June 4, 2012
Monday, 10:00 p.m.
Letter #227: Birthday Zone
“Happy Birthday to Me …” Thirty-nine years ago today, I was in a real dark place in my life. I was living with another male in a tight, cramped space and hooked up to a feeding tube through my stomach. I finally saw the light and got out.
The highlight of those days was that I was extremely close to my mother. Not much has changed, my current circumstances being much the same, and gratefully, I’ve remained extremely close to my incredible mother.
My birthday began with an early-morning phone call to my dad, who sang for me (awesome!), followed by a phone call to my brother, Brian, who didn’t. Knowing my b-day was coming, I had asked my family to send me Pictionary cards. Then, since my teacher is always asking the class to bring suggestions for fun activities, I told my teacher, “On Monday, it’s my twin brother’s birthday, so could we play Pictionary that day?”
She looked at me blankly and then said: “Why? You want to play in his memory? He won’t even be here, right?”
Well, I hadn’t come up with an idea of what to say if she didn’t understand that I was simply announcing my birthday: “No, I was just letting you know it will be my birthday too,” I said.
“Oh! I see. Sure, you can play Pictionary!” Glad I didn’t have to draw her a picture of what I meant.
Incredibly, everyone got involved and participated—a minor miracle. In fact, when I didn’t bring the Pictionary cards for the afternoon portion of class, I was nearly crucified by the disappointed class. (Figuring prison was punishment enough, gratefully they let me live.)
Due to a lack of material for the class, we are forced to kill time every week, and the class has voted Pictionary in. (No, we can’t do the logical thing and finish school early. This resembles actual school in that it holds you back into its mold.)
After lunch, two guys jumped me in my cell. I successfully wrestled both of them and they punched me all over. Eventually, my legs were strung up in the air by the one who is 6′ 5″ tall while his tag team partner pounced on my chest. I survived the traditional prison birthday beat-down with only a minor scrape on my forehead and a bruised ego.
Later, just as Cognitive Behavior class began, an officer came to get me and escorted me to a private room in the education building where, to my great surprise and delight, I found Sister Peggy, our faithful volunteer and member of our choir, waiting to visit me. She’d been asked to sing for the GED graduation this Thursday, so she had come to practice with me today, knowing it is my birthday.
I was so glad to see her—to have any excuse to be out of class! We practiced—and just visited—for two hours. She treats me like her son, for which I’m very grateful.
I’d made special arrangements after dinner to have a little party with some close friends. (I invited my cellie, Sniper, who is “anti-birthday.” He opted to go to yard instead but asked me to save him some food.) Through amazing favor, we were allowed to use our unit’s multi-purpose room (my classroom by day). I have never seen that allowed before.
We wore our personal casual clothing—shorts/T-shirts—which is never allowed in there, brought tons of food—never allowed, and had a total blast. I brought sweets of all kinds, and my friend, Tom, made Mongolian fried rice. We had sodas, cinnamon/brown sugar toast, peanut butter/chocolate pudding powder sandwiches, candy bars, and Nutella on honeybuns.
Then, the Nutella got spread on everything. Even the candy bars. (Don’t knock it ’til you try Snickers + Nutella.) Brent, an exuberant friend who laughs at all the right times when I teach the business class, said, “I could eat Nutella on a rock!” We could have, it’s that good.
We played Pictionary as I moderated it in all its hilarity. One of the guys told me he hadn’t noticed he was in prison for the 2½ hours we were in that birthday zone.
I called my twin, who sang for me with his bride, and then I headed inside for the night. Sniper, coming in from yard, had noticed us in the room and told me, “If I’d known you would be in the multi-purpose room, Danny and I could have joined you guys.” Really. Bummer that didn’t happen.
I stayed up until midnight on June 3rd just so I could open the beautiful handmade cards from my nieces for my birthday.
Sniper NEVER wished me a Happy Birthday. Not once!
Somehow, we ran out of Nutella. Completely ran out.