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It wasn’t like the food was amazing inside. That the two-inch thick, used mattress was the right kind of firm for my back. That being strip searched was the highlight of my life.

No.

Of course, I didn’t want to go back to shitty medical care, horrible choices for hair products, the stink of dozens of people in the same space, the occasional abusive words from the guards, the impossibility of a restful night sleep thanks to others talking, yelling, crying.

It just seemed like there wasn’t much of a choice in the matter if I got my hands on that bastard. Really, even if my plan wasn’t premeditated like it clearly was, and I just happened upon him one day on the street, yeah, I was pretty sure it would lead to me heading back to a cell.

I heard the chugging, hissing sound – an old, familiar one – looking up to find the rusty silver bus approaching, stopping at my side with a grinding screech. The door squeaked open as I straightened up, checking the bus number against the schedule, making sure it was heading in the right direction.

Reaching for my ticket from the machine, I climbed the grime-covered steps, stopping a few feet from the driver – a man in his fifties with a hangover of a waistline and an impressive handlebar mustache – to slip my ticket into the machine.

I was thankful for the measly smattering of people scattered around me – a middle-aged man in a custodial jumpsuit, an older woman in a waitress uniform, a duo of high school kids clearly ditching class. There were glances, but nothing damning, nothing that said they knew where I had been, what I had done.

It was a comfort of sorts as the bus jolted back to life, taking my belly with it for a moment, and I sat back to watch the world speed by me.

I hadn’t been in a bus since the ride into the prison, my wrists and ankles shackled, a female guard standing up by the front with a baton at one hip and a gun at the other. I’d been too sick with fear, with uncertainty, with bone-deep trepidation to notice the world moving past me. And after so long in a standstill place, the way the trees, budding with spring leaves, raced past me was making my chest tight, my stomach queasy.

After the fourth transfer, the queasy feeling was replaced with one of hunger. But I was finally across the border of New Jersey. And I was running short on money on my debit card. So I decided to suffer until I got to my brother’s place, knowing he would have something in his fridge I could steal.

Real food, too.

Nothing mushy or unidentifiable. Made with actual spices.

And then I could shower. With hot water. For as long as I wanted. Be allowed to use a razor without worrying about having to return it in a certain amount of time or else I’d get in trouble.

Then, finally, I could get a night’s rest a decade in the making. On a comfortable bed. With soft, numerous blankets. A TV on as background noise. And no one yelling or crying to keep me from rest. I could wake up when my body wanted to, not when the lights clicked on and guards started yelling.

Such bliss was worth the churning, angry emptiness in my stomach as the final bus deposited me half a block from the train station in Navesink Bank.

I don’t know what I expected.

For things to look different. Or exactly the same. When the reality was somewhere in between. The station was the same as it had always been – a little worn, a little in need of paint or a power washing. But there were new trees planted. The restaurant across the street that used to be a Mexican place was now Italian. The parking meters were covered, replaced with some central ticket system that seemed a lot less efficient.

I chose not to call a cab, knowing the walk would just be about half an hour to the apartment building. Sure, I had to walk through gang territory, and the me I used to be shrank away from the idea. But the woman I was – who had once seen a fellow inmate hold another inmate’s hand in a pot of boiling oil – knew there was little that truly scared me anymore.

My brother’s apartment building was one that had been a mere debate in the town meetings when I had been in Navesink Bank last – most of the citizens agreeing that it would bring more and more unneeded traffic to the area. Clearly, the taxes outweighed the community uproar.

The building was nice – sand-colored stucco with each apartment getting a wrought iron-lined balcony.

It was pretty.


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