GUNS & ROSES
©Breeze Vincinz. This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce his story or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
I was only five when I wrote him. It was a class assignment. We were given names of inmates and one thing about them. Administration hoped that our compassion, then untouched and unchallenged, could somehow find both permanent sovereignty in our young hearts and solace, even if only temporary, for the brothers who were locked away for doing God knows what to God knows whom for whatever God forsaken reason at the time.
My name is Mendel Jackson. I go to Holy Cross Elementary. It is November and it is cold. You like flowers. Momma Becky has flowers in her backyard. I like the sunflowers they more big than the others. I don’t like the worms. They all back there. I like to draw. I like rainbows I can use all the crayons in the box. And I like the circus. I was only to tell one thing but I like the circus, I like the elephants, I like the way they smell. My momma told me not to tell anybody that but I do. I hope you eat turkey on Thanksgiving. And cranberry. Love Mendel Jackson.
Not everybody wrote their assigned inmate and not everyone who did received a response. The whole activity was deemed as a failure due to low participation on both ends… despite the fact that I got a response.
Little Mendel, it tickled me so hearing about you using all the colors in the crayon box. I never did. I wasn’t one of those kids, if it wasn’t red, yellow or blue I didn’t try it. I guess I was afraid of all those other colors. I didn’t know about them. But you go right ahead with your magentas and your fuchsias and your turquoises; don’t ever be afraid of the rest of the colors in the box. I haven’t seen flowers in a really long time. I’m not particularly drawn to them, but when I was asked to do this it was the first thing that came to mind. Flowers are okay. I wasn’t a gardener or anything before I got here, I don’t know why I said flowers. I could have said so many other things but, well, you’re a kid. So, yeah, flowers. Yeah, I dig flowers. I’m happy to hear from you. I don’t get a chance to talk to a lot of people outside. Nobody really pays any attention to us in here. Not really. I don’t have anybody out there. Not anymore at least. But if I had a kid, I would hope he would use all the colors in the box too. You take care of yourself. You make sure and listen to your Momma Becky and do everything she says. I’ll make sure to eat turkey on Thanksgiving and yeah, she was right, don’t tell anybody you like the way elephants smell. Patrick Mendoza.
The school kept up our closely monitored correspondence for close to six years. Every single letter that was swapped between the two of us was copied, notarized, cataloged and sanctioned by at least the principal and dean of my school. I’m sure it went through a million other entities by the time it was physically in our hands and in hindsight I’m sure they wanted nothing more than to have this “pedophiliac-moment-in-waiting” correspondence to stop. But the truth of the matter was, the letters only came once a month and probably the most provocative thing that was ever discussed between the two of us was the one time in fifth grade when I asked him what was he in for and he responded simply, “I just made some bad choices.” Usually our letters consisted of Different Strokes episodes, Sister Sledge, Pac-Man, how we missed our respective grandmothers, how much we both wanted a dog.
My mother was quite indifferent to the whole exercise. She used to read those letters with a fine tooth comb but after the first year of scrutinizing them and noticing how I didn’t particularly horde them or exalt them to the level of the Holy Grail she was finally convinced that the guy was just lonely. He was a twenty something black man who has been locked up since his teens with no family, friends or hope. She figured me throwing him a bone every once in awhile would do nothing but promote good karma. So it went on innocently enough.
But in Junior High the letters stopped. Supposedly, Patrick’s release date was approaching the next year and “they” felt it was best to end any and all correspondence between the two of us. My mother’s ambivalence quickly darted in the same direction. “Charity is charity but reality is reality” she said, adding, “The last thing we need is to have some ex-con stalking the school for you.” Plus I was graduating to High School soon and it was deemed best to simply mark the whole excursion as a wonderful youthful adventure… and move on.
High school was absolute hell. To this day I think about it and a chill quivers down my back. Not that Junior High or any other scholastic adventure was all that peachy keen either, in fact it did nothing but lay the groundwork for the fiasco High School turned out to be. It was an all male Catholic school that had a notorious reputation for having a high populous of homosexuals. Whether that was actually true or not, and the jury is still out on that, the actual cultural inner workings of the school bred nothing but rage filled homophobia. The bar of acceptable masculinity was raised to the level of Kafkaesque heights and anything below was deemed militantly homosexual in the most degenerate of terms. This included but was not limited to; not being on the honor roll (or being friends with anybody who was on the honor roll), not playing varsity sports (or being friends with anybody who played varsity sports) or not being involved in any extra curricular activities (or friends with anybody who participated in extra curricular activities). Usually being attractive could supersede all three areas though anybody who was that attractive would always work their way into one of the three if only to promote how attractive they were. I, on the other hand, was short, and dumpy, and hairy, and smelly, and failing every class, and hated sports and didn’t even know they had extra curricular activities my first year because I was on the bus home within five minutes of the last classes’ bell.
My mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer my senior year and even though she scrounged up enough to roll herself up to the church in a wheelchair to see me graduate, the Senior class still found some space in their hearts to hiss and boo right in front of her when my name was called. It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times.
I got a government student loan and enrolled into an accredited four year art college that sat smack dab in the middle of the city. It was the first time I ever felt as if I fit in. Everyone was dirty, everyone had long hair and everyone seemed to use all the crayons in the box. I made love for the first time with a communist white girl who loved to paint while listening to Shirley Horne and had an extensive Sylvia Plath library.
During my third year the school newspaper decided to interview me in regards to an installation I created that was going to be installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art. My picture was splattered all over the front page with the headline, “NOCTURNAL SUNRISE, MENDEL JACKSON REDIFINES MYTH AND RELIGION.” I remember it so clearly because, it was what was being waved so madly in front of my face one characteristically rainy day by a tall vagabond as I was leaving class one evening.
“Mendel Jackson. Did you ever go to Holy Cross elementary?”