Do you remember what you were doing 1,460 days ago? Most people can’t remember what they did last week, much less last year or the year before.
I remember exactly where I was on January 8, 2007.
As we drove past the steel barred windows of liquor stores and gas stations, the early morning sunlight betrayed an urban and hardscrabble area of the city. Certainly there was a missed turn somewhere because we were right in the middle of the city. Yet, as we continued down the busy street, lush with its tree-lined edges, the outline of the wrought iron fence came into view.
My heart lurched into my chest and the fake calmness that I was bathing in went down the drain. Before I could see the compound, I caught a glimpse of the khaki attired women working near the main gate. They were wearing heavy coats, despite this being Texas it was bitterly cold for an early January morning, and worked in groups as they cleared away the leaves with their rakes. All of the rationalizations that had placated my mind were gone.
Oh my god. There is no way out of this.
For 16 weeks, my brain had not allowed me to imagine how this would go. I had read all of the information that I could get my hands on, talked to people who had been in my shoes and read every motivational book available. Suddenly, it was all worthless. This was real. It was happening. For the first time in my life, I could not back out of something that made me uncomfortable.
It’s hard to describe why the sight of the women working sent me into such a panic but I was overwhelmed with a sad and desperate feeling. My Dad stopped the truck at the security gate and gave the guard the information to allow us to enter the compound. We did not drive by a few times to get an idea on the size of this place; a decision I would soon regret. For all of my planning, that was an area where I fell short.
As we sat in the small parking lot, facing the drab white bricked building, my body began to function on auto pilot. Moving from the cab of the truck, my brown mules hit the black asphalt with a thud that matched the air in my chest. The cold wind whipped against my arms in the short sleeve olive-green sweater that topped my brand new denim jeans.
There was something about wearing my favorite clothes that now seemed silly.
Don’t cry. DON’T cry. Just say your goodbyes but don’t you dare cry.
The encouragement that they offered went unheard as I hugged them goodbye and my step mother’s tears were almost my emotional undoing. Walking towards the small guards shack, I did not look back. I couldn’t. At my side, the short perky blond woman, who had appeared out of nowhere, smiled as she joined me on our first day. Our surrender.
Out of requirement, we both gave our names, social security number, dates of birth and showed our official picture identification. Although, I am not sure why. Who would want to lie their way into this place?
“Take a seat. Someone will come for you shortly.”