IT WAS SEPTEMBER 11 IN A DIFFERENT DECADE: 1971. My first husband and I had gone to Atlanta, Georgia for our honeymoon. Gas was 36 cents a gallon, affordable even for just-married kids.
Richard M. Nixon was president, the original French Connection movie won Best Picture, Rod Stewart had only begun singing about Maggie May, and the DOW reached 890.
We drove our baby blue Volkswagen bug all over town: to an Atlanta Braves baseball game, to Six Flags Over Georgia (okay, so I was twenty years old), to The Abbey Restaurant for my first taste of Maryland She-Crab Soup. . . .
And to the Atlanta Penitentiary.
Dressed in purple velour hot pants (remember those?) with a coordinating purple velour vest, white peasant blouse, and high heels, shoulder length hair swinging, I dragged my nice, academic young husband along with me on a mission to visit an inmate.
My half-brother. I had not seen him for ten years.
He and his sister were children from my father’s first marriage. They never lived with us, or near us, and only visited very occasionally, making brief appearances in our household. They have more Choctaw blood than I do, and seemed very exotic to me. I was brown, but bony. They were browner, and round, with large, beautiful eyes and impossibly high cheekbones.
I can only imagine, now, how they must have felt on those visits.
His sister became a nurse. He became a bank robber. For a few weeks in June of 1968, he was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. According to historical documents, he turned himself in to a local FBI office after seeing his own picture on a Wanted poster in a post office. The document notes that he had a “fully loaded revolver” on his person at the time.
I’m not sure what possessed me to go there. And going into a federal prison dressed in that early 1970’s femme fatale hippie chick look makes me cringe now. As usual, it was all about me.
Did I mention this visit occurred at the same time as the Attica prison riot?
In the months after the visit, we wrote a flurry of letters and my husband (through his work with the Florida Attorney General) was able to help secure a ruling that permitted my brother to concurrently serve a state and federal sentence. We were even visited by one of my brother’s old girlfriends.
I continued my fun life. My letters slowed to a trickle. He finally wrote to express his annoyance that I wasn’t communicating enough, so just forget it.
I never had any communication as an adult with my half-sister from that side of the family.
But, you know, these things never completely go away. One fine day last week, as life in all its fullness was moving through the pages, those asterisks which are my half-brother and my half-sister, began to glow and insinuate themselves into my thoughts. But it’s awfully late in the game.
I tried to find him. The one cousin who might know thinks he is still in a federal penitentiary, but the inmate locator tells me he was released several years ago. His sister has a last name no one can seem to remember. I never knew it.
How does one lose a brother and a sister?
Regret. That’s the word.