27 Summers

The buzzing sound I've come to ignore played one last time behind me as a chainlink fence rolled close behind me. The air smelled different, even different than the air on the yard, it smelt free. It was cold, that summer is coming to and end chill. Mornings when it might get down to 58 before hitting 85 in the afternoon. I know I'm not supposed to look into the sun, but I can't help but stare into the sky. The shit is so beautiful. It almost brings a tear to my eye, but I've been afraid to cry for so long I can't let it fall.

I make my way onto the bus and take a seat by the window. As we finally pull of a tear falls as I think about the people I was leaving behind. Aaron was 23 and just learned how to read, kid loved Harry Potter. Big Pinky is the best barber I've ever had. Jake cooks better than any white boy I ever met, but I have to go. 

"You crying man? Damn, how long you get old timer," a young man takes a seat next to me.

"324 months, did them all standing on my own two feet," I respond.

"That's tough, old timer. You been inside longer than outside," he laughs.

"Yeah, but I ain't going back."

"Me neither, me neither. I'd die before I went back," I noticed he was now shedding a tear of his own.

"How old are you," I ask realizing how young he is.

"Twenty," he wiped his tear.

"How long you do?"

"19 months," he shook his head. "Ain't 324 tho," he tried to laugh.

"But you was a baby when you went in, you still a baby. They took advantage didn't they?"

He nodded silently, and that was all the confirmation I needed. I put my arm around the kid's shoulder and pulled him in. His tears soaked shirt, but I didn't stop him; I've been holding my tears longer, but he's got more reasons to cry. I never got why they put kids in prison with predators. A lot of us just made bad choices, but there's some evil people in there too. They take advantage. The gays, the kids, anyone they think is week. It's fucked up.

I did twenty-seven summers, and came out with my mind in tact. That's a blessing that a lot don't get. I can say I never been robbed, shanked, raped or snitched on. Everyone isn't that lucky, but I was. More tears, and I can't stop them. I'm sitting on this bus crying with some kid I don't even know.

"Who's going to meet you when you get home," he asks as we get close to the city.

"I'm a granddaddy now," I laugh. 

"That's dope," he nods. "My mom is getting me. I just want to give her a big hug. Tell her I'm sorry for being a fuck up," he starts to tear up again.

"Just promise her you'll be better," is the only advice I can give.

Neither of us have phones, but my daughter trades numbers with his mom. We promise to stay in contact. Ex-cons supporting each other, I hope he doesn't go back to jail, hope he never does the time I did. He's been through enough. 

I expect to see my grandson when I get off the bus, but I'm told he's sleeping in the car. My daughter is so big now. All the time I missed, I start with the tears again. She laughs, asking how the big tough gangster her mom fell in love with couldn't stop crying. She still has the sense of humor I loved when she was a kid. Outside the bus station I peep my ex-wife sitting in a blue ford explorer, not as nice as what we drove when I was in the streets, but I can't complain. 

I still love her, but divorce kept her out of the courts. I almost lose my mind when she hugs me, hoping she still loves me. Maybe we can be back together one day, I can only hope she can love the new me. One with a job lined up at Goodwill instead of selling drugs and calling it good will. I take a seat in the backseat, beside is a little boy, sleeping, slobber all over his face, tucked in the car seat. His nose looks just like the one I see in the mirror and I almost start to cry again. This baby will never know what I did, he'll just know I'm grand pappy. Life is good.

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