By Eliza Jordan | firstname.lastname@example.org
A Department of Corrections number of V02152 separated my mommy, an inmate, from a free woman for 14 long years as I grew up and apart from her.
You see, this meant that Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving and many other holidays were spent together behind bars. And the things that we could not do behind bars, such as my first bike ride, birthday parties, my first play, or any of my athletic events, were almost just wasted stories for her to hear about. She had to miss out on watching me grow, meeting my friends, helping me through hard times and giving me advice that I knew I could trust.
Maybe unlike you, I have talked to my loving mother through a glass wall on a corded telephone numerous times. I can still see the fogged, germ-infested glass, smeared with tears, toddler-boogers and scratches. I have traveled to three different prisons, although they all look the same to me. I can still see the gleaming light bounce from the silver fences. It’s nothing out of the ordinary either that they are wrapped and coated in barbed-wire and hidden electricity. I have been searched and I have been questioned by every guard or attorney that knows of a Kimberli Ann Jordan from St. Augustine, Fla.
On May 15, 1996, when I was just 4 years old, I was in a life-changing car accident here in St. Augustine. Not only was my mother the driver of our car, but she was at fault in the accident, as she recklessly drove drunk one distinct spring evening. Peering out of the glass through my squinted eyelids, I slowly watched the streetlights blur that night. Without a pause, without a stop, we slid through a four-way intersection, and within an instant, a recent Flagler College graduate by the name of Jennifer Sadow passed away. Not only was this beautiful and successful young woman taken against her every will, but so was my mother. And so was our time together for the next 14 years.
The hardest part for me wasn’t making friends or not having my biological mother there to raise me. It wasn’t knowing that my mother was charged with DUI manslaughter or that I met serial killers in light humor on holidays. Growing up, I have passed many friends and peers in the hallway just like any other ordinary kid. Familiar faces always glared, but never saw the real me. That was the hardest part. No one related, yet everyone talked. But the worst was facing that gravestone.
Knowing I had part in placing a cement cross on the side of the road is like having a kick-boxer run test rounds on my stomach. I place flowers by Jennifer Sadow’s gravestone every single year on May 15. I will never skip a year, and I will never forget. As I walk away, usually slumped over and salty-eyed, I always glance back for just a brief second. The same brown sandal I see every year is still there. If I could, I would bet my life that she was nothing but beautiful in that exact shoe.
Growing up in St. Augustine has been everything but easy. The day I realized that Patricia Sadow, an American Sign Language teacher at my high school, was the sister of Jennifer Sadow, I almost wanted to drop out of school, run away, and forget about my life here. Patricia Sadow and I would have frequent, odd conversations. Scrambled words, dropped sentences and curious questions always kept us apart. She knew who I was, I knew who she was, but we never once talked about the accident that drastically changed both of our lives 14 years prior.
Today, something as simple as walking to Markland House across the Flagler campus becomes a difficult task for me. Just a few weeks ago, I spotted a Magnolia tree, decorated with wind chimes and uplifting decorations standing tall within the gates of the Markland property. Underneath that very same tree lies a memorial plaque for Jennifer Sadow that I never knew existed until I explored the very same soil that she did many years before me. Now every time I pass it, I make an effort to send God a short prayer for her and her family.
As my mom’s automatic sentence was “life,” I thought for sure I would never see her again in anything but a blue uniform. But the day she came running out of that sturdy, iron gate wearing polka dots and carrying her first matching purse, was like seeing a ghost in the middle of the night. It’s been one full year since my beautiful mother has been home, and I cannot say that any day is a breeze for her. I am constantly teaching her new things about the Internet, fashion, traveling, music and whatever else you could possibly miss out on for 14 years of your life.
Although she now lives in New York with much of my family, I could never be more thankful of our distance, for it is miles we are separated by, not time.
Now that I know what I know, having made connections with my past and my present, I am prepared to stand by my mother’s side in protecting her from the evil that lurks within this world, in which she calls “the free world.”
I am also proud and prepared to say that I will tell my story to whoever thinks that drinking and driving is not an issue.
2011 Gargoyle Anthology Award Winner: Gold Award for Personal Essay