Jamie’s first breath of life did not begin with a wail; the air was punctuated with a scream, not understanding he was feeling pain. It began with his first feeling of fear. Confusion. What was happening? Something changed. He was being forced, squeezed, pushed through warm softness, unable to move any part of himself. He tried to stop. He couldn’t. It was his first fight. He lost. It was against his will. It wasn’t the reason for his pain. No words could express something for which there were no words. But he could feel and he could hear. The sounds had no meaning but they were often comforting. Sometimes not.
The sounds were loud, very loud, and they made him tense. At times they were a soft moan, a low humming passing through him. He could feel suffering and he wanted it to stop. Every now and then his world gripped him hard and then let go. As time passed it gripped him harder and harder still as if it would never let go. He tried to keep fighting but he was getting tired. He didn’t like this. He was afraid. Of what? He didn’t know. It was fear in its purest form. Like a nightmare that dropped you from the sky to crash on the rocks below.
Where was he? What was happening? His thoughts were fractured pictures. Patterns of colors. Bright lights so real he could feel them as they pulsed along with a bigger sound he could hear which never stopped. Thump THUMP Thump THUMP Thump THUMP. It echoed inside his head with a faster beating he felt came from inside his own existence. Something was different. Something was changing. He was afraid.
From the beginning of his existence he didn’t know the meaning of time. How could he know the passage of time when he didn’t know time was passing? It had no form. No beginning he could remember, and no end. It just was. He felt walls around him. He pushed against those walls. He pushed out with his feet and up with his head, straining to push through the walls and get out. Walls. Forever walls.
He slept and he woke. He turned and he stretched. He listened. He heard THE SOUND. It was like dancing to the beat of his own drummer, keeping to a never ending rhythm of dancing. He had been safe here. Not anymore.
He felt scared without knowing what it meant to be afraid. It was unfamiliar, but there was nothing he could compare it to. He heard and felt the rumbling of deep moans and flinched from high pitched screams coming from inside the warmth surrounding him. In his cocoon, rocking, stretching, forcing him into a tighter space, pressing his head, his arms and legs into a straighter form, instead of being curled with his arms and legs tucked around him making him feel safe and loved . . . and content.
It went on and on and on. He wanted to sleep. He couldn’t. He felt tenseness all around him and there was nothing he could do but surrender to the sensation.
He sensed other fear and pain outside himself. Palpable fear with every beating of the drum, out of rhythm, dancing with his own drum. What was happening? Make it stop. Every stab of pain inside his own heartbeat pulsed with every contraction that squeezed his tiny body.
He knew the sound of the voice he heard but didn’t need to understand the meaning of the words. He felt what it meant. The voice was tired, too. They were in this together as one. That was important to understand but he didn’t know why. He only knew he had been safe and now felt safe no longer.
The muscles jerking in his body wanted to push him outside the warmth, his rigid arms and spasms in his head went on and on and would not stop. If he had a voice he would scream, too. When he thought he could take no more he was gently pulled from the warmth with his eyes clenched shut against the bright light. He was quickly taken from the only comfort he knew. The warmth was gone.
He sensed urgency and panic in the vibrations of air around him. He wanted to leave, go back to where he was before. He suffered in this intense sensation. He screamed with all the strength he had left.
He screamed and screamed. His head was on fire. He now understood fear but didn’t know why. Others he sensed in the room hadn’t realized until now there was something terribly wrong with his brain. Watching a newly born baby’s brain seize before your eyes while he takes his first breath of life shook the doctor and nurses to their core. It broke their hearts. They knew. The voice he left behind when he was taken away didn’t know.
His only desire was to feel the beating heart once more that comforted him the entire time he prepared for this moment. The only other living being he knew who had protected him was gone. Gone. They took him away, in the cold, to feel his fear alone. He didn’t know then, the feeling of being alone in the world with no one to understand his pain, was going to be a constant reminder of this day. It was going to be the story of his life, and he cried. No one understood his tears.
He learned his name Jamie. He wasn’t expected to live. It should have been too much for him to bear. If he did live, the anguish and fear his young mother would go through with a new born baby suffering from epilepsy meant they would suffer together. He began a life with three strikes already against him. He didn’t know what it meant to be happy, even as an infant.
The sound, he learned, was his mother. Her voice and the comfort of feeling safe in her arms was punctuated by seizures that gave no warning. What could he do when the joy and wonders of discovery were destroyed when each new wave and shock overtook his tiny body. Life was too much to bear even as it tried to begin.
Time would pass. He learned about time. He also learned there was no way he could get off this roller coaster ride – ever. It was his normal. No one else could feel it or understand what was happening inside him. He always knew he was different, long before anyone found words to say he could understand. People treated him different, even his older brother and sister. Eventually, he learned to feel the resentment. Family often rushed to his body when he collapsed on the floor. Sometimes he was rushed to the hospital. Kids can be vicious and cruel when no one is watching. That resentment never changed and he was punished for the crime of being different every chance there was. He began to understand the feeling of depression. Was this going to be the story of his life, woven through every chapter?
There was a monster in his closet and it was waiting for him. It jumped out to get him when he least expected it. It pushed him down stairs. It smashed his face into a glass coffee table. He had a scar along his jaw to always remind him. He peed his pants. He felt shame. He had no control. The monster was in charge. Sometimes he knew it was coming for him. He hid in corners so it wouldn’t find him. It always did. He tried hard with all his young might to make it go away. He never could. He never could.
If an adult were near he would jump up and grab them in fear. Not understanding why, they brushed him off. “Get down, Jamie. Don’t jump on me,” only to crash to the floor, his body jerking. His eyes rolling into the back of his head. Voices were muffled. So far away. Inside his head he cried but no one could hear him. Since birth he never again knew a time in his life when he felt safe. He was locked alone in a world where all he had was time, serving time, on the inside looking out, and the outside was forbidden, and had been forbidden since the beginning of his life.
He had his mother’s love. She feared to leave him alone. For a long time she crept silently to his crib and peered between the bars during the night, making sure he was safe. Bars. There were still bars. How do you explain to your son his life was going to be different when you didn’t understand how he would cope when you weren’t there to protect him? There was nothing she could do except try to keep him safe now, knowing she couldn’t always be there to catch him when he falls.
The last time he fell she couldn’t be there – at all.
The life of Jamie Cummings – inmate “1368189 Allred Unit, Tx
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