The Voice Next Door

She threatened to kill him again.

It was a little past five on a Saturday morning this time. I used to turn my music down a notch or two to see if I could determine the grievous offense that had driven her to murder. Now her furor terrifies me.  I turn the music up. I still hear their vitriolic hatred for one another in the silences between tracks. Sometimes those silences feel far too long. Rage has been a constant in my life for years, and the embodiment of domestic dysfunction that resides in the apartment next to mine is simply the latest specimen.

Upheavaltvnd 1

I was on the cusp of marrying when last I wrote, talking about learning how to live again beyond prison walls. I didn’t get married. Lessons were learned. Not how I’d envisioned it.

Emotionally/financially devastated. Thanksgiving. Hit a deer with my car. Christmas. New year. Put my car in a ditch. Moved 90 miles away in a snowstorm for a new job I wasn’t remotely qualified for to an unfamiliar city larger than any in which I’d ever lived. A new beginning. Another one. Again.

Ups and Downs

The apartment was filthy and tiny. Now that it’s clean and settled into as my own space it’s all I really need. Medical diagnosis confirmed the worsening nerve pain I’ve been dealing with for nearly two years will require surgery. Glad to have a cause and course of action going forward. Unfortunately surgery is a prospect which is nine months on the horizon at best, so I cringe and limp on. Although I’m too proud (or just plain stupid) to limp, so I walk with my back straight and my head held high while inside I scream in agony. Better medical care than behind prison walls, but red tape abounds in every bureaucracy.

tvnd 2A big part of learning to live has been learning to fend for myself. My family and friends have all been immeasurably helpful, and I couldn’t have succeeded without their love and support. Now the tasks of living as a free citizen were solely my own. Budgeting, paying bills, grocery shopping, setting up an internet service. Once more pretty much everything was new and unfamiliar to me. My bed is the first I’ve ever had that wasn’t handed down or scrounged from somewhere. I love it, and have many times sprawled across it, stretching my fingers and toes out to the edges like a cliché kitten basking in a puddle of sun. Living alone for the first time in nearly eighteen years was the primary adjustment. Although, I wasn’t really alone for long.

Threats and Curses

“I will choke you until you stop talking.”

Her voice was taut and cold making it sound less a threat and more a promise.

“Go ahead bitch. Do it. Do it!”

His voice was high, thin, reedy. It matched his slim physique and jittery demeanor.tvnd 3

“I will. I’ll do it. I’ll fuc . . .”

My music swelled, sparing me her stupendous use of expletives and penchant for threatening serious bodily harm.

My neighbors moved in a few weeks after I did. They just showed up fully formed and completely moved in one day while I was at work. I’ve passed him twice on the stairs and we each mumbled an obligatory “Hey”. There are two children. And a dog at least some of the time. Like their mother, however, I have never seen any of them. I hear them laughing, watching TV, living. It’s the arguing, the threats and curses, that have become the constant in my life. Ever reliable.

Topsy Turvy

My job was going well. In the beginning I’d felt like a complete fraud. I was essentially telling guys how to do their job when they have been doing that same job for years whereas I started three days ago. It wasn’t long before I found out that the Quality Control guy is generally not well-liked. I also wasn’t only the new kid on the block, but I’d been hired from the outside rather than the job first being offered to union members. That gave me two strikes before I even started. Maybe two and a half strikes. I recognized their angry suspicion and disdain, I’d seen it every time I was moved to a new cell house in prison. It was something familiar that I could navigate, and I did so by tvnd 4putting my head down and working my butt off.

The more I learned the less I felt like a counterfeit. It was daunting but exhilarating as I was moved around to receive training in both departments of the manufacturing company on all three shifts. I changed between shifts and departments over fifteen times in fifty days. It was disorienting, I never knew if I was coming or going, and in an unfamiliar city all I did was go from work to home with weekly stops for gas and groceries. Whatever hours I was working had no influence on the neighbors.

Constant

“You can’t be that stupid. You can’t, because I wouldn’t be with someone that stupid.”tvnd 5

This time her voice was a caterwaul with maximum volume and intensity.

“I’m not stupid, I just did what you said.”

He had no backbone this time. He must’ve really screwed up.

I’d leave for work at 11pm, they’d be at it. Awake at 5am with no music playing as a buffer I heard her call him a terrible father, a bad fuck, a worthless piece of shit. I hoped the kids were sleeping and swiftly scoured my music collection to find something loud and rocking enough to drown her out. Late nights, early mornings, middle of the day, it didn’t matter when I found myself at home. Her fury was no respecter of sleep schedules. Despite the anger and inconvenience, their endless arguments and threats were a kind of comfort to me. Most everything else in my life was new again, often confusing. Two people yelling and threatening each other? That’s just another day in prison, and I’d had plenty of experience with it.

tvnd 6Once my training was complete I was awarded the prestigious position of third shift. This honor was bestowed upon me because the other guy quit. So I would be a night dweller for the foreseeable future, snatching scraps of sleep while the sun shines, mocking me. I was resigned to this fate. Then Covid-19 hit the scene and everything changed again. Again.tvnd 014Bitting

Of all the changes and challenges in my life over my first ten months of freedom, adapting to comply with shelter in place laws has been the simplest transition I’ve made. In prison parlance, the term “bitting” has numerous and sometimes salacious definitions. The one which best applies here is used in reference to an individual who has not only learned to live his/her life with as little friction as possible with those around them, but also navigates the constant stress and uncertainty by staying busy and focused on their goals.tvnd 7

Being legally mandated to remain at home except for my job as an essential infrastructure worker hasn’t changed my routine much. I work, I go home. Gas and groceries. I follow the news a lot more closely. People refuse to obey these laws, claiming their civil liberties are being trampled. Even as the death toll continues and most medical experts predict worse on the way. I see instances of people going stir crazy, succumbing to the fear of the unknown and the burden of being trapped in a mire endlessly navigating the unfamiliar. Enduring isolation and anticipating the next crisis in order to best adapt are skills I honed for over sixteen years behind prison walls.

An Embarrassment of Riches

The phrase “the world at your fingertips” has perhaps never before in history been more true. I’m still constantly marveled by the technological advances that the average person doesn’t look at twice, and an entire generation has come of age never knowing a time without them. So how is staying inside so terrible?

tvnd 8Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and about a thousand other streaming platforms provide anything in the world to watch. Google and You Tube let us research, watch, learn, laugh. Listen to music, watch concerts, visit museums and foreign countries. Explore exotic locales and animals. Want to know how to crochet or do origami? Build a boat? Not a problem. Yoga, weightlifting, cards, candle making, animal husbandry, whatever can be imagined there are lessons and sessions available. I’m fully aware that it has been like this for a while, but to hear about it and then to experience it for myself is something else entirely. I haven’t even begun to be able to wrap my mind around it.

Incomprehensible

It is for this reason that I find it so mind-boggling and aggravating when these orders put in place for public health are referred to as lockdowns. I’ve been in a cell for weeks at a time with only the nothingness of pure thought to entertain and pass the time. Sometimes there were books or paper. Not always a pen. I can’t understand people feeling they have nothing available to do.tvnd 9

That being said, the remarkable similarities between my current living arrangements and my prison ones are hard to deny. I don’t go out much besides work. Only socialize with a few people. My only real piece of furniture, my beloved Queen size bed, is where I spend the bulk of my time. It’s where I sleep, eat, watch TV, read, write, pray, figure finances, use my computer. There’s a nice little shelf for my cup of coffee or water or whatever. It is far more nicely appointed, and somewhat larger, but for all intents and purposes it’s little more than another prison cell. This is why transitioning to quarantining has been effortless for me. I know how to live in prison, especially one with a better bed, food, TV, tvnd 010music, internet, and the ability to message, email, text, call or video chat with those whom I care for most deeply. Even the voice next door and the violence she promises doesn’t really bother me. Although I’m in no hurry to meet her.

 

Actual Prison

I have been wondering about the friends I left behind prison walls. Thinking about a particularly nasty flu bug that tore through the prison population one year. A cell house was vacated of the healthy and a quarantine set up for all those afflicted. They didn’t treat them mind you, just checked their temperature once a day, and as long as they had no fever and were exhibiting no other symptoms they were let go. The space quickly tvnd 011became inadequate, but men continued to be sent every day. Guys were sleeping and puking on the floor. There weren’t adequate shower or toilet facilities, but since it was only to be temporary, rule of law was ignored. The place became a petri dish. That time there were only a few hospitalizations. I can’t imagine what havoc Covid is wreaking inside. What decisions are being made and actions implemented that put inmates in even greater risk because they’re viewed as less deserving. Less than human. All these things are beyond my control.

Out Of My Hands

tvnd 012I have no idea what calamity will befall us next. I do know we need not stumble when calamity comes to call, as it inevitably does. Perhaps not always in the form of a worldwide pandemic. What sustained me through the fear and uncertainty for years was my faith in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Every day I drive through a traffic circle on the way to work. I see the confusion and thinly-concealed terror in the eyes of the drivers trying to negotiate through the busy and pointless traffic affectation, desperate to discern if fellow travelers will obey rules or zip through and hope for the best. Always yield to traffic from the left should be fairly self-explanatory.

I see that same look in faces of co-workers as they talk about the latest developments and projections. How long will this last? How many dead in the end? Will there be an end to it? Are we talking months or years? Now that masks are mandatory, it has become more difficult to pick up non-verbal cues, but the eyes don’t lie. People are terrified of this new unknown. Understandably so. Ten months ago when I stepped out of prison, who knew that the best advice anyone probably could’ve given me was to invest all the money I could in face masks? Unfortunately I didn’t do that. So much has changed, and continues to change with each news briefing. Lately not much for the better.

I still have the voice next door, and I count it a bizarre comfort. More comforting however is trusting that my Heavenly Father is still in control of the situation. That truth is a certainty no matter on which side of the prison walls one resides.

 

tvnd 013

 

Prioritizing

Life behind prison walls and life on the outside have some remarkable similarities. In many ways prison is a microcosm of society with a lot of the same moving parts. I have endeavored to highlight much of this sameness, to demystify to some degree the incarceration experience.

In a lot of other ways the two experiences have nothing at all in common. I felt like my life was on hold on the inside. I educated myself, learned and strove to be productive. And to a large degree I was successful. This didn’t change the fact that the world moved on without me, leaving me behind no matter how hard I tried to keep up. It was an existence more than actually living. I know that may sound like a distinction without a difference, but I suppose if you’ve never spent any length of time locked away then you might not have any idea what I’m talking about.

Compartmentalization

There is a kind of emotional death that takes place out of necessity. Pondering the reality of prison and the years lost would be too much to handle, so mental compartmentalization occurs. Coming out of prison has included a resurrection of sorts. At the very least it has necessitated me learning how to live again in a thousand little ways that I never could have anticipated.

I’m still learning.

Revelation

A woman in her fifties at my place of employment was making conversation to punctuate the dullness of the job. I wasn’t much paying attention, was instead lost in my own thoughts. Then she made a statement that jarred me from my reverie.

“I’ve never seen a fight in real life. Maybe a little pushing or shoving, but never ever seen a fight in person.”

It was a jolt to me because I had seen fights. During my lengthy period of incarceration I had witnessed too many physical assaults to accurately number. I didn’t have to wonder whose life was more the aberration, but this did lead me to some serious self-reflection as I am on the cusp of transition.

New Chapter

Some big life changes are coming, as if I haven’t had an enormous amount of change already in the past months beginning with my release from prison. I’m about to get married, become part of a family. A whole new start for me with challenges and potential pitfalls that I can’t even yet imagine. With new chapters come new priorities.

Moratorium

This will be my final post for a while.

This may be a disappointment to some of my loyal readers. To those who know me, I’m sure you understand. I need to go live my life, to put my past behind me and learn how to live again. This isn’t me turning my back on those friends I left inside or trying to forget their struggle. After sixteen years one month and three days spent behind prison walls I can never forget. I do have plans to expand and revamp this platform, to make it available for other voices than my own. But right now I need some distance. I need to live without the looming deadline of having to psychologically revisit the hell that was my life for so long.

I need to find my way beyond prison walls.

 

 

Pure Professionalism

Disclaimer and Warning: Some of the language used in this post would be offensive to most reasonable human beings. I know I was shocked and offended when the authority figure employed by the Department of Corrections said them to me. As always, I’ve endeavored to be as accurate as possible in my transcription of dialogue.

 

 

“Most of these guys are nothing but a buncha pansies and fags. That or child molesters. I swear damned near every white guy in prison is here for touching kids and it makes me sick of my race. Don’t worry, I know you ain’t one of them. I looked you up.”

I had no idea how to react to that. Gratitude? Indifference? A swift kick to his gonads? If only that were an option. He was definitely deserving of that and so much more. Correctional Officer Jarvis had a lot of strong opinions and ideas about prison inmates. And he didn’t stop there.

Ranting

“If it was up to me they wouldn’t even be in here. Just kill ’em. That or castrate all of the sick bastards. That would stop them, right? It would make me happy to know they’re walking around with nothing down there!”

Here he paused to laugh uproariously at his own witty phrasing before continuing his rant.

“I know which ones they are too. They have a look about them you know? I can usually just tell. Then when I look them up I’m almost always right. You, I didn’t really think so, but I had to check to make sure. You know that, right? If I was gonna have you working for me I had to make sure you weren’t some kinda baby raper. You get that, right?.”

I nodded numbly. Felt like that was what was expected of me.

“Good. Good. Yeah, you’re here for something way different than that aren’t you?” He wore a knowing grin, like there was some joke that only he and I were privy to.

I nodded again, raised my eyebrows in acknowledgement. Wasn’t sure what to say, or what would come out if I tried to say something.

“Yeah you are!” Another inappropriate laugh.

“Just glad you’re not one of them sickos. You know what though, as much as I hate them, it’s the rest of the inmates who get on my nerves too. They all complain about everything. And they’re so pampered. You guys get better food than a lot of people out in the world. You get free healthcare and cable TV. A roof and a bed. Doing better than a lot of people out there. And all I hear you guys do is bitch about everything around here. Like it’s hard to live in here. You guys all have it so easy. If I were in charge you wouldn’t be getting any of this stuff.”

Racist Ranting

“No TV, no lifting weights in the gym, no hanging out on the yard, no commissary shopping, none of that. Two meals a day is plenty. And you wouldn’t be sitting around just doing nothing. Everybody would be out doing something, working, not just sucking up time.

“Oh! And no fucking school either!! You know how stupid it is that all these dumb blacks and beaners who can barely spell their own fucking names get to take college classes? Pisses me off! They didn’t give a shit about school when they were out there selling dope and shooting at each other, did they? Now they want free college? Fuck them! They’re all just gonna get out and go right back to doing the same shit. Why the hell should they get college? Some of them have more college than I do! Just using the system. They’re not learning anything, just trying to make it look good so maybe they can get out early with some good time. Should have to do all their time.

“Probably just want to get out so they can go bang that white girl they write and tell her how much he loves her. Dumb bitch doesn’t know he’s just using her. And why’s it always gotta be a white girl with these guys? Why can’t they stick to their own race instead of ruining mine?”

C/O Jarvis paused briefly to reflect and catch his breathe.

Delusional Ranting

“You know, all these guys complain, but if I were in here I’d be fine. I mean, it’s not like you guys have it hard. If I had to do, like, a year in prison, I could do it no problem. I wouldn’t even buy a TV. Be a waste of money. I’d go to the library and learn something. Shit, I’d get in school. How you like that?

“But really, if I was in here, you know, doing my time? I could do it no problem. A year? Easy. And I’d make sure I’d beat some fags and niggers too. I could get away with it. Mostly I’d focus on the molesters. That’s easy to get away with. Most of us C/Os don’t give a shit about them. A  lot of us would just look the other way. A lot. Shit, we would love to join in if we could. I might have to do a little time in SEG, but I’m not a pussy, I could handle it. All you guys bitch about how hard you’ve got it, but I could do some prison time, no problem at all.

“Shit, we could be cellies, right?”

He had asked me a direct question this time, and I knew I was expected to respond to him. He wanted an answer. He certainly didn’t want the truth.

Desire

What I really think . . .

The truth was that I wanted to call him a racist, sexist, despicable, ignorant piece of shit. I wanted to let him know that he has no idea whatsoever what life is like living inside. He thought that because he came and spent a few hours that he could handle the mental anguish of being locked away from everything he has ever known and loved. That he could navigate the politics of gangs and races without offending the wrong person and being beaten for some seemingly insignificant slight. The privileges he mentioned taking away are by and large mandated by law to promote rehabilitation-although those are in such short supply as to be insignificant-or else they are put in place to keep a potentially volatile populace pacified.

Not all correctional officers, in my experience, are so completely oblivious. There are plenty of this ilk, but not all. But it was this officer who was waiting on my answer. It crawled from my lips in a muffled cowardly chuckle.

“Yeah.” I felt like I had defiled myself.

Poor Justification

C/O Jarvis had a justified reputation for being a colossal prick. I was on his good side because I worked as a porter (janitor) for him and wasn’t lazy about keeping things clean. Nothing would be accomplished, and nothing good would come, from me telling him even a fraction of how I felt about him. All it would do is put a target on my back and be an invitation for him to make my existence a living hell. I have seen C/O Jarvis lie in order to ensure inmates he didn’t like were hauled away for punishment. He was the worst kind of bully-one who has been imbued with authority. Rather than face the potential and far-reaching ramifications I said nothing.

Call it cowardice if you will. But walk in my shoes a while. Sometimes cowardice and self-preservation have some remarkable similarities.

                       Coda

C/O Jarvis was eventually promoted to the rank of lieutenant. It was a move that baffled a lot of people, both inmate and staff alike.

Once I was released from prison I sent reports of my claims of professional misconduct like this to the director of the Department of Corrections, and to the governor of the state. After two and a half months I got a response. Their stance is that, since I am no longer currently incarcerated, the issues I raised are moot. And so abuse continues.

Losing Tee

Tee was jittery, squirrelly, and excelled at getting on people’s nerves. Mine included.

A Bit Bizarre

There was an entire cornucopia of eccentricities that were tied to Tee’s personality. He talked too much, and discussed topics that no one wanted to hear about. Like the color and composition of his daily bowel movements. His laugh was a loud, grating guffaw that aggravated the most patient of individuals.  The arrangement of his living space was something that he was very anal about–he had to have everything positioned just right.  He always wore two shirts, no matter how hot it got. He was very protective of his feet and would freak out if someone got close to them.

Love To Hate

His head was bulbous and bald. Or, balding to hear him tell it. He had the classic horseshoe around the sides, but the top was merely a few sad stray hairs and nothing more. His eyes were blue and huge. Nose pronounced.  Tee had a very expressive face. With his personality and demeanor it was a face that people just seemed to want to punch.

Racial Divide

I lived in the cell with Tee for a little over a year. For most of that time we were the only two white guys in a six man cell, and so by unspoken prison logic and rules we were best friends. Just kinda how it goes. I’m not saying that friendships don’t or can’t occur across racial lines, but guys are quick to fall in with their own. Especially when things get serious or dangerous. Due to Tee’s annoying ways, severe situations arose suddenly and often.

The Smell

Tee had some of the most potent smelling farts I’ve ever had the misfortune of having invade my nostrils. When guys would complain and yell at him about it, his features danced into expressions of giddy whimsy, and it really did look like he was laughing at them and at the expense of their olfactory glands. It looked that way because he was laughing at them. He was kind of a prick like that. In Tee’s defense, it’s better to let it out than to hold it in, and he couldn’t just walk out of the cell when we had to remain inside for certain times. Though it did seem odd that his flatulence seemed to get exponentially worse at night when we were all trapped in the cell together.

Unwilling Barrier

Whenever one of Tee’s behaviors would send someone over the edge I would be called upon to act as mediator, referee, peacekeeper. Sometimes literally having my name yelled by Tee, or by someone else to inform me that Tee was in trouble. I can’t possibly calculate how many skirmishes I had to deescalate in order to keep a fight from erupting. Tee was the worst kind of confederate to have when it came to these confrontations. He was a loudmouthed coward. He loved riling people up, but flinched and shrank when the appearance of real violence reared its head. He could not back up any of his tough talk. So I had to step in the middle. Usually literally. I hated always having to do it, being on call as the calming factor when Tee’s safety was on the line. In the aftermath he usually thought the whole thing was funny. I always answered the call because I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I had stood by and let him get assaulted.

Unwitting Barrier

When Tee’s release date arrived a lot of people celebrated. They were rejoicing that he was leaving, not that he was going home. Once he had walked out the gates and taken his irritating traits and noxious gas with him there were a dozen guys or more who eventually confided in me that the only reason they hadn’t beaten Tee’s ass was because he was my friend. And he was my friend.

Me and Tee

Tee wasn’t always an extremely difficult person to deal with. We had several common interests that we could bond over, and he was one of the rare people I met behind prison walls who was capable of carrying on an intelligent adult conversation. At least some of the time. He was also batty and vexatious, and at times I wanted to throttle him. I yelled at him more than a few times, but it was no deterrent.

He was high strung and squirrelly and all kinds of aggravating. But when he was gone I missed him. Because he was my squirrelly. And he was my friend.

Utter Joy

His utter joy put my grief to shame.

Self-preservation

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own lives, problems, worries and hurts that a cocoon develops. This structure is meant to insulate us from harm, but in so doing it isolates us from the world around us. It also traps in the pain. This is never a good thing. At the time, I was entombed in my own grief and self-pity.

Survey

Around this time I took a survey for one of the college courses I managed to complete while incarcerated. I was instructed to put a check next to every major life event that I’d experienced within the previous twelve months. Stressful things like death of a friend, death of a family member, divorce, moving to a new city. Each was assigned a numeric value.

When everyone had finished adding up their history of stressors the professor revealed that anyone with a stress number over 100 was at risk for all kinds of physical and psychological maladies due to their extremely high stress level. She encouraged those in that category to take steps to counter the stress because of the potentially unhealthy psychological and physical effects. She recommended seeking out a counselor to talk to and lauded the benefits of deep breathing. My score was nearly four times that–385. I laughed. Deep breathing exercises were not the solution to all my problems.

What I Deserve

I’d suffered too much. It felt like I was losing some psychological war of attrition that the universe had been waging against me. Divorce, deaths, prolonged imprisonment, broken relationships. I was deeply entrenched in my unhealthy mentality. I couldn’t get out of it. I didn’t want to. I was comfortable in my chrysalis of self-loathing and silent lamentation. Mental masochism can be a terribly seductive pastime, especially when we’ve deceived ourselves into thinking that we deserve to suffer. Suffice it to say, I was in a very bad place. It took a blind man to show me the way.

Tray Pusher

I was working in the chow hall, on the serving line where trays were filled and passed to the unending line of inmates. I’d risen through the ranks swiftly and had the coveted position of tray pusher. I was responsible for controlling the flow of trays. Without me there would be chaos and piles of food on the floor. I’ve always thrived in stressful high-stakes work environments.

This day in particular was burger and fries day, which is cause for celebration for most inmates. I couldn’t have cared less. Joy wasn’t a thing with which I was well acquainted. It probably didn’t help that I’d had to deal with an endless string of threats, insults, and accusations of being “The Police” (pronounced with an exaggerated hard “PO” sound, and a terribly offensive thing for one inmate to say to another) because I wouldn’t put more fries or an extra patty on their tray. No one seemed to care that the four foot eleven tiny tyrant Food Supervisor always at me hip would’ve caught and reprimanded me if I had tried to add a single kernel of corn or extra ketchup packet to the assigned portion.

Illegal Tandem

I was floundering in a mire of my own making. Standing at the front of the serving line, running on autopilot, pushing trays and letting the insults from inmates wash over me while the admonishments from my superior needled my back. Towards the front of the single file stream of inmates making their way to the tray pick up window there was a duo walking side by side, which is a grave violation of policy, and one which is usually met by C/Os yelling and gesticulating like feral idiots. So, naturally their tandem nature caught my attention immediately. It wasn’t until the pair were three people from me that I saw the closest man’s unseeing gaze and noticed that he had the other man’s upper arm in a loose grip to guide him. It was when the blind man asked his aid a question that I received my lesson.

Perspective

“What are we having?”

“Burgers and fries.”

The blind man’s face blossomed with the purest expression of joy that I could have ever possibly conjured in my most vivid of imaginings. Where there had been merely bland features, life and animation appeared as if conjured by some incantation. Three simple magical words: burgers and fries.

“ALRIGHT.”

His enthusiastic response wasn’t yelled loudly, but had an emphasis and relish that conveyed how fortunate and blessed he felt to be receiving such a beloved meal. His ability to express such depth of emotion and delight over such a seemingly insignificant event was sobering to me. The experience put a crack in my emotional barricade and forced me to confront my toxic wallowing. It began to nurture a change in perspective within me.

Renewed Mind

Every good thing is a gift, and should be received with the same awe, joy, and gratitude displayed by children on Christmas morning as they tear at packages to reveal the coveted present they’d been so longing for. This pertains to the clothes on our backs, the music in our ears and hearts, the breathe in our lungs, and the food on our plates to name just a few. In my insular grief I’d lost sight of this truth, and had to be shown the way by the unseeing.

Burgers and fries have that kind of power.

That’s why it’s called a happy meal.