Johnny brings him out for the first time not too long after my 34D bra played witness to his lawyer’s ego. There’s not actually a visitor for Sir, but, like I said, he’s been there a long time, so he gets to come out anyway.
When he talks, he talks to the empty seat in front of him, which is next to me. I spend most of the visit trying to remember to inhale without forgetting to keep track of my bladder. If I didn’t love Johnny, if I hadn’t spent the last several years hating myself for losing him, I would hate him right now. I think he must be punishing me. But he doesn’t even mention the lawyer.
Sir, what he’s interested in is my education. He’s looking at the chair next to me, he’s fascinated by anatomy. I tell him I haven’t gotten there yet.
Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, well, they take a while.
He asks me when I’ll be getting to anatomy. I stare at my fingernails carefully. I try to remember, I had a doctor once who told me, the way to stay in the room when your head really, really is fighting to get out, is to focus really, really hard on part of the other person’s body. I can’t look at him, not even at his fingernails, so I’m trying to substitute, here. Little spikes of hard skin push away from all my nails. Underneath the nails is clean and I wonder if it’s because I ate everything.
“I’m not in med-school yet,” I say, and I’m carefully tasting each word, sure I’m saying it out loud, even though the whole room’s taken on a kind of distant, hollow feeling. “In biology,” I say, “the closest thing is cutting open a frog.”
Sir, he says everyone should study their body carefully, know it well. He says I have a privileged position, getting to see the insides of one up close, to touch them.
“Actually,” I say, “I’m not in that position. I even have a little trouble with it. For instance, I vomited when we cut open the frog. In front of everyone.”
Sir, he wants to know when the next semester starts, the earliest I could be taking this anatomy class, overcoming my fears.
Johnny, he hasn’t said anything. He’s leaned back in his seat with his legs hip-width apart, he’s definitely watching me. I'm thinking I must be dreaming, because nothing is making any sense.
The story on Sir is, his big brother was baby-sitting him and some business complications came to the door. You might think that little Willie, finding himself in the midst of a good-sized crew of agitated cocaine addicts, would be nervous. Maybe fearful. Looking around, he might be trying to find a place to hide, wait things out.
But someone’s girlfriend, powder flaking from her nose, came to the front and pointed a curved red nail in his brother’s face, her lips bunching together every time her mouth closed and her neck bobbing back and forth, tossing little blonde curls around. Little Willie snaked his hand into his brother’s pocket and tugged. The girl’s knee sprayed little chunks of white and red, and her mouth fished open.
You might have guessed by now, Willie’s older brother, he’s not the most together, most organized criminal out there.
The story on Sir is, he had served his time plus six months when he committed his second crime, which was beating his prison counselor’s head into the desk until he was unconscious.
Sir says, “You’ll be fine.”
My mouth opens and I say “In Shah Allah.”
Now Sir looks at me. “What did you say?” he says.
But I’m looking at Johnny, now, and I’m saying, “So I guess you gave up on that math stuff, then.”
And Sir says again, “What did you say?”
And then Johnny says, “Yeah, I guess so.”