Utque pedum primis infans vestigia plantis
institerat, iaculo palmas armavit acuto
piculaque ex umero parvae suspendit et arcum.
Pro crinali auro, pro longae tegmine pallae
tigridis exuviae per dorsum a vertice pendent.
Tela manu iam tum tenera puerilia torsit
et fundam tereti circum caput egit habena
Strymoniamque gruem aut album deiecit olorem.
Description of the young Camilla from The Aeneid
He arrived at the prison early. From his past visits he knew there was a morning lock down that could strand a visitor in the lobby for an extra hour while doors were locked and processing of visitors was halted.
The Bureau of Prisons had a predictable process not unlike airport security except that almost everything had to be left in a locker; wallets, belts, phones, and almost anything else, even coats and sweaters.
Once inside huge metal doors clanged and real keys – not fancy electronic cards – jangled, as they were open and closed. Everyone was polite and quiet. The somewhat tense entry into the facility was worth the two-hour visit for most.
For him, seeing his daughter in prison was at first a shock. But like most things in life, the visits took on a routine character. He’d wait in an extruded plastic chair in the women prisoner’s section of the meeting room, a door would open and she’d exit with one or two other women prisoners.
Today she exited and put up her hair – she had to take it down during the search in a room between the cells and the meeting room – and she glared at him. He glared back. They held each other’s gaze as she walked toward the little elevated guard kiosk where she’d hand her ID over to the guard.
She held her face in a grimace and stood a few feet away from him. He glared at her. They looked so tense that the guard looked over at them with what looked like concern.
“Did you bring a horse for me?” she asked.
To this he folded his arms and laughed a little bit and looked down.
“No, looks like we’re shy one horse,” he said.
Then she squinted and pressed her lips together. The guard stared over at them. She slowly shook her head.
“You brought two too many,” she said. Then there was a pause as the noise of chairs slid on the floor as other visitors settled in and they stared at each other.
“Charles Bronson,” he said. “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Then they both laughed and fell into each other hugging. He held her for a long time.
“That was always one of our favorites,” she said. The guard laughed. He’d seen them do this a dozen times, act out showdown scene from a western. He always looked forward to it.
When she’d visit him as a girl, after he and her mother split, they’d often end the day watching old movies. She especially loved westerns, particularly Sergio Leone, the old spaghetti westerns.
As they sat down he said, “Sometimes I wonder if that’s why you’re here, those damn westerns.”
She sat down and smiled, her green eyes looked warmly at him but, like her mother’s eyes, it was like they were looking over the top of a wall or a fence.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “What did mom say, that those movies were. . . what was it?”
“The “cultural codification of male violence,” he said. At that they both laughed out loud, a little too loud. People looked over at them.
“My mom is too damn smart sometimes,” she said.
“She is,” he said. “Too smart for me most of the time.” He paused and looked at her.
“And how is my Lady Whirlwind today?” he asked. Lady Whirlwind was a character played by Angela Mao in karate movies from the 70s they’d watch along with the westerns. He’d watch those movies along with really fake wrestling with his dad back then.
“She’s not feeling much like a whirlwind,” she said. “I’m this close to solitary. I’ve been protesting some shit they’re doing in here, organizing some of the girls.”
“You know I’m trying to get you out of here based on the idea that,” he said before she cut him off.
“Don’t try and get me out of here,” she said. “I told you, I need to do this myself. I can’t fucking win, you know?”
“What the fuck are you talking about,” he asked. “Can’t win?”
“I’m supposed to be some kind of domestic terrorist but here comes daddy, the congressman to bail me out,” she said.
“Well which are you then,” he asked. “Are you my daughter or a terrorist?”
She looked down for a long moment, leaned forward and put her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. Then she looked up at him, with her eyes filling with tears, her expression stolid.
“I think I’m both,” she said in a calm voice. “I love you both, you and mom. But I feel like you love each other more than me.”
“Fuck,” he said. “Here we go with this thing. C’mon, love doesn’t work like that. It just doesn’t. I’ve told you, we’re all in this together in our own weird fucked up way.”
“But I can’t be together,” she said. “I can’t have you both. You’re either fighting with each other or fucking each other. It’s absurd. It’s always about you, even when I was arrested they made it about you and about mom. They asked the same fucking question, “Who is she?”
They stopped talking and just held space. She never ever felt like she let anyone down, especially him. She closed her eyes for a minute and remembered her mother’s voice and her laugh, her courage. She couldn’t figure out what to do next.
“Listen,” he broke the silence, “I sold your car to a friend of mine in Olympia. The money is in your account and I put some on your books like you asked.”
He was proud of her. And oddly, he knew that this was somehow going to work out fine. This was where they were supposed to be. He’d rather have her here than sitting at a desk writing fancy reports nobody would ever read. Her politics were fucked, but she was living them.
“Thanks,” she said.
“Your mom and I have been trading off with the kid,” he said. “And your lawyer will be in here tomorrow. I know she and I drive you crazy, but I think we can figure this out.”
“I miss my boy,” she said. “I wonder sometimes if you’re going to fuck him up too.”
“Oh Jesus, honey,” he said taking her hands. “You’re the most prepared terrorist and congressman’s daughter there ever was. We didn’t fuck up at all. You were made for this role”
They both laughed at that, at the idea that she was doing exactly what she wanted to do, following the path as he called it, wherever it would lead and however long it was. She was playing her part, they were playing theirs whatever the story was about.
“I get what you’re both trying to do,” she said. “You taught me, ‘Never complain, and never explain.’ I don’t. Now don’t you two start doing it for me.”
At this his mind went back to a moment when she was about 12 and a boy was picking on her – harassing her really – at school. She beat him up much to the chagrin of her mother. They both arrived at the same time at the school and argued in the parking lot, and then walked in where they found her sitting at the end of a row of plastic chairs in the administration office.
Her hair was in a ponytail and there was blood on her shirt and her arms were crossed. When he walked in she stood up and walked toward him.
“Excuse me,” the secretary said, “Nobody said you could stand up young lady.”
“Excuse me,” he said. “This is my daughter.”
She looked up at him and said, earnestly, just the way she’d ask for something for her birthday or Christmas.
“Daddy, please,” she said. “This is my chance. This is my chance to stand up for myself. Right now. Please, take mom and go away. I’ll deal with this myself.”
He looked at her. He didn’t even know what that would mean. Could she? Would they allow it? It seemed like abandoning her, putting her at even more risk. He had so many things he wanted to ask and say about the whole incident. While phones rang in the office and the principal’s door opened he thought about leaving her alone with the consequences. His heart beat faster.
“She’s going to go in to talk to you without us,” he heard himself say to the woman holding open the door. “She’ll talk to you alone.”
Now she sat across from him in a federal prison. He had the same feelings, the same worry. The same hurt. The same desire to walk out the door with her and take her home. Now he felt the tears and he hung his head for a moment.
“I got it,” he said looking at her in her eyes. “I know.”
He took his right foot and put it on her left and twisted it four times. She looked up at him and took her right foot, put it on his left foot and twisted it four times. He sighed. There was nothing more to say.
From the time she took her own first little steps,
He had her holding in her hand a tiny spear,
And a quiver hung from her small shoulder;
Instead of a golden fillet on her head,
And a long robe trailing to the ground,
She wore a hooded tiger skin.
She learned to be fluently skillful with her youthful hands
At targeting her whirling javelins or
Whirling the sling above her young-girl head,
Propelling a stone to bring a white swan down
Or a Strymonian crane.
Description of a young Camilla,
Translation from David Ferry’s, The Aeneid
Go back to At Last!