Wednesday, October 29, 2008

French Toast

It's funny how things remind you of other things. Yesterday, I went through the Jack In The Box drive-thru on my way to work. Nothing sounded good except for the French Toast sticks. As I drove, I grabbed one and took a bite. I suddenly felt my stomach do a flop, and I got overwhelmingly sad.

I turned on the stereo and put on song #2, "Hey Oh" by Red Hot Chili Peppers. My sadness grew and the French Toast Sticks swelled in my stomach. My throat felt tight. Why were they making me so sad?

Suddenly, it hit me. April 2006. Road trip to San Luis Obispo. I assume most people who go to SLO have college students to visit, or to be tourists of this part of the California coast, or have relatives or friends living here to visit. It is a gorgeous, trendy little community that I would actually consider living in, if it weren't situated in California (I can say that, I'm an ex-Californian). We do have friends in SLO, and we do have a family member there; the reason for this trip. We were going to visit my youngest brother, who is 5 1/2 years younger than me.

Before we went to see him, we had to kill some time until 9am. Jack in the Box was close by, we were hungry and knew it would be a long day, so we ate breakfast there. I got the French Toast Sticks. I tried to eat them, and I managed to choke down a few bites. They made me sad, even double dipping into the maple syrup didn't help me get them down. For I knew that these were the very last things I would eat before my life changed forever.

You see, just up the road from that Jack in the Box is where my brother lives. No, he's not enrolled at Cal Poly. You have to drive a couple more miles north on Hwy 1 to get to his residence. As we we left Jack in the Box and drove north, the French Toast was feeling like it never made it down my throat and I did what I always did when my mom was driving me (terrified) to a doctor's appointment. My whole body tensed, and I pushed an imaginary brake pedal on the passenger side of the car. It's something I've always done when I'm out of control in a situation where I am being taken to a place I don't want to go.

California Men's Colony is one such place. That is where my baby brother lives at the moment. He is property of the California Department of Corrections. I'm shaking as I type this...Before prison touched our family, I would never considered going near a prison. In fact, it took everything in the deepest part of my soul to go there to visit him. But I knew what I had to do.

It may have been the hardest thing I've ever had to do thus far in my life. And I've done it several times now, and the time has come to do it again. Hence, this post. As I usually use humor to get me through a situation, I cannot find humor in this one. I try and try, but it's a different world there, where humor seems to have no place.

I do not know how I got through that first visiting day. When I saw my brother for the first time since being locked up, it was a mixture of raw emotions. It was joy and sadness, happiness and grief, loss of control and yet having to keep everything under control, if that makes sense. The second day of visiting was our last day. And it was much easier that the day before, knowing what to expect. But the last two hours proved to test my sanity and strength. These became some of the hardest hours I ever remember.

Tears began to trickle at first. I put my sunglasses on to hide them from my brother, my kids, my husband, and especially the guards. But soon my entire face was wet and my brother looked over at me. The look in his eyes made it happen. I let out the hideous sob that was coming from the pit of my stomach, and I could not regain my composure. My brother reached out his arm to try to console me, but touching is not allowed during a visit. The guards sitting closest to us watched. I felt violated. It was the most unnatural feeling, to be together as a family, but have strangers imposing boundaries on us like that. I tried with all my strength to stop crying, but I could not. I was in fact pregnant with my third child, and something about knowing she would be almost 4 when he gets out made me want to vomit, and it would have been so easy, as the French Toast and vending machine food that was our lunch seemed to have refused to be digesting.

As my brother sat there, unable to console me, yet knowing his actions were the reason for my unbearable grief, a look crossed over his face. And at that moment I knew he would be ok. I knew he would make it out. I knew he wouldn't resort to violence, gangs, weakness or corruption. I knew I had given him enough reason to make it through his punishment. I have three of his greatest loves in my possession; my kids, his nieces and nephew. It's enough to keep him on the straight and narrow. And it has. We made promises. He's kept all of his during these 3 1/2 years of incarceration. I am proud of that boy. He is different than most in that vile place. He will make it with the help of all his family. We are his lifeline.

How could I deny him that? And so, even though normal things that I used to enjoy get tainted with memories and emotion linked to my brother's lock down, I have to keep going. I have to fulfill my promise not to let the kids forget him. I have to give him hope. Sometimes hope is the only thing that one has, but it can be enough.


Info: My brother was sentenced to 6 years in prison in 2005 for having 2 Strikes that resulted from 2 bar fights. Though I do not condone fighting, no weapons were involved, no one pressed charges, but California's laws are different. He has stayed sober in prison, not gotten into any trouble, not affiliated with any gang, keeps to himself and now he's being transferred this week to a lower level prison (Level 2) for good behavior..... why is it that good behavior is rewarded with having to go to a much more horrendous prison....San Quentin?!
Oil on canvas painting by my brother, copyright 2008, from his prison cell.


Paula said...

Thank you so much for sharing. This was truly a deep from the soul post that made me want to reach out and give you a big hug. I also love the painting! It sounds like you and your brother have a very close relationship and you're on the countdown now until you can give him a big hug. :)

~TessaScoffs said...

Down with French Toast Sticks! Never again! My heart goes out to you (and your brother) today. My baby brother (10 years younger than me) is currently going through the crisis of his life. Every time I look into his Paul Newman baby blue eyes I want to hug him and make all the pain go away. It is my firmest belief that siblings are God's greatest gift to those who have them. For it is they that share your life the longest.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

THANK YOU...thank you for your comment. This was a scary thing to post, yet I felt I needed to write it. Thank you for the virtual hug and yes, his paintings are awesome! :) It's part of his hope when he gets out. His work is incredible, yet he never had put time into it until he got locked up, and now he's flourishing.
Again, thank you for commenting as each comment I recieve on this post is going to mean more than anyone knows....

Cassoulet Cafe said...

A big, big hug to you too. I am so sorry your brother is going thru something terrible too, and it's an unexplainable hurt to see your sibling in a tough situation.
I think siblings are a gift too (though I didn't believe that when I was growing up LoL).
Like I said to Paula, each comment I receive on this post means a lot.
Big Hugs to you...

La Belette Rouge said...

That is an amazing painting. And, I can only imagine how hard this is for you--and my heart breaks for you and all your family. I so admire your fierce love for your brother. He is lucky to have such an amazing sister.
I so wish I could do or say something meaningful in response to your pain and this incredible heartfelt post.
I send you a huge hug and lots of love.
Samos Sis

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Dear Samos Sis,
You have already done it. Your words of comfort, sympathy and support are much appreciated. HUGS.
I do love my brother, but I think there is something about him being the younger one that makes it harder to bear. Not that he is weak, but he is the Baby Brother, ya know?
I do respect him for what he has accomplished (or refused to do) while incarcerated. I am so proud of him, and I just hold my breath and pray the next 16 months will be kind to him and he won't have to defend himself. (Reality: Even if he defends himself against violence, he can get his 3rd strike in prison...Three Strikes means YOU'RE OUT. So far at CMC, he has respect because of his art work, as he is known as the artist, and everyone needs to be on good terms with him to get paintings done for them to send to their families. It has served as a very real protection.)
Again, thank you, as I can always count on you to come and make me feel better.
Corfu Cuz

Kristan said...

First off let me say wow you are so very brave! And thank you for sharing such a personal story with the blog world! This is truely a place where you can come and share! Thanks also for the comment love! I think I was feeling lonely~

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Kristan, Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! Yes, I've had those lonely blog stretches where I feel like no one is there. It seems to go in spurts. And what is the deal with all these ones who get like 70 comments each posting?!!! (Clears throat in LBR's direction) haha!

(J/K Samos Sis, I am sooooo happy you have so many followers. You truly deserve it.And you know I'm totally teasing you, right?)

La Belette Rouge said...

Corfu Cuz: It is my theory that the reason I attract so many lovely readers is because my blog is pumpkin flavored and scented. I am just saying.;-) And, hey, don't make me come over here and make you pumpkin soup. I will totally do it!!
Love you,
Your Samos Sister

Cassoulet Cafe said...

SS: You are totally talking about cold pumpkin soup, aren't you?!
I've been offered that before and had to politely decline. (I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.)


Anonymous said...

Oh, what a beautiful, beautiful post. Thank you for sharing from such a deep and painful place. There is a lyric from a song that I love:

"The weakness that you once displayed proved to be the strength that healed me."

Not that I believe your writing this post is a weakness in any way, for I do not. It's just something about things that we perceive as weaknesses are often not seen that way by others.

I too have a Baby Brother who is also in what could be the most difficult situation of his life, so this came particularly close ot my heart.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Miss Cassoulet. I am sending a cyberhug and good thoughts your way.


Cassoulet Cafe said...

Thank you so very very much for your comment and sharing that your brother is in a very difficult place in his life. And I don't mean it as "misery loves company", but in the way that makes me feel not so alone and unique with my experience.

Stay tuned, I will post my poem, which is the only poem I've ever written in my adult life, and will probably be the only one I'll ever write. About this experience. It was very healing after I sent it to my bro. I'll post it tomorrow.

Take care and thank you again for your generous praise and thoughts...

Cris, Artist in Oregon said...

Such lovely comments here for you. We have talked about this in debth and you know how I feel and how much I care. Sometimes it is good to get it out there so it doesnt hurt so much and you feel you're the only one going thru this. So I am happy to see so much caring here. I posted this painting on mine if you remember. He is so VERY talented. I hope he can get into painting again in the new place.

Fifi Flowers said...

GORGEOUS painting your brother did... he is very talented.
It is good to speak about things that are happening in our lives... never good to bottle up feelings.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Yes, I remember, and here is your post with his two paintings

thank you :) and yes I have gotten some very lovely and supportive comments on this post. I appreciate every one of them.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Thank you for your support. I think his very best work are his portraits of people, they look just like photographs.
(And I just LOVE your art!)

Deb said...

What a post. He has you by his side for support and his art to keep him sane and give him peace. Your brother has such a talent and fortunately it is that very talent that keeps him safe and will given him a focus when he is out. For now it is biding time, and 'the waiting is the hardest part'.

What a wonderful sister you are. Thank you for sharing your story - it was very moving.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Thank you ever so much. It means a lot. And you are so right, waiting is the hardest part! I am so thankful (as he is) that he had his art to protect him. It's a scary system, prison, and there aren't many who get to stay neutral there. He is one of the lucky ones, and determined to make changes for the good.
The countdown begins! (16 months and counting!)

Anonymous said...

I think it is very brave of you to post about this, but I hope it helps to share it. I cannot imagine how hard it is for you - and for him - but knowing that he has a loving family waiting for him must help. Just keep counting the days until you really can hug him.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

thank you so much and yes, it really does help to share it. Writing has always been my outlet, whether just in a journal, or letters to people or what. This blog has really helped, and I feel so much better that I actually had some response to this post, because several months ago, I posted about it, and I only got two responses (and they were from bloggers who already knew and had been helping me thru it).
So this was really scary, but everyone has been awesome!

alexandra's kitchen said...

Wow. I can't imagine how hard this must have been to write. Thank you for sharing the story and your feelings. Your family sounds strong, and your brother is so fortunate to have you in his life. You have such happy times to look forward to.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

thank you so much for reading and commenting. This was a hard post to write, and it's been a very hard thing for our family to deal with. I think we're strong because we haven't been given a choice.
Also, if my brother wasn't doing anything to better himself in prison, and was getting into trouble in there, we wouldn't be so strong either.
And now it's 15 months left to go :)
Again thank you, it means a lot, this is all very therapeutic for me.

Saucy Scribe Debora said...

Visiting from SITs - what a post. My heart goes out to you, your family and most of all your brother. I can't begin to imagine your pain and suffering, but hope some cyber hugs help.

You've got a great heart-warming blog going - I'll be bookmarking it :)

Cheeky Greek said...

I know I already told you, but I thought I post it as well. My feelings towards french toast sticks are bittersweet. Everytime mom and dad would take us through a drive-thru for breakfast (usually when we were out of town or on the road) our brother ALWAYS ordered french toast sticks. And every single time without fail he spilled syrup on his pants! Even when he was in his 20's, he still ordered the same and still spilled the same!