Whenever I hear a train, the rails appear in my mind as the whistle carries me back to being 15, racing my paint bareback in the open fields, trying to catch a glimpse of the waving arms that the engineer or cabooseman would toss my way. Usually I made it just in time for one or the other, satisfied in my mind that my sweating mare and I would escape this town one day. It was an ever-present feeling since "first thought" or "memory" slipped into my consciousness as a toddler.
My connection with a train started as far back as my bedwetting days. When I was in elementary school, I invented a train in my mind that would come at night—under my bedroom floor—and magically a door would lift up and I'd be placed gently into a soft car seat and given a ride to the loo. There, the floors would open again and I would be placed onto the toilet and returned to my warm...wet bed...when I awoke, again realizing I had no control over my bladder or my living environment.
I don't recall my father ever working for the jobs my mother told me he had prior to Soledad Prison or any other prison job he had afterwards before becoming part of an elite group of undercover agents for the Department of Corrections "Special Service Unit." What I do remember is that my father was an arrestingly handsome man with a distinct laugh that often had tears running down his face - even when he yawned his eyes teared up—a genetic characteristic he passed onto his daughter.
With three siblings male—I was odd girl out—my father and I had a different relationship. I wasn't the pink ribboned little girl he probably had wished for. I was the bow-legged and tubby little dishwater blonde who stripped her clothes off and stashed them strategically under different bushes in various yards. I don't remember that part, just my mother screaming after me down the street trying to catch me after the neighbors had told on me and threatened her with police action if I weren't roped back in—My God—there were "boys" who lived on the same street, don't you know?!
For a time she and I shared the same hair color but definitely different brains. I was two and only understood what trapped felt like and didn't like it.
I loved my father and perhaps in many ways we were more alike in intellect, stubborness and courage, yet I'd baste that with a natural shyness covered by thicker exteriors. Your basic introvert/extrovert rolled into one and he had such a soft heart for the work that he did. Prison changed my father like a war would to any soldier or civilian.
One day he surprised me and asked me to come to work with him. Inwardly, I was screaming "yayy!" as he told me we were going to Folsom Prison to see the protestors outside the walls who were vehemently against the death penalty. My father's job? Was to have me get license plate numbers of the protestors.
I was on their side, which did not make my former prison guard, now elite special service agent father happy.
The entire ride there he tried hammering his beliefs in me which always changed because he was a fair man but when the law said he had to follow, he followed. He always called me the odd one of his kids—the free-thinker who actually believed change could be made.
We arrived outside in the hills east of Sacramento, where Folsom State Prison stands beside a man-made lake, surrounded by granite walls built by inmate laborers. The gun towers have peaked roofs and Gothic stonework that give the prison an ominous and forbidding appearance of a medieval fortress. For more than a century Folsom and San Quentin were the state's only maximum-security penitentiaries. We got out of the car among cars parked along the streets in this beautiful countryside. I was struck at the incongruity of it all. A man inside maximum security to be gassed soon and the people bustling outside with signs, songs and literature being passed to protest with conviction and hope to overturn events.
My dad handed me a pencil and paper and explained that everyone would know he was a cop and that it was up to me to find out the license plate numbers so they could be run to find out who was there. Everything inside of me was screaming "wrong! rat! run away!" but I was stuck with my dad and scared as well as exhilarated. I got some plates but not to his satisfaction and on the way home he railed into me about how important it was to get facts straight, to be correct and how dangerous these people really were that were freely walking around.
Since I was now a teenager and had gone through quite a lot with my father's career, the experience helped shape and mold me to become even more free-spirited, which was never his intent and in an odd way I felt more connected to my father.
I realized that the hardness of working both inside several prisons and the streets had him bringing home a perception of the world as constantly dangerous, sick and twisted demon—from a personal standpoint—not the news. My father rarely believed anything on the news and did pass that onto me. He actually would tell me what the real deal was after a news cast ran locally.
As a young girl growing up, I rarely dated because my dad had a propensity to tackle guys in the front yard if he felt they were under-the-influence and they probably were. My world inside our home became a place that I felt confined and restricted except in my imagination. That's a place no one interfered because they never knew where I went.
Whenever I feel a majority or mass is sharing the same belief, I tend to tilt my head and question.
I love creating worlds and characters as much as I adore meeting people from all walks of life. It's in that diversity and color palette that I feel enriched and a little less fearful of the solitary confinement my mind places me.
I wish my dad were here today to see the amazing changes in the world and the awful ones too. He feared my leaning to the arts yet never missed a performance and even came to a class to watch me, having driven or flown to see me. A friend told me that my dad confided that he never felt he had been a good father. That surprised and touched me.
The more we fought about our differences the more we laughed in realizing how pointless it was.
I was traumatized by my childhood years, so was he and in his work. A person can't talk to gangsters, drug dealers, murderers, rapists, racists and not come out unscathed.
He once said to me, "Damn it, Eva...people don't change!" I smiled, "You did." My father turned red, laughed with embarrassment and hugged me with, "I love you baby." I had never felt like I was his baby, but to him I now believe, that I was.
I may be cash poor but I am eternally wealthy in love with the tiny family that is left and all will grow again. My eyes, ears and heart are open to change because I've left my own prison and you can too.