This is the last in our series of essays by N.C. death row inmate Paul Brown, who writes about living while waiting to die. To learn more about Paul, read his introductory essay. Or read about Paul’s experience witnessing murder at age 10 and his touching piece about caring for geese in the prison yard.
By Paul Brown
I saw her again. Mom and Rose came to visit today, and they brought her. They moved here to Raleigh last September, and I’m getting to see them more frequently now. I feel like the luckiest man in the world, or at least the luckiest one in Central Prison. I was expecting them, and was already smiling as they neared the visitation booth. When I saw a tiny pair of legs walking along with them, my heart skipped a beat. It was Mariah!
It was the kind of surprise where everything stops. My breath got caught in my throat and all I could utter was “Aaahh!” All the words I’d wanted to say just left me, and I know not where they went. It was a moment frozen in time, and I was stuck there, my face lit up with the silliest grin.
Mariah is my youngest granddaughter. The first time I saw her she was 2, and I was torn: elated to see her, yet horrified we had to visit under such awful, dehumanizing conditions. She’s 5 now, and she is gorgeous. I have a bunch of photos of her, so I already knew she was a little cutie. But her pictures do not compare to seeing her in person.
She knows who I am, which is amazing and a testament to the strength and love of my family, particularly mom and Rose, our matriarchs and the glue that holds our family together. She assured me, through song, that she knows her letters and numbers, which she does although she’s not been enrolled in school…
Guilt rains down on my head like brimstone when I think of the challenges she’ll face, knowing that I’m supposed to be there to help her navigate the pitfalls she won’t be able to see or anticipate. I try to be creative and say grandfatherly things, and hope they’ll somehow make a difference in her life. I know I must speak with assurance even though my own circumstances are tenuous.
They say she may have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, or ADHD as they call it, but I don’t believe she does. She’s an extremely bright child, bursting with energy with a brain that is naturally curious. All she needs is the discipline to channel all that energy in ways that will be beneficial. She’s just grandfather-deficient, and that’s on me.
In the cramped space that is the visitation booth, she was a little dynamo: sitting first in one seat, then the other, then standing before sitting again on the arm-rest up against the plexiglass between us, then standing on that, until Rose made her get down. It was incredible. I didn’t think so much could be accomplished in such a small space. She was a whirlwind. Mom and Rose appeared to grow tired just watching her. I laughed thinking maybe it was her who brought them to me, instead of them bringing her.
After only minutes, she said, “I wanna go home.” When she was informed that the purpose of the trip was to see her grandpa, she gave me a curious glance, and asked “Granddaddy, you comin’ home?” She said it so sweetly and with such innocence, and I know her words will echo in my mind like a bitter-sweet melody till the end of time… I gave her some mumbo-jumbo about being patient, told her I was working on it, and how important it was for her to be a good girl and to listen to her mom… She heard me out graciously, then promptly hopped into Rose’s lap and went to sleep.
It wasn’t until later that I realized what I’d told her made no sense… We were sitting in an area the size of a phone-booth, sitting on stools that were not designed for comfort; our stiff, aching joints screaming for relief. The lighting was medievally dim and we had to strain to see each other through bars and permanently scratched and grease-stained plexiglass. With 12 visitation booths lined side by side in a tiny corridor, and only a tiny slot to speak through, we barely heard each other while also catching snippets of other visitors conversations. Of course she wanted to go home.
I was struck by the purity of her child’s mind, vibrant with promise, not yet tarnished with grown-ups’ notions of fear and acceptance of the absurd. She glowed brilliantly even as she slept. Mom said she has my dimples… She would know. I don’t even remember having dimples.
She blew me a kiss as they were leaving. I’m still floating on clouds as I pen the thought and hold the memory of the light in her eyes; and those dimples.
The next time she asks, I will answer honestly… I want to go home too.
Paul Brown’s writing is protected by copyright and should not be reproduced without his permission.