There’s a C-shaped stretch of highway that wraps around three sides of Carrollton. There is a neatly mowed median in the middle, guard rails and pine trees. There are a series of stoplights. There is a bridge. There is even a corresponding sky. These things never change. These things comprise the sum total of my world.
Where Newnan Street intersects this highway, there is a jail. I idle there at the red light and stare at it, transfixed. The green indicator in my dashboard flashes calmly west toward Wal-Mart, or east toward home. Route 16/27 lays directly ahead, but it can’t save me. I don’t go south anymore. All southbound roads contain the ghost of joy, the memory of speeding unbridled toward a low-hanging moon just over the next town. An escape hatch, an open window pulling in just enough wind and life to make me dream of that drive. I dream of it like a dying man.
No one is forcing me not to stay within my yellow lines. There is no string around my neck that keeps me swinging back and forth on my predetermined half moon of asphalt, and yet I do. It’s not that I’m not allowed to pass the jail and leave town anytime I want, it’s that I have no cause to — and it feels the same way. And there, the jail looms like a watchtower.
At least I don’t have a concrete ceiling. I can look up and take in the ambivalent and unchanging high-pressure cosmos as it parades past, suggesting that we are all truly free. All that hydrogen and oxygen. All the things you can’t reach when your feet are made of carbon, nailed to the earth.
The jail is a hive of towering containment and recycled air, with little slits punched in the side so all the stockpiled humans inside can peek out and see just enough of the world to stay sane. Jail, I say to myself, and shudder. Jail. I let the feel of the word resound inside my head, and all the while my blinker goes tick, tick, tick. Each beat, another year gone. Another year where I swore too, by this time next year, I’ll be free.
I imagine a prisoner looking down at me in my car, a faceless suburban packhorse. He doesn’t know that every time I pass by, I review his life all over again from the beginning. How does it feel to do time, to never be allowed to cross that line? Then I look around at my amber waves of dead fescue and shining sea of guard rails, and wonder how many trips around the sun I’ve spent making trips around the jail. The truth flashes, a solar flare of panic — just a touch. A core of rage that cools into a sinking feeling, and then, nothing but a grocery sack full of rocks.
copyright © K. Dawn Goodwin 2016