Last night, on a lark, I went to an internet site, the official web-site for the Arizona Department of Corrections. It was interesting, as I clicked through I found a page where you could type in an inmate's identification number and I found some records. Since my birth Father died there, my curiosity was peaking. My hands trembled as I typed in his number but this was all that I had left, or so I thought.
I was feeling sad that he was reduced to only a number. Questions begin to storm my mind. Was he a problem inmate, what could I possibly uncover about him? “Get a grip just a whim, killing time, chasing a ghost.” I told myself.
I remember the detailed letters from him over the years. He said that they were poisoning him, putting gravel in his belly, shining the lights from Phoenix and all kinds of crazy things. I had no idea what he was talking about. I visited him twice, once driving out with my brother Mike a few months before he died in 1980 and once more in the 1990's. My niece and I flew out to see him for the last time.
My initial shock was that he was my Father at all. I was raised to believe that the monster that married my Mom and adopted me was my Father. I guess adoption is a loose term here. Actually, my Mom was still married to my Dad. She was pregnant with me and was raising three sons on her own when she met the monster that scarred all of us. I was twelve when I found out about the runaway Dad . I had talked to my Mom before and asked her about my brother's 'Father' because we had different last names. Their's was Gann, mine was Perkins. She tried to explain that they were my 'real' brothers and I adamantly refused the notion, they had to be half brothers. I never accepted her explanation. Something was amiss.
I was confused and angry and certain the truth was being withheld. Life went on, every year we would visit my brother's Granny for Christmas. On one occasion, I went snooping in 'Granny's' bedroom. I tore open drawers and found letters from H.W. Gann and then I ran across a worn and yellowed newspaper clipping. The headline read “Gann Kills Sweetheart.” This has to be a connection, a clue to this mystery person that my Mom never talked about. I found several letters from him asking about 'the girl'. I was about seven years old and didn't tell a soul for years.
My only real solace was my brother Michael who was ten years older than me. He was always the closest thing to a Dad that I had and I adored him. I was frustrated and growing more bold as the years went by, not to mention my loathing of my Daddy. I finally asked Michael to tell me the real story, the truth, I needed it. “He (meaning his Dad) is your Dad but was a drunk, Mom stayed with him for nine years. He could always get a good paying job but would disappear often, taking his paycheck with him for weeks at a time” Michael said to me. Then he told me that my Mom would hide money to buy their school clothes and he took the clothes back to the store and got the money. I began to draw him out more and more, I think that he needed this conversation as much as I did.
Besides Michael, I also have two brothers, Terry and Jerry who are twins. When the twins were six, they walked home from school with a group of friends and one of the friends pushed my brother Jerry into the oncoming traffic. He was hit by a car, his new cowboy boots were knocked from his feet and he was found in a bloody and crumpled pile. My brothers were witness to this tragedy. He lay comatose for four months as my real Dad roamed the streets. Mom wouldn't leave him, not yet. When his car broke down, he rode the rails, hitched rides and apparently had the time of his life. My Mom on the other hand had a brain damaged son to care for and had to send Michael and Terry to other relatives to be beside her precious son in the coming months.
The new neighbor was so helpful, always helping my Mom, doing anything she needed. A real prince.
Three years passed before my Mom left with that man who lived across the hall. He was going to take her being pregnant, with three sons to his home in Texas. I guess things were good at first. The boys were thriving, Jerry regained his ability to read or write but it was a tedious process with my Mom working with him. He could not add one plus one, math skills lost forever but somehow could spell anything in the dictionary. The neighbors called him retarded, which later caused me much grief. He was harmless and would always mind me even though I was nine years younger. Terry on the other hand had started to digress. He lacked ½ credit graduating High School, only because by then the monster pulled him from school to work and turn his paycheck over to him. He regularly beat us all and molested me in the tender years. You could never tell what would set him off. I stayed gone as much as possible, moved out and married young as did Michael.
Somehow I blocked most of it and I had developed OCD with counting to the number five for escape to this day. It's well documented, not only by my shrink but in my poetry. I confronted the monster at the age of twenty-one. He ran out of the house like the coward that he was and threw himself across the sidewalk wailing saying that I was crazy. However I had my memories and my Mom confessed that pediatric records showed that I was bleeding once from my infant vagina. The monster said that I had hurt myself. I couldn't hate my Mom, she was a victim and it was a different time. I wondered about why she stayed, but always loved her.
In July 1980, I was living in Austin and my brother Michael called and asked if I wanted to drive out to Arizona to meet my real Dad. Even though I was broke, I jumped at the chance. Not only was I always up for an adventure but over the years of abuse I had developed a soft spot for this man that was my real Dad. We set out and I believe that it took us two days and we pulled into the prison in Florence, Arizona. I was scared to death, I had never been inside a prison. At the entrance there was a large sign sign that said “No weapons, cameras, drugs allowed.” I worried because we had some pot and a camera. “Press on” I told myself, after all we have come this far. He is behind these walls somewhere.
Leaving the 'stuff' in the truck, we made it through the check points and many slamming doors. We waited at a crummy plastic table with equally crummy plastic chairs. The room was huge, tables scattered all around and armed guards watching our every move. Men entered through a single door and greeted their loved ones. “Will you recognize him?” I asked Michael. He assured me that he would know him. Finally a very thin handsome man with dancing blue eyes, blond hair and a crooked grin that would melt the icing from a cake came in. Michael whispered as he rose “that's him”.
I was so nervous, he came toward us and Michael hugged him as he raised his arms above his head as we had been informed he would do, security measures. It was my time to hug him, I held on hard and as I pulled away I stared into his eyes and was surprised to see my reflection. My Mom had olive skin and dark hair (so did you know who) and I was pleased with this connection. Wow! I look like my Dad, Granny had green eyes, that's where I got them, it was barely sinking in but I was in heaven.
He had a sense of humor that had me laughing so hard, I thought that my sides would split. He wrote country songs and worked as a barber there. At last, here is my Dad, a mirror image right in front of me. He didn't seem criminal to me at all. Finally, I could be Daddy's Girl. Surely there had been a mistake. I wasn't much for mincing words so I asked him what happened, why are you here. I knew the story told but what would he say to me???
He looked scared but told me that after my Mom left him he had a girlfriend. She lived with her two children and apparently was crazy about my Dad. My Mom always said the women loved him. He left this woman alone for weeks at a time (sound familiar?). At least he was telling me something. He said that on one of his jaunts, he returned and found her gone and her children alone in the apartment.
He got the lady down the hall to watch her children and went to look for her. He found her at a bar drinking with two men. When he asked her to leave she refused. There was a scuffle between my Dad and these men which progressed outside of the bar. According to him the men jumped my Dad. He pulled out a gun, she got in the way, was shot and died right there in that dark parking lot. That's the story that I got. Do I believe that he was going to shoot someone, yes. Her, no. As I said before, I visited once more and wrote to him until he died there.
This takes me to that day (2001) when I found the website. I typed in his number and some of his info was right before my eyes. I was starved for information. I expected to see the abuse he had endured over the years as my fairy tale mind could still dream him innocent. I wrote a letter (revised) to him, the wind, the ghosts that continued to haunt me, at least at that time.
Your number told me a lot about you and your history, more than I really can handle or say out loud. I've never thought much about the woman that you murdered, until now. I was three years old in 1962 when you killed her, I had never laid eyes on you. I didn't really know what murder meant until I read the records.
You killed her five days before Christmas. I cannot imagine how your choice to carry a gun affected her family. I wish that I could tell them how sorry that I am for your crime. I found out that one day before my birthday in 1976 you tried to escape. The guards shot you in the hip, I can only imagine that you were trying to escape your own personal hell. It was broad daylight and you taunted them. Still, I am glad that you didn't die that day or I would have never seen you. I had always felt bad for you until I read sixteen pages of your classifications. I guess these days I feel sad for all of us. However, reality bites, oh yes it does. You were lost, she was lost, we were all lost.
No matter what, it seems a girl will put her Dad on a pedestal. It would have been nice, but you couldn't mount the modest one that I had set for you. No matter how sorry a Dad is, birth Father or not, a girl longs to feel special, to be Daddy's girl. I am not so sure that I want that now, I need it but not in the way that you or the monster could ever meet. It's good to have you in perspective. I am sorry for all of your heartaches and so sorry that you had to die in prison. I have been searching for some kind of absolution, some understanding. Maybe you did too. However, I am sorry that all you could give me was a tragic footnote from a prison record.
*Note* Michael died in 1980 from a massive coronary. My twin brothers are sixty years old, Terry is diagnosed as a savant among other things and lives with me. He has a photographic memory and is a whiz with dates. Jerry (hit by car) lives in a group home nearby and they are both doing as well as they can. My Mom died in 1991, my Dad in 1999. The monster died in 2003 and we did make peace, of sorts. My real Dad did not actually end there. I tried to commit suicide yrs ago and I actually died. I was on life support for three days and somewhere during that time something happened. All that I remember was that it was night. I looked and saw my real Dad leaning against the wall of what looked like a downtown building. He spoke to me but not with his mouth. It was like we were speaking to each other in our minds. His clothes looked as if it were the 1940's and he was dressed sharp and so handsome. He told me that it was not my time, to go back and then he called me Baby Girl. When I eventually came out of my coma I could still smell him and for once my Dad had made me happy.
© Janet Caldwell 2001-1013
Originally written 2001
Revised July, 10, 2010