“C-c-c-can you smell that?”
The windows of the recreation yard were nearly a dozen feet above us and no more than six inches ajar, yet the scent was unmistakable. “Rain…,” I sighed, the corner of my mouth curling upward in a smile, very slight. “I forgot it had a smell to it.”
“Sure does. Yep, sure nuff does. Smells r-r-r-r-REAL.”
Robby and I stood side by side filling our nostrils and staring at the evening sky, a severely blank expanse of gray, blushing here and there with the fading remains of the sunset. I could not see a single cloud and wondered where the rain was coming from.
“Real…” I breathed. “I guess you learn to appreciate the little things in here. It’s a matter of perspective, you know? Jail isn’t so… bad…”
Robby did not respond. Born with fetal alcohol syndrome, his intellectual deficits were substantial, hence his placement in Module 10A. His childlike faith and enthusiasm were characteristic of his neurological damage and developmental disabilities, but they served him well. He couldn’t help but appreciate the simple things.
The rain continued its soft shoe dance across the windows above – “r-r-r-REAL.”
“Nope, jail isn’t so…” The rest got stuck in my throat. My muscles tightened as a wave of nervous energy passed through my body. “I just wish I understood why I was here… wish I knew when I’ll be released. I feel so far away. I used to have these fever dreams as a kid, you know? Like when I was real sick. Pneumonia I think it was. I felt disconnected; like I’d gone so far down inside myself that I dropped out the bottom and just… just sorta hovered there watching myself. That’s how it is now. I guess that’s how it’s always been, but I notice it more in here. Sometimes I think I never found my way… back to me. Does that make sense?”
“You’re in jail cuz you did something b-b-b-bad,” Robby said flatly, his squinty eyes fixed somewhere on the floor. Yes, Robby was simple. In a way I envied him. His world was utterly free of the ambiguous. Human beings were either good or bad. He admitted to being one of bad ones, but as he was fond of saying, “Jesus done washed me in his b-b-b-blood and I going to heaven one day.”
“I didn’t do anything bad,” I insisted. “I didn’t! Did I?” It was getting hard to tell. Perhaps if I could see myself through Robby’s eyes I would have my answer.
“Just smell that r-r-r-rain,” he exclaimed softly. And just like that everything came into sharp, simple focus. It didn’t really matter how I came to be there with Robby. Both past and present were now outside my control. All I could do was smell the rain. And it smelled good. It smelled real.
Excerpt from A Roomful of Teddy Bears An Intimate Inquiry into a Fragmented Psyche by John Scott Holman