It hadn’t been a good day, nor is it ever a good thing when a dear friend calls you and asks immediately if you’re sitting down.
“Yes,” I told Lady, “and what is it?”
It was the call that I had feared, since I knew perfectly well that Montalvo, who alone could have conceived the theft of a rare blue macaw—it was variably pining on his shoulder as Montalvo walked home. Second explanation: Montalvo, greatly aided by chemicals legal in only a few states, had formed a mystical connection with the bird. After paying homage to the moment—selfies were taken—the united pair repaired to La Perla. (Sorry about all that alliteration….) Since the bird was not unattached—the owner was nearby, though apparently distracted—the police intervened.
A judge decided—wisely—that Puerto Rico’s prison population was already burdened enough, and could anyone take a parrot rustler seriously? Please! So Montalvo got probation, which came along with counseling, a curfew, and drug testing.
Know where this is going?
I did and I didn’t. Because the first time he tested positive, I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach by a horse. Yes, I was literally reeled over in the café, so sure was I that this kid—who calls me Dad—was going to go before the judge. And what had the judge told him? That he was running out of options, and one strike was all it would take to un-suspend the seven-year sentence. (Was it seven years? It hardly matters, because Montalvo, though strong and street savvy, is at least a hundred pounds lighter than most of the guys in La Regional—the “correctional facility” to which he would be sent.)
I am a pessimist by nature—show me a swimming pool and I’ll throw in the drowned child, and the fact that I still have two feet? Due only to my father, of a dye darker than I, who could not help telling me to be careful, when mowing the lawn, never to mow backwards. Each Saturday, in the living room, he would act out the scenario: the unheeding Marc, illicitly mowing backwards, the mower moving over the—probably barefoot—foot, and the moment the furious blades slashed into the foot. The agony, the shout, the fall to the ground as I lay bleeding to death….
The point of this vignette? The judge would send Montalvo to jail, and what would face him there? Rape? Murder? Both have been known to happen in Puerto Rican jails. Oh, and also in the states.
It turned out Montalvo knew the system very well. He told me exactly how it would play out: his counselor would sit him down, stay very quiet for an intentionally uncomfortable few minutes, and then ask him, “Montalvo, is there anything you need to tell me?”
“Man, I hate it when they ask that question!”
“Then why do you put yourself in a position…”
Right, he hated that one too….
And that’s how it played out. So the fact that I had utterly crumpled, and was sobbing as I listened to the saddest aria ever written—Piangero la Sorte Mia—was all quite irrelevant. Montalvo had to go more often to therapy, and piss more often in bottles, but prison was avoided. And then, it became apparent over the months that—from time to time—Montalvo would slip up.
Who can say? My best guess is that he was bored and frustrated, since he had had and lost several jobs in rapid succession.
“I don’t think they’ll have me back,” he admitted about one restaurant job. True, the restaurant had closed for the slow season, but that had hardly been a problem. And also true, the customers had loved him, and left sizable tips. The problem? Montalvo, instead of quietly stuffing the money in his pocket, had very visibly and audibly displayed it. His word for it?
“I guess I was kind of cocky….”
It was in vain to tell him: many an incompetent worker goes on to get that gold watch. Who gets fired? The pains in the asses. So Montalvo had time on his hands, and he was bored, and he was pissed, because why was life hitting him so hard? And how was he going to pay his rent? And how does a kid deal with all of that?
Now you know why I had to be sitting, when Lady called, and why, for most of the weekend, I was uttered dejected.
I only know that I will see him. I also know that he will be wearing an orange prison suit, and will have been shorn military style, for “security” reasons. And I know the people who will be there, because for years I rode in the same minivan with them. They were, in fact, mostly quite cheerful, and they consisted of girlfriends and wives and mothers. Off hand, I can recall no fathers.
So Lady and I will go, this Friday, to see him. And that is what I don’t know: what will I say to him? I thought about it all weekend, picturing and more often hearing my father.
No son of mine has ever gone to jail….
This had better be the LAST time I see you in this place.
The day my mother died? That’s about how bad this day is.
Lady is more pragmatic.
“You knew this was coming, right? OK, but the good news is that he’s accepting responsibility for being there, and says it’s where he needs to be. And he’ll be out in three weeks….”
I don’t tell her what I’m thinking, which is…
…yeah, and how long will he be in the next time?