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MARCH 12, 2011 12:15AM

Prison, a Funeral and the Iditarod

Rate: 17 Flag

Last Sunday I found out that one of my best friends is going to prison. She’s going to prison because she broke more than a few laws. However, I was not really ready for this news. She’s in jail just now, and has already made a plea agreement, or so I surmise from the information I have. The information is from very reliable sources, like the people in the state she lives in who have been in contact with her since her arrest in early February.

I have called this the Winter of my discontent, because it seemed endless and I felt so burdened by selling my mothers house – or, really, waiting to sell it and taking care of it through what seemed like endless snow. I also did a lot of lying on the couch and watching television while reminding myself about the signs of deep, clinical depression. Television, particularly streaming Netflix, is a depressive’s dream come true. Lately, I have been lying sideways watching back to back episodes of the series “24”. The funny thing about watching network shows on streaming Netflix, back to back, is the holes that are in the plotlines,. Of course, the show is premised on each hour being in real time, but without commercials it’s really only “42 Minutes”. Not as catchy of a title.

I understand, truly, what I get from watching “24” and other shows like it. I get the sense of drama that is certainly not missing in my life, but is not always as immediate. It’s addictive to let your brain follow the intricacies of a plot that you know will, somehow, unravel to a conclusion that makes sense. The people who create these shows are writers. They know what they are doing. And if things are tough, why not let Jack Bauer and his team take me through several arrests and interrogations while I gaze on.

My friend is in jail and going to prison. I got busy, upon hearing the news – called mutual friends to set up a “team” to be in touch with her and help her. Figured out the charges. Called the jail. Called the prison to find out exactly what the rules are there. Crisis management, which I am not only good at but trained for. It’s what I do…but not for you. I’m not trained to do it for my friends, but of course my skills come in handy some days.

On Tuesday I got a sort of inarticulate message from a dear friend telling me her brother had died. He collapsed in the parking lot of a 7-11 after buying a bottle of soda. He was a mystery even to her – bookish to the extreme – a brother who didn’t really leave home. The guest book on his obituary is filled with tributes from the people who worked with him in the graduate admissions department at Harvard. He lived a very quiet life with thousands of books and not much interaction with his family, but he did his job really well. My friend described him, in the past, as emotionally inaccessible. I wonder: maybe he knew that this particular life wasn’t worth a lot of interaction. If there were a table with investment and loss and gain, just on an emotional level, I think I might conclude that less interaction is for the best.

Unfortunately, my brain works on a ridiculous level of heightened awareness about humanity. Tomorrow I am attending his funeral. I am going to be there for his sister and his family. But I hope to know more about him. Or I hope she does. He died of a heart attack way too young – 53 – just like their father. So that will be a ghost, I think. Tomorrow is an Irish Catholic funeral in Boston – the weather looks fair and I’m sure, as the son of a police officer, there will be quite the reception afterwards.

This whole thing of watching too much television, especially police procedurals, has made me question how exactly I am reacting to not only my life, but to the world. Why am I reporting this on my blog as if these are things that need to be reported?  They are already reported, and why is it that I feel like I have to tell you all about it?  And yet I feel like I have something to say, not because these things reflect on me but because they are not uncommon. Well, maybe prison isn’t common, but trouble is certainly not uncommon, and my friend who is facing prison saw a lot of trouble before this particular happenstance.

I could make some giant leap about being caught in your own prison, but I’m not making any assumptions today. I know I have been caught in my own prison, waiting for interrogators, who always happen to be me. I lie sideways on the couch and watch back to back episodes of “24” identifying with every single character: the daughter, the spy, the hero, the patsy, the liar, the boss, the bit player who only got one episode to act out a character. The maid, the pool guy (it’s always a guy) who gets shot while someone important gets shot. The character that goes to prison and is never seen again. The person who dies in a parking lot and doesn’t get memorialized in the next episode.

This is why I have to write it down: it’s the bit parts that matter the most. Rosencranzt and Guildenstern need to be onstage. Send in the clowns. My friend who is facing prison is the sweetest and funniest person – you would love her. She is popular in jail, apparently. She has to star in her own play, now – I can only try to help move the scenery a bit. It’s funny to realize how much I wanted to dominate her life through good intentions that may well have been really bossy. I think I know what to do now.

I’ll be there for my friend tomorrow, at the funeral. I’ll bring cigarettes and support. But I won’t take it on, because I find, these days, that doing that can easily end up being insulting and hurtful to the person in need.

My friend Jodi Bailey is 530 miles into her rookie run of the famous race, the Iditarod. In fact, she just checked in to the checkpoint of Iditarod, a ghost town from the gold rush days. I hate cold and winter, so Jodi is an amazing friend to me. She does educational outreach with people in isolated communities for a living. In Alaska, you can get a leave of absence to mush, I guess! Her students are following her progress. She also finished the Yukon Quest this winter, so she is really challenging herself with the Iditarod. I check in to the website everyday (ok, three times a day) to see where she is.

She started the race and then I found out about my friend going to prison. It just seemed like too apt a comparison at the time, and it made me weep. The freedom Jodi finds on that trail is such hard work and dedication – she trained for ten years, and is a marathon runner. Chris, my jailed friend, ran her own marathon as well, I guess – with different results. Each takes some dedication, truly. 

And Bill, my friends brother, also ran his own race, although he is mostly admired for his daily walks through his neighborhood, no matter the weather. People could set their clocks by him. That is a legacy that I truly envy. 

One habit and lifestyle I might aspire to myself.




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You can follow Jodi at the Iditarod website - Jodi Bailey - she's currently 39th which is great because she's going to be rookie of the year!
I like that you put three elements together here even though on the face of it they're unrelated; it's an accurate reflection of life. I'm sorry your friend is in prison, but glad your other friend is in the Iditarod. I'm an outdoors person but can't even imagine how hard it would be to do that. And funerals, yeah; the most recent one I've been to was in Keene, NH, not that far from your neck of the woods. It's a weird thing, but I've never been to a funeral where I wasn't one of the pallbearers.
Thanks nanatehey. I wonder if this makes sense, so I'm glad it made sense to someone. I should probably sleep before heading out to the funeral. I hope the next time you visit is for a more positive reason and you and I can laugh together. Or fight.
The holy trinity of things you don't want to happen here. Life can be a mix of ups and downs and hopefully you get more ups than downs.
Sorry about all the recent bad news...but it was very cleverly woven into one interesting post.
Unlike the nice neat threads of a theme when writing a story, real life looks more along the lines of your knitting basket after the kittens have played in it. There are more doggone "main themes" and "minor themes" and "side themes" and snarls, and entanglements, than you can shake a stick at. And, just to make it unbearable, it's all moving along at different rates of time for each person involved.

At the age of 70, I now KNOW why I love retirement so....

Hang in there!!

(I was gonna say, "Cheer up; things could be worse", but the last time I told someone that, she cheered right up and sure enough, things got worse ........!)

You write about things that we all have to deal with because each of us responds in our own way, and it helps enormously to see how someone else, whom we respect, responds and then can explain herself so artfully it seems as if we are responding her way, as well.

Meanwhile, go, Jodi!
Thank you for the report. I think we report these details so others can witness. As we grow older, many of us come to understand this as our human responsibility. I have been to three funerals in the past twelve months, and have learned going forward that I need to have a funeral dress, because there will be more, rather than fewer funerals to attend in the coming years.

I wrote my mother's eulogy yesterday. See? Now you've witnessed that for me :-)
I think sometimes the holes in the plot are what makes us think.
Three completely separate incidents all interconnected - a great post. I feel sorry for two of your friends - going to jail and losing a brother; and have the utmost respect for your friend Jodi in the Iditarod. Makes the marathon seem like a walk in the park.
Great post. And Sky's comment about the messiness of life was right on.

Of the three lives you outline, the one you end the post by saying you might aspire to is the least appealing - life is for living. Well, I guess he lived as he wanted to... A little safe and routine and detached - in their ways, Jodi and Chris have sought out adventure. (I don't recommend aspiring to either of their paths either, tho!) (We all find, deliberately or otherwise, our own paths...)
It makes sense the way life itself makes sense. We never get one thing at a time, a good thing to savor, a bad thing to cry about. We get them all, jumbled together, with all the emotions too. So we have to lay sideways, figure them out our way. I like this because I don't feel so alone, you always tap into that in me. Thanks aim.

Somehow you've taken seemingly disparate events and connected them all. I agree this has been interminably long winter. Ugh. I have watched more movies than ever in my whole life which mostly I enjoyed but between the computer and the TV the moments logged behind a screen are interminable as well.

Sorry about your friend (in prison) and friend's brother ...a heart attack outside the 7/11 is not a nice way to go. Kudos to your other running friend. Mostly be well yourself and don't rule out all those police procedurals could make you one hell of a crime fiction writer!;