to each item.
I turn to the older woman who’s reading and ask her about the list and why some people have so much while others have next to nothing. She puts down her book and sits up on her bunk.
“If you got someone to put money on your books, you can order stuff once a week. If you don’t got no one, the county keeps you in soap and that crappy toothpaste you got there.” She points to the trial size toothpaste in my plastic cup. “About once a month they’ll give you a little paper and envelope so you can write someone. If you got someone to write to.”
“What’s the deal with the peanut butter?”
“You new here, aincha? Well, you spend some time here, you find out how shitty the food is. Even the peanut butter sandwiches are shit. They use that government peanut butter and you can’t hardly chew it. Fuckin’ food. You wait. You’ll find out quick.” She looks me up and down. “You look like you got people.”
“Do you have to buy clothes, too? Shampoo? Tampons? What if you can’t?”
“Other than what they give you last night, everything else you gotta buy. Or do without. You can’t afford panties, you got but one pair. If you bleed in ‘em you gotta just wash ‘em out and hang ‘em to dry. Laundry’s only once a week. If you can’t buy tampons they’ll give you these huge fuckin’ pads. You gotta ask the guard every time you need a new one. So you watch out. Make sure nobody don’t steal your shoes, or you gotta wait until next commissary day – if you got money on your books.”