by Maynor Galletan
My mom woke my sister and me up at 6 a.m. on a cold December morning. My sister was too young to understand what was going on. She was grouchy being wakened that early.
My mom’s face exhibited a strange mix of emotions, revealing both happiness and deep sadness yet she was as beautiful as ever.
We were going to visit my dad who was in prison. He had been in a gang and dealt drugs. We remained in contact through letters and brief phone calls here and there. His face was beginning to fade from my memory, and I feared I would forget the person he was.
I threw on my thick leather jacket, hopped into our black Toyota Camry and watched as my mom struggled to buckle my chubby four-year-old sister into her seatbelt in the backseat. I looked out the window at the gray sky, a foreshadowing of the gloom we’d feel when we reached San Bernadino. The ride lasted two hours, and everything felt heavy and dark. Mom maneuvered the car into the closest free parking spot in the lot and exited the car. She wore a fake smile. She lifted my sister from her seat, and we started walking towards the barbed wire topped walls of the prison.
I gripped my mother’s hand as we approached this strange new place.
As we entered the building I saw many officers, weapons, metal detectors and reinforced steel doors. I looked at my mom and realized I was witnessing the strength of a goddess fighting a battle within herself.
We waited forty minutes, then were led by a guard through a dim hallway populated with individual cubicles. We approached the glass of one of these cubicles. The glass was still smudged from previous visitors. My mom placed my sister on the counter. I struggled to look up, still hiding behind my mom. We heard a loud ping and then a bang. I covered my ears. Seconds later I spotted a thin man with a beard and glasses. I stepped back and looked closely into the man’s eyes and recognized him.
My dad wore a beige jumpsuit and a white undershirt.
He looked worse than I had ever seen him look. His skin, once brown, was now pale, and the belly which once was plump was no longer there. Though only four inches of glass separated us, I had never felt so far away from him, and I hid from him, afraid of this new image of my dad. My mom pulled me into his vision. “Stop, Maynor,” she said, “this isn’t fair.”
I moved into sight and stared into my father’s watery eyes. He cried as I have never seen him cry. All his pent up emotion was instantly released. My mom followed, her tears as thick as his.
I was seven years old on that day of my first visit to prison, and I made a stern adult decision on the ride back home. I would stay away from drugs and gangs, and I have never broken that vow.
In June I will cross the Venice High School stage and soon thereafter I will drive out and visit my father, hold my diploma to the glass, and no doubt we will cry together. Come fall I will attend Santa Monica College. I am not sure what field of study I will pursue, but I know I carry my father’s and my mother’s dreams with me to lead a successful life, and I have vowed not to let them down.
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