20 November, 2019

Happy Birthday, Dear Byron

Getting older is no picnic. Most Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers will probably tell you that after they turned forty, happy birthdays got a little harder to come by. This is at least doubly true in prison, where joy is thought to be as mythical as Santa Claus and racial equality. Somehow, though, I manage to summon enough happiness to smile about turning another year older. You might reasonably ask how the hell I do it.

When I was a teenager, people often thought I was ten years older than I was. Now that I'm "over the hill," everyone thinks I'm ten years younger than I am. Both perspectives have served me well. Appearances aside, however, age is taking its toll. My hair is thin. My vision sucks. My knees ache and crackle. My lungs are bad. Et cetera, ad mortuum.

Whatever. Age happens to the best of us. There are worse things, besides.

One of my lowest points, since the abduction that landed me in a prison cell, was my twenty-fifth birthday. I'd recently lost both an appeal and contact with a close friend. I slipped into a profound depression. Hitting the quarter-century mark seemed like a significant life event, and here I was, locked in a cluttered cell for days on end with a madman, not even allowed out for a shower, in the wake of a prisoner's vengeful assault of a guard. My severely mentally ill cellmate, Hoss, had schizophrenia and a hoarding problem, however, and being trapped in his presence, with his sloppiness and selfishness and constant whining about imagined injustice and persecution, made the pain of my wrongful imprisonment sting that much more sharply. Another item on my list of woes was that the institutional lockdown forced a cancelation of the special food visit I was expecting. Birthday cards and friendly letters poured in from all corners of the globe, but they only reminded me of all that I was being kept from.

Instead of wallowing for weeks in that gray torment, I turned to creative ventures. Art and (of course) writing got me through the worst of it, implicitly reiterating that old truth: that in life, ultimately, no one's responsible for your shitty moods but you. The next year, I took fun into my own hands. I bought some special foodstuffs from the prison canteen and shared a little birthday feast with my new cellmate. I also splurged by mail ordering a few music cassettes. (This was a long time ago.) The love and well-wishes my friends sent that year had their intended effect, and I sailed happily through my twenty-sixth birthday.

I can't legitimately claim all the credit for this. It'd be impossible to enjoy myself so much without that crucial ingredient to any happy birthday: love. Everyone out there who knows me personally or frequently reads this blog knows that I'm graced with the friendships of many smart, resilient, caring people. My connections to them are the glue that holds me together. To what state might I be reduced if not for them? On the anniversary of my birth, they shower me with cards, letters, and e-mails, as well as money, packets of pictures, and books — every type of gift that the Department of Corrections allows me to receive — and these mean the world to me. Locked in here, alone with society's dregs, my friends make me feel like a prince.

This Saturday I'll turn forty-one. Three of these wonderful people will be here to see me and share a meal made with love by my mother. We'll sit around a table and eat and talk and laugh. The joy of those hours will be palpable. Afterward, I'll sit in my cell, listening to an album I downloaded that morning, reflecting on forty-one years of life, grateful for everything that I have.

Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me.

1 comment:

  1. We can only give you Love. You are the resilient positive one that pulls yourself up and over every hurdle. Your continued courage is just one reason we send you that Love. Happy Birthday indeed.


Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.