PAUL: HIS FREEDOM
There are some people who, seeing themselves as alien in every sense of the word, have never wanted to travel.
At 7:30 sharp on a Thursday morning in March, Paul Garcia locks the front door of the blue house on Slate Street behind him. Before putting the key back in his state-issued windbreaker pocket, he presses it tight in his palm. How many times has he thought about this as he worked his way out of the Santa Fe Level 3, to the Farm, to parole? His own door, his own key. He’s been out less than two weeks and he’s trying hard to establish routines. As everyone knows, routines are the key to sobriety. Although – paroled back to Farmington – he has to be careful not to slip back into his old routines. After the relapse that ended in San Juan County Jail, these routines mostly consisted of stalking his ex-girlfriend Tanya and then getting fucked up on crack. Well. He’d been arrested for writing bad checks and credit card fraud, but at least, legally speaking, stalking and crack hadn’t come into the picture, because if they had, he’d still be locked up with the Level 3 rapists and gang-bangers.
The March sky is Navajo blue. There’s a thin coating of frost on the gravel yards that will burn off before noon. Slate Street is in the old part of Farmington, north of downtown: big cottonwood trees and a few small clapboard houses, mixed in with motel-like apartments. What a beautiful month! Paul shuts the latch on the old-fashioned gate in the tiny front yard. There’s even a rose bush. If you didn’t know better, you’d think an old lady lived here. In fact, the blue house belongs to his friend Jerry Koven. Jerry is also Paul’s boss at the Casa Bonita furniture store, and his former crack buddy.
At 7:30 a.m., most of his neighbor’s shades are still drawn. The big trucks parked in the yards probably belong to nightshift oil-field workers. Paul lost his truck at the end of the binge and he’s relieved no one who lives here is up yet to see him. Except for the Natives and winos and bums, no one in Farmington walks. Still, it feels good to be finally walking around. Ever since the Parole Board set his release date – March 8, 2005 – he’d been crossing off days on the calendar.
And now he was out! He’d stayed sober, done everything right. He had not lost one day of good time since the San Juan County jail guards woke him at 4 and drove him to Santa Fe in leg chains and shackles. With the good time, plus extra credit for Sober Living and Chapel and Bible School, he’d only spent 16 months being incarcerated – well, actually 20 if you counted the four months in jail waiting for sentencing. He’d nearly dropped dead when the judge gave him 3-5 years for Credit Card Fraud. His former employer had given the fuel card to him. During the binge he’d stopped going to work but they hadn’t shut down the card until the charges reached $937. By the time Paul stood in front of the judge he was already sober. The public defender had promised he’d get off for time already served if he accepted the plea. Except for a few DUIs, his record was clean. The whole thing was rigged, obviously. Halliburton Enterprises, his former employer owned most of this crummy town – 8 square miles of gravel and dust and oil and gas fields.
While it definitely beats being in prison, Farmington is never where Paul wanted to be. He’d driven up here 8 years ago after some trouble in Albuquerque thinking he’d stay with his sister Vivian. In the end she hadn’t taken him in, but by then he’d run out of money and he couldn’t think where else to go. In his 38 years, Paul has only left the state twice. Both of these trips were disasters.
Still, whenever anyone asks where he is from he says Silverton, Oregon. That’s where he was born and whenever he says it, he pictures big trees and cool misty skies, overgrown tangles of crabgrass, blueberries and grapes just growing wild: the opposite of New Mexico. But since his family moved back before he was 1 this can’t be an actual memory.
His sister Pam had one photograph from that time: a bunch of people – his family – standing outside a house, one of the siblings holding an infant. You couldn’t see much of Oregon there, nothing stood out. But the people looked happy. This wasn’t how he remembered his family. His family left Silverton after his mother became mentally ill. Depressed after Paul’s birth – her sixth child in a decade – his Lebenese mother heard voices that told her the fat lying whore who chaired the Jesuit College Spanish department was performing unspeakable acts on her husband. His contract was cancelled and they moved back to Albuquerque, where for the rest of his life he taught high school. Whenever Paul has to fill out a form that asks about ethnicity, he checks the box that says “Other.”
The corner of Slate Street ends at a high school.
“Seven days left!” Paul wrote on March 1 in the diary he’d kept in a notebook since his first day in Santa Fe. “This is my last week . . . I’ll try and write in you every day.” And then he’d gotten the flu. Two weeks out, he still can’t get past the feel of the dry Farmington air on his skin. It’s like being touched. (Paul doesn’t like being touched.) The cool wind makes him dizzy. It’s like being touched by a beneficent presence, or maybe by God.
Passing the high school is the worst part of the walk. In the morning: kids everywhere. In fact he feels pretty exposed the whole hour it takes him to walk to Casa Bonita: a slow-moving target. With his thick wire-rimmed glasses and dozens of half-thought ideas bouncing around in his head, Paul feels like an alien freak dragging himself through a nuclear desert after the world has been bombed. People are watching him from their cars! Not even 40, his hairline’s receding but he’s got a thick pelt of Arabic hair on his back, he looks like a satyr. His small feet are bunioned like goat-hooves, and the scar!
Since no one in Farmington walks, there are no sidewalks. Twice every day he has to trot by the side of the road like a dog while oilrig guys drive past him like kings in their Yukons, Dodge Rams and 150’s . . . nice shiny aluminum toolboxes padlocked and bolted town to their truck-beds. The jeans Paul is wearing are not even a brand. He wonders if people can tell that all the clothes on his back are state-issued?
Chris Kraus is the author of four novels, most recently Summer of Hate. She is currently working on a new book of art essays, Where Art Belongs, that will be published by Semiotexte Interventions in 2011.