Since getting out of jail, I’ve felt not so much displaced by the initial jarring impact of freedom, but rather the slow and steady ripple effect of freedom’s aftershocks, akin in my mind to, all those many years ago playing football when with extreme tunnel vision and an adrenalin filled heart I would float across the field trying to track that ball tucked never securely enough away in the carrier’s possession, only to be blindsided (legal hits are very subjective things) downfield by some 250 pound lithium-addled lineman. Get up, brush yourself off. Wha-bam! And again. Until you quit or go pro. I turned to recreational drugs. Which is not an option these days, not if I want to keep my passport out of the ultra-coveted “deport free” travel status I currently hold.
Of these little run-ins with freedom’s unexpected side effects, one of the more obvious ones is trust. Wha-bam! Trust in strangers, trust in coworkers, peers, friends and family and finally, trust in myself. The T-word is a gradually gained thing, a matter of comfort, of knowledge, of intimacy. This is also wound intricately (some would say tangled) up in communication – internal and external. Introverted and extroverted. I have been turned into a shy(er), panic-attack prone individual by the state, yet it is I who am viewed with mistrust by people who once felt comfortable with me naked. Conversely, it is as if I have recently returned from a long journey where the object of my attention has no idea where I’ve been and asks me questions about supposed common knowledge, things like who won this season’s Survivor, who performed at halftime during the Superbowl or the most recent idiotic Bush-ism. The secret, once you’ve been locked up, trekked for months through Tibet or lived in Japan for 4 of the last 5 years (i.e. been away from the west), is to grin, nod your head, try to maintain eye contact (lighting a cigarette is acceptable behavior if you normally do it), sip (don’t gulp) your drink, ignore any sudden muscular twitches, and above all do not give into the opiate-esque desire to slip into (yet another) angry interrogation flashback.
This was not ‘Nam. You are not Kurtz.
Your heart (though above-averagely seared) is not dark enough to know true emptiness. You have not yet touched the void. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe you haven’t gone far enough. Maybe you just don’t really know anything and are just playing it by ear.
Playing it by ear. Now there’s a comforting phrase. Normal, yet still vague enough to keep a safe distance. The kind of phrase that’s a conversation saver. And conversation-saving phrases are more important than you know these days. Above all, smile, and maybe, just maybe that steroid-pumped ape in tights bearing down on you with those s.t.d.-ravaged eyes will ease up a bit and forget to drive his knee into your groin as he drops you onto the turf beneath his unforgiving bulk. Maybe. It”s your only chance. So smile. What you got to lose?