The taxi pulled up to the house, the street narrow now seemed narrower and the house, I spent a lot of effort painting the yellow she wanted now seemed not as bright. There was a part of me not happy to return here, as if I did not belong. I stepped inside and welcomed by her two daughters visiting, the younger one having her two youngest with her, a granddaughter born while I was inside the walls. Mayra, in her bedroom, so I knocked on the closed door letting her know I was there. I waited for a loving reception but there was a chill in the air between us, almost as if she did not expect me. I wanted to show affection by a hug and kiss but it was not returned as warmly as I once received from her. I felt uncomfortable, again. I did not belong here.
I returned to the living room sat and talked with her daughters while the young grandson was toddling about. There was a feeling of apprehension on my part. What did they think of me? Was I the proverbial child molester now? Would she even want me around her children? We were divorced and technically I was no longer their grandfather, but I wanted the friendship of someone, to play with them. I spent a lot of time with Jaydaliz, overlooked, not mobile yet sitting in her seat. I played with her because in many ways I felt just like her, stuck and unable to move. I didn’t like it at all.
Mayra made changes to the home the biggest perhaps was the installation of two air conditioners she now wanted to demonstrate for me; one of them in the small bedroom which held my things and where I would stay—for now. I felt a stranger as if I no longer belonged. Her son, Raul, came and went just as if I had only been gone for a day. I didn’t want to go through my things, in boxes now. Just as I was stashed away somewhere for more than two years, so was all of my things, my life, so easily stored in cardboard boxes, stacked against a wall. My watch no longer worked, perhaps the only thing which really disturbed me, although I hadn’t expected it to be working, being away for so long. Have to get a battery to replace it, but I put it on anyway because it is where it belonged, on my wrist.
Mayra suggested we go out to get a few things and we did. It felt good to travel the roads we used to travel together, going shopping. While on the way, I saw the housing development I thought about returning to have that one last good smoke before, before, I don’t know, before what? Before I get into trouble again? Before I leave this island? But nothing seemed the same. I looked for the woman who lived above Sasha’s place, who used to sit in her chair on the balcony. She wasn’t there anymore. Sasha’s place looked different. Miriam was not standing in the intersection begging for money. Where would I go to have this last smoke before…
After dinner, her children left and it’s late and we were alone. I would make innuendos about us being physically together but they were casually ignored, with that smile she easily gave. However, it was clear where I would be sleeping tonight. I took a shower to wash off the last remnants of prison life, enjoying the privacy of not being rushed and not having to hit the button to restart the water after so many minutes. Before retiring to my room, I went to her in hopes of maybe her changing her mind, but it was clear where we both were going to sleep. She let me kiss her goodnight and I went to my room letting her know I would keep my door opened if she wanted to come to be with me, but I think she locked hers. In my new sleeping quarters, I looked around at the cramped space, feeling cool air from the air conditioner and thankful she had it installed. The bed felt funny because it was a real bed and not a piece of mattress thrown over steel coils. The room was unusually dark when I turned off the light. I forgot what it was to sleep in total darkness and I didn’t like it. I turned the light back on, but what I saw was depressing, I was alone. So, I turned the light off again and somehow managed to fall asleep.
Mayra was on vacation and I needed to fulfill the legal requirement of visiting the probation office within three days. Mayra knew where I needed to go and offered to take me, arranging to pick me up afterwards. My first actual day of freedom felt good. To be wearing civilian clothing, albeit it was the same shirt and pants they gave me the day before, but the freedom to be in the sunlight, to walk among people again, to come and go as I pleased. The probation officer I was to see was not available but I was shown to someone who would acknowledge my having appeared. Also, I was drug tested and felt confident. One of the few times I ever felt that way about being tested knowing there couldn’t have possibly been anything in my system. After receiving my conditions of probation and other paperwork, I called Mayra and she picked me up.
There was tension between us at the same time there was a feeling of relief getting to know each other again and talking freely, not having to deal with guards and lines in order to speak with each other. I enjoyed being driven and seeing those familiar sites and talking with her about the many changes having taken place on the island. There were roads now where there wasn’t before as well as new buildings completed since my incarceration or being built. All in all, I enjoyed being with her and in many ways felt as if this was a repeat of the first time we met not in Fort Bragg, but when I arrived on the island December 2000.
The following week when she returned to work, Mayra wanted to talk about my plans. I could tell by the sound of her voice, although I would make the attempt I would like to stay here but believed it to be in my best interest returning to the States. She made it clear, she, too, believed it would be better for me to return. She, in her heart, didn’t think I could make it here especially with the drug problem being what it was. What did she think I would be returning to in Cleveland or New York? The same drug problem existed there as well, but I think she didn’t want to be a part of it. She didn’t want to have to worry about her home being filled with police or federal agents again. In short, she didn’t want me here. In fact, and she made it clear, when she returned to work, she would rather I not be in the home—period. She didn’t want her computer to be used by me. What had happened to her was a traumatic period in her life and she just wanted to forget it ever happened. Monday, returning to work and me having been released now for a week, when she left, I, too, prepared to leave. She dropped me at the bus terminal, just down the street from where she worked and I would take the bus to formulate some plan as to what I would do for that day.
One of the places I wanted to visit was El Morro. This was the place I was able to see from my cell, when I was taken to “The Hole” after the first night. Instead of my walking with Mayra, holding hands and sitting on the grass looking back to where I was held for twenty-six months, the promise I thought God made to me, I headed to that spot—alone. I found a comfortable place and looked over the Bay to try and find the detention center and couldn’t locate it. Perhaps if I came at night it would be more apparent with the security lighting but during the day impossible for me to determine. I talked with God about what occurred and His plans for me. I was pretty much secluded when a woman walked past and for a split second I had the urge to expose myself to her, not just then but if she walked back again. She never did and I was able to consider what happened within myself. I knew, now, I had a choice to make. I was free and regardless of what was going on with my life, my circumstances of where I would eventually live, either I could return to the life I had prior to going behind bars, the addictions and compulsions, or I could begin life anew. I knew how to go backwards and I also knew what I would be facing. Regarding the compulsion of exposing myself and the anxiety associated with it, I chose not to do it. I didn’t have to do it anymore and didn’t want to.
Later in the week, I grappled with the past of smoking Crack. I ventured into a public housing area looking for familiar faces of those selling or women making themselves available and walked the whole area, did not find anything remotely resembling what was so easy before just two years ago. Either I didn’t look very hard or in my heart didn’t want to return to that lifestyle either. I think it was both. I noticed I had a fearfulness within me, not so much of the police or getting caught but to be in that life again, with men and women, who valued life worthless and wouldn’t think a moment longer than necessary to rob you or kill you for whatever they thought they could get. I left quickly from the gated community when I saw the entrance/exit and decided never again would I seek to enter into such a place again. I also recognized I didn’t care for “gated” living anymore.
I decided to fill my days establishing a routine. I would go to Old San Juan and get something to eat, be near the Bay where the cruise-ships docked, the touristy areas and stop by an air-conditioned public library. This is where I would spend most of my days. I decided I would research the condition I was diagnosed with, “Paraphilia” and read as much as was written on the subject, which was not much, especially in a library which catered mostly to the Spanish speaking island, but it provided me a place to find comfort, to think and be comfortable. On the other side of the bus terminal were small stores where I could get food and something to drink. I walked along the dock, found an iron-wrought base, wooden-seat bench and spent many hours looking out over the Bay. On several occasions I was fortunate enough to see a ship either dock or depart and watched such a massive piece of equipment moving was fascinating.
At the end of each day, depending where I was, I would arrange to meet her just as she was leaving her job or just show up at the house when I thought she would be back. I enjoyed the freedom I had to be able to choose where I went and how I spent my day but I was quickly tiring of this routine because I was not progressing outwardly. I was not contributing to either the household or to my advancement in returning to a life of productivity. One thing could be said about me, I’m not one who just sits around and easily have someone else provide for me. I like to work, to contribute, to feel a part of the unit—although these words contradict my wanting to work in the “Unit” in the detention center!
The following week Mayra gave me news, shocking me and putting the finality on any hope of us getting back together. She informed me her brother was coming to Puerto Rico for Thanksgiving and would be staying there and I had to leave. Her feelings were because of what I did and was convicted of wouldn’t sit well with the family. This time I felt unwanted and being shielded because I was not acceptable. I told her it would be no trouble for me to just leave and come back after her family left. After pricing what it would cost to get a room for those days, I knew I didn’t have the money available and couldn’t ask her for it, so when she asked me where I would stay, I just told her not to worry. I had been homeless before and knew how to make do. At least here I didn’t have to worry too much about inclement weather. For a couple of days, I looked around during my traveling determining where I could find some type of shelter for sleeping, considering I would have a somewhat large bag with me containing my toiletries and a change of clothing or two, and I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where I would be a marked target for someone to rob. As time grew closer when her family would be arriving, she contacted my probation officer, who called me and expressed Mayra’s concern about the situation and asked me to come in to see him the following day to make a plan what I would do.
The following day, Mayra told me plans changed and her brother wasn’t coming and planned to visit another time, but it wouldn’t change the need for me to make plans to leave. I had some time before seeing my probation officer so I decided to go down to the Bay and while sitting there I prayed, asking God to tell me what I should do. I called Pat in Cleveland and offered to return to her employment or if she knew someone who could provide a place to stay and work. She contacted someone in the same type of business but at first what seemed a good possibility turned out to be a dead-end. I thought of going to Philadelphia but didn’t have any contacts there. I didn’t want to go back to upstate New York because lack of public transportation and a small city meant lack of work opportunities. I didn’t know what to do. While praying, I believe I heard God tell me,
“Call Don, you’re going home.”
Energized and believing my prayer was answered, I got up and left the Bay and headed to the probation office.
When I arrived we discussed what needed to be done and although Mayra’s plans had changed, he wasn’t sure what her thoughts were in terms of my staying there until such time when I could leave. I assured him, as long as she knew I was actively pursuing leaving, she would be comfortable with my remaining there as long as it took to package and ship my things and leave. And, she was okay with it.
That night I called Don and shared with him my situation and heard the words I wanted and needed to hear so badly,
“Come on, Roy. You know we’re family and you always have a place here.” (Note: October 26, 2007 while sitting in Don’s kitchen, my last week, visiting with them prior to moving to Atlanta, I read him this part of the book how I was told to call him and how he invited me to come and join with him and his family. He smiled as we considered this is where I came to begin again and where I came back just before leaving to go somewhere else for another beginning.) He shared his concern of my being a convicted felon and how that might affect his job, but nonetheless, his home was open to me and come and we’d work out the strategy necessary to get work and housing, as soon as possible, so not to conflict with his position with the Department of Corrections in New York as a Corrections Counselor. Mayra was pleased to hear the news and now I had another task ahead, repackaging all those boxes I sent down and go through them discarding what hadn’t been useful since moving here or in the two years I was incarcerated and ship them to New York.
On what would be my last full day, I went out as usual; since Mayra was working, and visited the places I had been going for the past three weeks to say good-bye. I could not foresee ever returning to Puerto Rico and just wanted to fill my mind with good memories and give thanks to God for having been with me providing direction, once again, in my life especially when I needed it.
While traveling I saw a woman I recognized. She must have been, at one time in her life, very beautiful. She was drug addicted, begging for money at an intersection, unwashed and dirty. She had scars over her body, particularly her legs I noticed, red, raw open sores. Prior to going into prison, I flashed her while sitting in my car handing dollars to her just to get her attention. I remember how she looked me, in the eye, not knowing what to do but accepting the money, graciously, and I’ll never forget her small voice saying “gracias.” This time, I saw her sitting in a wheelchair near the same corner and walked over to her. I asked if she spoke English and was greeted with the most surprising, no accented English, and pleasant voice despite the physical condition she was in. Veralis Pagan Gomez was her name. I asked her if she remembered me. She looked at me with those same eyes as before when she saw me several years ago. When I related to her the circumstances, her face changed into softness and said she remembered. She remembered the gray Cadillac and the guy having his pants down and how shocked she was. I told her I had been praying for her since August 29, 2003 and here it was December 14, 2004 and I was so glad to be able to meet her. As I recount this experience and write today, April 10, 2006, it dawned on me, Veralis, although considered one of my victims was now my first confessor! I shared with her about my drug and prison experience and she did the same about her drug addiction and how meeting a man who claimed loved her and passed onto her the sickness which will eventually take her life but now has taken away her ability to stand and walk and with the pain and suffering, yet you could not detect one complaint! She was truly blessed and an inspiration to me. She gave me a poem she wrote and wanted me to have it and I told her, as I slipped money into her hand, I will always remember her and will be praying for her. (Note: In preparing for my move to Atlanta, I found the poem and now carry it with me in my wallet.) In honor of her, I’ll print the poem:
There Was a Crooked Man
Veralis Pagán Gomez
There was a crooked man
And he went a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence
Against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat,
Which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together
In a little crooked house.
I told her although she made decisions putting her in this way and God would probably not heal her body, yet He has saved her and could look forward to having a better life. For just a moment, on that corner in a drug addicted, prostitute laden area of Puerto Rico, was a small prayer service going on. A corner where lives intersected and were being changed, for the better, regardless of the battle-worn, scarred lives left behind as casualties, the victory was still ours because we made it through the battle. No one promised we wouldn’t suffer, just we wouldn’t suffer long. The pain would eventually go away and in its place eternal joy, knowing and being in the presence of Christ. No, I would never forget her, and having met her, I satisfied my need to say “good-bye” to Puerto Rico and all that it has meant to me. I look forward seeing Veralis in the Kingdom, robed in white, her body made anew, clean and healthy, and look into those eyes again, those eyes that never once showed sadness or pain. Her eyes were heavenly eyes, even then, and I look forward seeing them on that Day.
Mayra refused any effort I made to be romantic and affectionate even after my assuring her I was a changed man and I thought she would welcome such between us. I don’t know why she refused initially, perhaps for fear of what might happen, or what should have been already passed, or if it might be some strategy of mine to keep from leaving, but I couldn’t let the last night I might ever be with her on this earth, without making one more attempt to demonstrate to her I was a changed man and loved her and wanted her.
We were sitting in the cool living-room watching television and I got the courage to say to her,
“Mayra, you know what would be nice? It would be nice if you would go and put on that little something you told me you ordered from Victoria’s Secret, and light a candle and put on that nice perfume you stashed away, and I put on the cologne you have given me and we have a nice night together. What do you think?” Well, all heaven must have rolled and snowballs were being tossed around in Hell, because she looked at me and said, “Okay.”!
We shared a moment of lovemaking, that night, which could have been what we had all along or a portent of what could be for the future, but it was what we shared together, now, in the present, which was so sweet and made it very special.
Morning would come quickly and with nothing more to do other than dress and prepare to travel, I looked back at the home I shared with this woman, as her husband and now as her friend, thinking how I may never return but thankful for the memories it now held within my heart. Traveling along roads I had taken many times but now perhaps for the last time wondering what was God’s true purpose for my being here. Was this truly the answer to that prayer, many years ago, asking to be able to go where the “sun never stops shining”? If so, it didn’t end as I thought it would. I didn’t know it would only be a temporary stop for me and not the permanent place I would remain. But, I didn’t have any doubt as to where God was directing me because as doors were closing, He opened the one I was to step through and all indications were it was time to go.
When we arrived at the airport, I was doing all I could to keep my eyes from misting. I’m sort of sentimental about leaving places and people with whom I have shared a special moment. I got out of the car and retrieved the few things I would carry and while standing there we hugged first and then cried. To feel her body against mine, actually embraced in a loving grip not wanting to let go, and cried tears of actual love and friendship. Her words to me then were, “I didn’t want it to be this way” were driven into the very core of my being. I knew she didn’t want this and I didn’t either, but neither one of us really controlled what happens in our lives. There is a Higher Purpose for both of us, and I know now, for sure, I was here for a reason which will be revealed more as I continue the path I have started in my goal of being saved. I know this was part of that prayer being answered long before the other prayer of going to a sunny place. This was a part of that prayer requesting God reveal Himself to me and save me.
After parting and waving for the last time, I made my way into the airport feeling a freedom I hadn’t felt before. Not so much of leaving a burden behind but carrying it a lot lighter now. I was still me, just me with more and exciting experiences held within and an expectation of the same to follow. Me with more hope for the future and yet a little intrigued about what it might hold for me. I kept telling myself, at this age of being in my mid to late forties, this was getting old by not being settled and established as my friends were, yet I would not have traded what I had gone through for their secured and somewhat quiet lives. I remembered sitting in my family room wondering at the age of thirty, if life, as I knew it, was this all it was? I wanted excitement, new challenges, something to reach toward but had no clue as to how it would all come about.
As the plane left the tarmac and circled around headed for the Florida coast I looked at that little island I called home for the past four years, and thankful to God I had had the opportunity of a lifetime to live on a tropical island, where most people only either visit for a week while on vacation or dream about ever going. Just as my maternal grandfather, I’m told, said when family members tried to get him to travel and he retort what would be the difference? They have buildings there and trees and people. Well, I got all that right here. Why should I travel? Well, Grandpa, yes, you’re right, but they’re different trees and different people and different buildings. I may never come this way again, but for sure, I’m grateful for having come this way once.