We hear stories here at BoomerCafé about what baby boomers have done with their lives, but rarely as unique as the story told in baby boomer Amy Friedman’s “Desperado’s Wife: A Memoir.” Amy was a newspaper columnist who walked into a prison to write about the prisoners, and ended up marrying one. This excerpt won’t tell you the whole story; you have to read the book!
Elton called to ask if I could pick him up — he was being released from prison on parole. He often called for news about my husband, Will. Will had been transferred to another prison the week he and I married.
“Will saved my life,” Elton always said. A lot of men said that. They meant this literally. Will was tough with his fists. Until Will, the men in my life had been intellectual toughs, and the notion of a partner who could protect me not with money and status but with his strength, had appealed. Of course Will couldn’t protect me at all; he was in prison.
Elton had a few hours before his plane. I agreed to pick him up— his release was the first evidence in the five years Will and I had been married that a real life, outside, was possible.
I drove past farmhouses and fields of wheat. Early summer around the prison is exquisite — lilacs abloom, alfalfa bright. The light is hard, the land flat, the vistas open and wide. Whenever I think of freedom, I think of those vistas — the opposite of closed, dark space— no looming guard towers, no granite, just oceans of quiet.
When I was at the prison as a newspaper columnist, Elton had stayed in his cell, “just doing his time,” so we had never met, but I recognized him immediately— muscles bulging beneath freshly pressed shirt, face beaming. He shifted from foot to foot, a suitcase in one hand, guitar in the other.
The guards scowled, angry watching a convict leave prison, and I understood it was they who had no release date. I whispered, “Let’s get out of here.” Like runaway kids, we made for the door, as if they might try to stop us.
Driving home, Elton stared out the window. “Man oh man, look at alla this?” and at our house he jogged to the riverfront and stared. The sun reflected off the river, my dog was rolling in the scraggly grass.
Minutes later, dressed in shorts, his leg jailhouse pale, he walked into the water,wading out, wobbling on the stones under his feet. When he found the fall-off point, he dived.
I watched water swirling above him. When he splashed to the surface I felt the sigh of his release, his relief. Inhaling — air, grass, sun. Space. Life outside. “God,” he breathed and dived again.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the whirlpool. Tears fell. I remembered the wonder and heat of the ewes’ wombs when I helped to birth lambs on the farm. New birth is unspeakably good. Elton emerged again and walked out of the water, a different man.
He glowed, more beautiful than anyone I had ever seen. There it was— that small thing offering all that big hope, that moment when the world expands. I dreamed that’s what I would see when Will finally came home.