We were able to visit George every Tuesday and Saturday when he was in County. These are nothing like the visits we have now. I'll get to those later, but I'm telling the story in order. We waited until he turned in his form and went. Rejected again. And again. And again. Twice a week. For about three weeks. Every time he was expecting us and every time we were turned away. He’d call those nights. He sounded so sad. I cried when we got home from the jail. I cried when we hung up the phone. It was heartbreaking.
One day we were in. We were going to see him. We had thought for sure that we’d be turned away again, but we weren’t. And suddenly the fear hit me again. Like a ton of bricks. He was going to be in jail clothes. An orange jumper. With prisoner on the back. He’d been labeled. He was going to be behind glass. We’d talk through a telephone.
That first visit. Seeing him behind that glass was both wonderful and awful. He looked different. Good but different. Scared in a way, but coping. And putting on a face. For me and our mother. So we wouldn’t be scared. Even though we were. It was good to finally see him, but really hard being that close to him without getting to touch him. I’ll never forget the way he sounded when I put my ear to that phone. He was scared, but trying not to let me hear. I didn’t care if he heard the fear in my voice because I knew he could see it in my face. I could see it. In my reflection on the glass. I put my hand on the glass and he put his on mine. We sat like that the whole time. It was our way of staying connected when the world was pulling us apart.
We went to see him twice a week, every week, the whole time he was “home.” After a while they started to moved him around quite often so he wasn’t always close enough to see every week. He was never gone long, but the constant change in routine really took its toll on George. And on me. I’d gotten really used to seeing him twice a week. We talked often on the phone, but that was beginning to get expensive. Collect calls are not cheap.
I began to stop my life for my brother. And this new life. I didn’t want to go anywhere except for jail on Tuesday night and Saturday afternoon. I was afraid to leave the house at night because I feared I would miss his call. Then he would be sad and angry at me. He needed me and I was afraid not to be there for him. I was afraid that he would not call back. I didn’t want to go away for the weekends anymore because I wanted to be able to see him. We went away when he was gone, but even still sometimes we’d throw ourselves in the car and drive for hours just to see him for 20 minutes. We were having a hard time coping with this and fitting this new life in to our already existing life. It would take time, but eventually we’d get the hang of it.
We’d met some people on our bi-weekly visits. It was nice to be able to sit and talk to people that knew exactly what you were going through. And to be with people that didn’t treat you with such pity. My friends were being great, but I could see the pity in their eyes and hear it in their voice. Our visiting friends were people we could get advice, encouragement, and support from. We told stories and jokes. They made our difficult time not so difficult. And I hope we did the same for them.
We spent about a year in the county system. 20 minute visits, behind glass, on a telephone. They were hard, but we were determined to make it through. We tried not to think about the future, but it was hard since it was so up in the air. But we made the most of those 20 minutes as a family. And when we were “home” they were usually a lot longer than 20 minutes. Which was nice. But when they took him away, through that door, my heart broke. Every time. Without fail. To this day when he has to go his way and we go ours my heart breaks and longs for the day we get to walk out the door together, as a family.