PRISON OF FREEDOM
By John Thomas Tuft
The first line of the note read: “My first night as a widow. My husband took his life in our home this morning.” Shoney read it all, folded the note in half and slipped it back into the envelope. “What ugly truths freedom brings,” he whispered to himself, a line from a John Mellencamp song. He knew deep down that this was always how it was going to end. Love takes no prisoners but is the cruelest jailer of them all. Even the Christian Bible starts with an homage to humans as prisoners of freedom, unable to conceive of a world without fear and frustration. The inclination toward finger pointing goes back to many a lost new beginning. Shoney knew all this in his heart of hearts as he poured two fingers of Glenfiddich and sipped at the firewater of fortitude. “The state of the soul is perpetual yearning,” he repeated the ancient words over and over, like a lullaby seeking a child’s heart to soothe.
He crossed the room to the stereo, contemplated putting some records on the turntable but couldn’t decide on what he wanted to hear. He chose his fallback, and put the movie, Cast Away, on his impossibly large flat screen. His time of contemplation and reflection is the hour or so of the film when the Tom Hanks character is stranded on the tropical island, a complete picture of a prisoner of freedom. No schedule, no electronics, no neighbors, no responsibilities other than the ones he chooses—to survive and cling to his love for the woman he left behind. In the middle of the ocean, undetected, unknown, free to do anything and everything…except to leave. During that portion of the movie the only soundtrack is the sounds of waves and wind, coconuts falling, fire crackling, and Tom Hanks conversing with Wilson, the intrepid volleyball. As Tom Hanks begins to make his break from the island on a fragile raft, Shoney began to hold his breath as always, waiting.
The makeshift sail of a partial portapotty goes up and the power of the wind pushes the raft over the breakers and into the expanse of the open sea. Shoney silently urges the craft to make it up the steep waves and slide down the other, and onto a new journey toward freedom–being adrift at the mercy of the elements. Still holding his breath, he watches as Tom Hanks then looks back to say goodbye to his prison of freedom. Then, and only then, does a solo oboe announce the mournful and aching return of the music in the background of the story. And then, and only then, does Shoney let out his breath and inhale again. An act of willful immersion in the power of the moment, perhaps even prayer. Later, as Tom Hanks tries to sleep on the floor of a luxury hotel room, flicking the lamp off and on, that same oboe again sounds the call to thanksgiving and wonder.
Shoney flicked off the television and took out Miriam’s letter again. It seemed like another lifetime, but they used to do cocaine together. Talking friends and family out of money for using seemed almost like a game at first. Then after they had sold or hocked everything they could, they turned to stealing. Never with the intention of hurting anyone, they reassured themselves. It was a life of freedom. They needed the money. People didn’t want them to get dopesick, did they? They were “Jack and Diane, two All American kids in the heartland.” When you run out of stuff to sell or steal, there’s only one thing left to sell. Your own body. Anything to keep feeding the beast. The urge to not feel. And while the battles and suffering of war are often glorified, the battles and suffering of addiction are more often vilified. A thirty day stint in county for impaired driving had finally persuaded Shoney at the weary age of 31 to go into treatment and get clean.
Miriam kept going. He would see her on occasion, panhandling on the corner, strung out, eyes pleading for someone to release her, show her the way to freedom. Until she collected enough to go find her dealer and chase the dragon one more time. Mixing it with heroin for a Belushi speedball, or bumping up with ecstasy mixed in. The last time he saw her was in the hospital, recovering from a near fatal overdose where she promised him she was done shooting up and would only be ‘balling’ it now while she tapered off. Which ended up leaving her unable to have children. He washed his hands of her and moved on. That was twenty years ago. Friends told him she finally got clean, got married, got free of the monkey. He was glad to be rid of her. Free of her.
Shoney flipped the television back on and finished the movie. As he watched Tom Hanks talk to his friend about the pain of losing the woman he loved all over again, with fresh hurt and the weight of the responsibility of freedom, he took out the letter again. Tom Hanks stood in the Texas intersection, deciding, free to choose. Shoney sighed as the oboe sounded one more time, and reached for the phone…
Words are magic and writers are wizards.