A cigarette sat in a filthy ashtray in the tiny kitchen. Garrett Baker hung up the telephone with a sigh. His mother didn’t sound as pleasant as he had hoped. They hadn’t spoken much in the past couple of years, and he knew she was ashamed of him.
At thirty, Garrett wondered how he managed to mess his life up this severely. He stared down at the one-way ticket to Nashville, Tennessee that his younger brother had sent him.
Garrett had no more excuses why he couldn’t come home for Thanksgiving. Money had been a common reason. Since dropping out of community college ten years ago, he hasn’t been able to secure a job; a legal one at least. He tried his hand selling various narcotics and running illegal poker tournaments in the basement of some dive bar in Hell’s Kitchen.
Karma came back to bite him every time, though. In the past five years, he had been arrested three times and his illegal operations were shut down. Luckily, the courts had been lenient and only gave him a slap on the wrist.
He had finally landed a decent job as a bartender at an upscale lounge on the Upper East Side over two years ago. That job lasted all of three months before he made a pass at the wrong girl—a gorgeous redhead. Her boyfriend didn’t like that too much.
Before Garrett knew it, he was hit with assault charges and sent to prison for eighteen months along with a hundred hours of community service. The judge no longer had sympathy for him, and neither did his public defender, Cara Benson, whom he had more than a professional relationship with.
Cara saw him as someone she could fix. He fed her so many lies, which he now knows is not the best idea to mess with the woman who can help you maintain your freedom. Garrett had slept around on her, used her for a place to stay, and on more than one occasion, verbally abused her.
Garret couldn’t believe what a disaster he made of things. Now with a beyond repair criminal record, he is lucky if he can get a job in food service or as a taxi driver. From a young age, he was money hungry and treated people terribly—even his own family, especially them. He didn’t claim to have a good heart somewhere deep down; he knows how callous he is. He didn’t care about anyone but himself anymore, which was easier to do thousands of miles away from home and with little contact to anyone.
Someone pounded at the door. Garrett put his cigarette out and pushed back from the table; the metal chair scraped against the worn, cracked floor and shot a chill throughout his body.
“Open up, Baker,” the throaty voice of his landlord barked.
Garrett groaned as he slowed his pace down. He ran an aggravated hand through his dirty blond hair. When he finally opened the door, the landlord, who was short enough to be eye level with Garrett’s chest, shoved a paper into it.
“You’re out, Rett.”
“Pete, come on, you can’t do this to me,” he pleaded.
“You’re two months behind on rent. Did you even find a job yet?”
“Look, it’s not easy. I’m going to see my mother—I’ll get the money from her.”
“I’m done,” Pete said with animated hands. “You’re not going to learn if people keep cutting you breaks. I didn’t even want to give you this apartment in the first place. You tell your parole officer this is the last favor I do for him,”
“Where am I supposed to go?”
“Maybe you should spend some time with the mother you keep mooching off of.”
Pete walked away before Garrett Baker could say another word.
“Shit,” he hissed and crumpled the eviction notice in his hands.
Slamming his door shut, Garrett went into a rage. He tossed what little furniture he had. It hit him that he had nowhere to turn. He picked up his prepaid cell phone and called his parole officer.
“What is it now, Baker?”
“Paul, I need help, man. I just got evicted and I have no job.”
“There’s nothing I can do for you, I’m sorry. I warned you. Apply to McDonald’s. I can hook you up at a shelter.”
“I’m not staying at any shelter,” Garrett snapped.
“I can pull some strings and allow you to leave the state.”
“What good would that do me?”
“Go home, Garrett, to Tennessee.”
“I am, for the holiday—I told you…”
“No, I mean permanently.”
“Paul, I’m not going back to that loser town.”
“Oh because you’re such a winner, right?”
Garrett was silent.
“Suck up your pride and face your family. They’re the only people you have left, if you’re lucky.”
With that, Officer Paul Johnson hung up. Just then, the lights went out in Garrett’s apartment.
He sat there for hours, memories of his little town near Nashville, Tennessee swirling around his head.
“Rett, leave him alone!” Cori Davis yelled.
She was defending her younger brother, Mark. I was holding him down on the ground with my foot pressed to his face.
“What are you going to do, sit on me, Cori?” I laughed at her.
She was overweight and always a do-gooder. With me being the bad boy in town, we didn’t get along.
Mark cried from his spot on the ground.
“He’s got to learn to be a man and he sure as hell is not going to learn it from you or your mama the way you baby him. He needs to learn to fight back and your daddy’s not around to teach him.”
“Well, he wouldn’t need to learn if you’d stop picking fights with him!”
Cori tried to push me off of Mark and I pushed her back. She fell to the ground with a thud. Her round face with her big blue eyes looked at me with raw hatred, and for a moment, I felt bad.
Cori stood up, awkwardly trying to push off her weight.
“You think having your daddy made you so much better, Rett?”
I could vaguely hear Mark quivering underneath my foot.
“Cori, don’t…” he stammered.
“He’s an abusive alcoholic who messed you up!”
I lifted my foot off of Mark and spit in Cori’s face. I could tell it took everything inside of her not to burst into tears.
“Rett, come on!”
I turned around and my girlfriend, Shelly, was standing by my car. Her wavy brown hair was being twisted between her fingers.
“Leave fatty and her brother alone,” she smirked over at Cori before looking back at me.
I didn’t even bother looking back at Cori and Mark Davis before walking over to Shelly to greet her with a kiss; the kind of kiss no parent would approve of their sixteen-year-old child performing.
Garrett grabbed his jacket and left the apartment. He roamed around the neighborhood, not sure what he was searching for; an opportunity to fall out of the sky maybe.
He knew that wouldn’t happen though. No opportunities that wouldn’t land him back in jail were just going to fall into his lap. He was stuck—even if he did get a minimum wage job, he couldn’t make rent anywhere in Manhattan. Not even in his boxlike apartment in a project building in the worst neighborhood.
Drug deals were happening on every other corner. Arrests were happening on the corners in between those deals. Garrett could get back into something illegal in the blink of an eye, but jail time is not something he could take again.
Being a Southern white boy in a mostly black and Hispanic prison, Garrett wasn’t the tough guy with the rugged good-looks anymore. He was a “honky hick” who would get his jaw unhinged if he even looked at the other inmates a second too long.
And that almost had happened—twice. The first full night of sleep Garrett was able to get while he was serving time was when he wound up in the hospital for a fractured jaw.
The second time wasn’t nearly as bad—the injury hadn’t completely healed from the first break. He was already numbed with painkillers. They were the best part of the experience. The medication made him fuzzy and even delusional at times—mostly at night.
He would dream about his childhood. Sometimes he was reliving the beatings his father had given him and his brother. Other times, he was at his grandmother’s playing with her dog, Brownie, and smelling his favorite cherry cobbler. It had won awards at the state fair.
It was thoughts like Granny’s cobbler that brought a smile to Garrett’s face, and made him think going home wouldn’t be all that bad. Then he remembered how hard he tried to escape Cayuga, Tennessee. He didn’t want to end up some small town nobody working on some tractor. To him, the South was made up of simple minded people who settled for less because they couldn’t do better.
There was another reason Garrett did not want to go home. Cayuga represented the childhood he wanted to forget.