Sunday, October 12, 2008

Christmas "De"

Christmas season...2004! My first Christmas in prison and I had no idea what to expect. Some of the other inmates had told me about the Christmas "bag" that we would receive on Christmas eve, but for some reason, the idea of a bag of candy and cookies...and jalapeno flavor ramen didn't get me too excited. I knew that my contact with any family from the outside would be limited. Paula and I had agreed to cease any communication for about three months over the winter of that first year in prison. The months of December through February held too many memories...some of the happiest days of our lives...and some of the most painful. I honestly didn't know how I would survive! But God is a God of miracles...and God of great love. He always knows our deepest needs.

I had been singing in the church choir at church for about three months by now and each year the chapel put on a Christmas program for the entire compound. All of the different Christian
"churches" that were at prison were invited to attend and participate. As a part of the program, a combined choir was formed to sing a couple of songs together. And that's when God sent me a gift...a gift I will remember forever and who I occasionally think and wonder about. His name is De.

I had seen this young Vietnamese often in the chapel. He was a leader in the Catholic group and would often come into the chapel office to pick up their box for a Bible study or to get ready for their Wednesday afternoon mass. We had never really visited...just a shy smile on his part and a "howdy" on mine. I had never even bothered to ask him his name...he was just another face. But he is one of those people who have something about them that is attractive to me. It is probably the twinkle of his eyes...or the gentleness of his smile. Whatever it was, it had remained hidden from me until that first Christmas.

One of the songs that we did as a combined choir was "The 12 Days of Christmas" and the choir director assigned a part of twelve of us to sing the short verse about "our" day of Christmas. As it turned out, I had day eight, and De had day seven. As a result, I had to learn who it was I followed as I sang my little chorus over and over as we worked our way through the song. At first, when the director said that I followed "De", I didn't understand what he meant. I thought maybe I misunderstood what he said.

"Day?", wondered to myself. Does that make me "night"? But after a while, I figured out that De was the young man's name and we would often sit or stand next to one another during the practices. And it started to become apparent to me that this was a special young man. In my eyes, his smile began to blossom and his eyes shone like diamonds in the sunshine. I didn't know yet what a blessing this man was to be to me. I just knew that he was a nice guy and I felt good when I would see him or he would stop and say hello in the chapel office.

Prison is a very lonely place to be...and sometimes I think maybe it was lonelier for me than it might have been for some others. Because of my crime, I could never (and did never) share why I was there. What made it worse for me sometimes was the guilt that I felt because of the deeper nature of my crime...that the pornography that I had viewed was of gay teenage sex. My entire life, I've struggled with having any kind of feelings for another male...and those feelings virtually always resulted in feelings of guilt. I'm sure that's part of the reason that I had never been able to have kind of a healthy relationship with other men. My boundaries had been destroyed as a child and I never discovered where they were supposed to be. And I was to afraid..or ashamed...to ask anyone to help me find them.

But De helped to change that for me. De was a toucher...and my love language is touch. Deep within my being, my heart longs to be touched...to be caressed...to be acknowledged! I would find myself working at the desk in the chapel office when all of a sudden, I would feel firm, yet gentle hands, rubbing my shoulders as I sat at the typewriters. I would begin to melt under the touch of someones hands on me who was rubbing my shoulders simply because he believed it would feel good. No ulterior motive! No expectation of anything in return. Just a simple act of love that he will never know he demonstrated toward me.

Through his occasional shoulder rubs and his smiles....the gift of a hot cup of coffee on a cold January day...the package of cookies just because he appreciated all I did for all of the religious groups that used the chapel, he helped to define boundaries in my life when it comes to men. I would enjoy his touch without feeling guilt. I could accept his smile without wondering if something might be expected. I could return his shoulder rubs and relish in the knowledge that the closed eyes and the smile on his face were a genuine appreciation of the gift I was returning to him. A way of loving another man in a healthy way. Something I had never been able to do.

Christmas 2006 was the hardest Christmas I have ever experienced. I walked the track that evening with tears rolling down my cheeks, praying to God for Paula and the family that was having Christmas without me...praying that they might find some joy in this sacred day. And thanking God that He had not forgotten me in this unforgettable place. That He knew what it was that I needed...to know that I was loved, and how I needed to be loved. And He sent me a gift...a friend and new understandings.

1 comment:

Deb said...

Holy Cow, this is beautiful. I love the word play of the title. And as with all of your most powerful writing, I can feel your pain and gratitude at God's grace in equal measure.

The issue of boundaries has been an ongoing struggle for me as well. When we grow up believing sex is love, those lines get really blurry and confusing.

It's interesting to me that the lack of appropriate male love had as significant an impact on you as it did me - just in different ways. I'm so glad you had De. Was he there for your whole time? Or just and angel for that Christmas?