Y’know, right before they let me out, Katie came to visit me at the prison one last time.
Until then, she hadn’t really said much about what it was like being on the outside. She’d talk a bit about some of the math and science classes she was taking at the university, and how she’d been trying to reach out to her parents a little bit more. But never much more than that.
The last time was different though. We actually talked a lot about what it’s like adjusting to being back on the outside. I’d talked a lot about it with Dr. S already, but that felt different. He’s trained on what kind of concerns to talk to us about and all that crap, but he hasn’t lived it, y’know? But Katie has… For almost six months already.
“I don’t wanna scare you or anything. But it’s not easy,” she told me.
And, well, now that I’ve been back at home for a couple weeks, I can tell you that she was absolutely right.
Parts of it are awesome, obviously. But overall, it’s just… really friggin’ weird. There’s so much to get used to.
And some of it’s great! Like having a big comfy bed again (though it’s taken over a week for my back to adjust to it!) or getting to eat Papa’s cooking again (that adjustment’s definitely the easiest!).
But as for the hardest? I’d say it’s… interacting with people, I guess. Even my family.
I’m loving being at home with Phoenix. It makes me so happy to get to see his sweet little face every day. But… he doesn’t really know me. Not as well as he knows my parents. Or even Erik.
It’s painful to hear him ask for “Gammy” and “Opi” all the time. If he wants something, he’ll go straight to one of my parents before he goes to me. If he wants to play, he’ll bring the toy to them first. If I’m holding him and he sees mom or Papa walk by, he’ll reach for them right away.
My parents have been trying to encourage him to go to me instead… But it hasn’t really been working yet. And it sucks.
And I know it’s not his fault. Or theirs either. But it still kills me. It’s like I’m some stranger in his life… I mean, not a literal stranger, obviously. He knows I’m his Mama. And he loves me.
But I don’t think he loves me as much as he loves them.
And not as much as he loves Erik either.
That’s another thing I’m still trying to get used to — seeing Erik when he comes to get Phoenix. And it’s harder to say what hurts worse — the way Phoenix’s entire face lights up when he sees his Papa, or suffering through the forced smiles and awkward small talk with Erik.
We’re both trying though, right? So I guess that counts for something. And at least I don’t have to deal with seeing Rubi too. She’s always waiting in the car, or back at Erik’s apartment.
Phoenix spends a few hours with them every Wednesday and Saturday… Sometimes he even spends the night too, as long as my parents okay it first.
It’s really strange… I’m living at home again, getting to see my little boy every day. But I still have no legal custody of him. Everything’s still up to my parents. And I guess that just makes me feel even more disconnected. Like I’m an outsider.
And that feeling’s even worse when I go out in public.
Most people don’t know who I am or anything about me, of course. I get by at the university just fine. My classes are going great!
And I started working down at the library a few days a week too, and no one there really says anything either.
Obviously they knew my criminal history when I got hired… But my Oma’s husband Mark used to be the head librarian there. And my great-great-great grandfather donated a ton of money to the place after he got famous with that ghost story he wrote. He even started a special fund just to keep the library going. That was like a hundred and fifty years ago now, but the name “Alexander Rosebrook” still carries a lot of weight.
All it took was a little name-dropping, and they hired me.
Being down at the library is probably one of my favorite things to do right now. It’s calm and quiet and it feels… familiar. It’s so much like when I used to work at the library back at the prison. This probably sounds stupid, but it kinda feels safe there, I guess.
That is, until some familiar faces decide to show up.
That’s been the worst part… Running into people. Sophie, Thad, Nyla… I’ve run into all my old friends at least once since I’ve been out. And it’s not just them either. Old coworkers from the drugstore, or Papa’s restaurant… And instead of ignoring me like I wish they would, they ALWAYS seem to decide it’s a great time to run up and start talking to me.
It’s like there’s some friggin’ neon sign hanging over my head saying “Hey, look! It’s that fuckup you used to know who got her ass thrown in jail! Why not walk up to her and start an awkward-as-fuck conversation?”
How the hell do they keep managing to find me? And why won’t they just leave me alone?
I swear to God, if one more person walks up and tries talking to me about it, I’m gonna lose it.
I think I’d already have gone totally nuts by now if it weren’t for my friends… And that includes Katie too. I’ve actually been hanging out with her a lot lately. Any time I need somebody to vent to, I know I can turn to her. She just gets it, y’know? In a way that I don’t really think anyone else can.
But then, Rylie and Devin get me in a way no one else can either. And being with them still means so much to me, just like being with Katie does too. I really need all three of them. So much.
But as much as I love them, there’s someone else I need too. And I can’t have her right now, no matter how much I want to.
I miss her so much. Even more than I thought I would. I think about her all the time… And I worry about her all the time too.
We’ve talked on the phone twice since I got out. And both times, it just… killed me.
Ivy’s such a bright person, y’know? But so lonely too. I could always tell, from the first day we met. She’s quiet. She likes keeping to herself. She doesn’t really open up to people… Well, except to me. There’s just a lot of sadness inside of her. It’s a side she doesn’t really like showing very much. But I always knew it was there.
Anyway, I guess it really shows when I talk to her now. She keeps telling me she’s fine, but I know her better than that. She’s not happy. That brightness that I always used to feel when we were together… it’s like it’s gone now. I can’t hear it in her voice anymore.
This is exactly what I was afraid of when I left. I mean, I was the only one she really had in there. Just like she was the only one I had too, after Katie left.
And now that I’m gone… Well, maybe I’m not the only one who’s feeling like an outsider. Or who feels so lonely, no matter how many other people are around.
I’d give anything to be able to just hold her again, y’know? To give her a kiss, wrap her in my arms, and tell her everything’s gonna be okay.
And maybe that wouldn’t be enough to make everything better. Maybe we’d both still feel like outsiders.
But at least we could feel lonely together.