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People Go to Jail for This

Story by Dave Newman (Read author interview) June 28, 2011

art by Paulette Poullet

My ex-wife doesn’t hate me. “I just can’t be married to you,” she said. I was relieved. But now my kids call and I can’t say anything without thinking of the distance. I knew that was part of it, but not until that first night when I said, “Daddy has to call you right back,” and I went in the bathroom and sat in the bathtub without running the water.
I see other women, but I don’t talk to them. I see other children, and I don’t talk to them because they are not my own and if you talk to children who are not your own, they arrest you, like on TV. Mostly I do not drink in bars. If I do drink, I drink with the radio, and I walk alone down my own hall to bed.
I started stealing for the first time when I was a teenager. I steal because I don’t have money, but also because stealing keeps me focused.
Two months ago I stole a book called The Purpose Driven Life. The cover was purple and white. The author was a doctor, not medical. At home, I opened it. I flipped through the pages. It wasn’t many pages. I read a line, skipped a page, read a line. It was a god book. Jesus was everything. We are all at the mercy of Jesus. I closed the book. Then I snuck it back to the bookstore at the mall. Maybe it’s my fault, but the title gave away all the chapters. And the god stuff. The next day, I stole another book and returned that. Then I stole some shoes and a pair of jeans and kept both.
If I had a bigger bag, I could steal more but I’d probably get caught.
Getting caught is often what I do.
When I was working, I was okay. I was never late with my child support.
My wife took the kids and moved back to Chicago to be with her parents. I understood. It was my second DUI in five years. I drink, but I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not making excuses. Cops are everywhere.
My daughter plays soccer. I was in Walmart this morning, holding a ball and looking for those long socks that rise to your knees.
My son plays the flute.
“What about guitar?” I said.
He said, “Mom says flute. Then guitar.”
I don’t know how to steal a guitar.
The soccer ball was easy.
There’s a coffee shop on the corner. I breathe it in but keep going. The only thing I think about anymore is money and my family. I drink Folgers, like my dad.
My dad loves my wife. They talk. He sends the kids cards with sticks of Juicy Fruit gum folded into the letters. I call my dad and he says, “How stupid do you have to be?” and I say, “You still drinking Folgers?”
There are so many things to steal. I walk past stores and get overwhelmed. I go back to the coffee shop. The line is long. The customers look like middle management. I have on a sweatshirt. There are bags of coffee on display and all the workers are busy. I unzip my duffle so you can’t hear the zipper.
Before, I was in sales. It took two martinis to get me on a cold call. Happy Hour was miserable. That was the first DUI. I can’t explain the second. I was coming home. There were lights. I told the cop, “Look, I’ll do anything.” He made me touch my nose and said, “Not even close,” but I know my own nose. People go to jail for this, but I was barely over the limit.
If marriage isn’t forever, I’ll get my license back. I don’t know about my job. I told them the lies I needed to tell them, but now everything links together, all these computers and networks. My parole officer could be on the phone with my boss. They could be discussing ethics in a way I would find unethical.
My kids are waiting. I know Chicago. It’s I-80, straight through. My wife will be there. She’ll offer me a drink and think it’s funny. I’ll smell like a bus terminal.
Once, working for the hospital, I picked up a heart in Ohio and brought it back to Pittsburgh. I was desperate with it. There was my heart, and this other heart on ice. I don’t know how they got it to beat again. I think I read somewhere they use electricity, a small shock, but that was years ago, before I had kids, when I used to drink for fun.

About the Author

Dave Newman is the author of the novel Please Don’t Shoot Anyone Tonight (World Parade Books, 2010) and four chapbooks, most recently Allen Ginsberg Comes To Pittsburgh. He lives in Trafford, PA.

About the Artist

Paulette Poullet is a Puerto Rican cartoonist and illustrator living in Pittsburgh. Her work has been featured in The New Yinzer, Unicorn Mountain 2 and The ToonSeum’s North: A Guide To Pittsburgh’s North Side. For more of her artwork visit www.paulettepoullet.com.


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