As a prisoner’s wife, it’s not uncommon to hold onto items to keep the memory of one’s husband alive or to create his presence; we keep things like cologne, hair, and clothing. But to keep my husband with me, it required that I go one step further.
When my husband was home, he had an annoying habit of using my bobby pins as toothpicks. And, as you might suspect, these out-of-shape pieces of metal never made it into the trash. Fed up with seeing them all over the house, I began pointing them out each time I came across one: “Tooth apparatus, tooth apparatus, tooth apparatus!”
After my husband was incarcerated, I moved into a new residence. During the final walk-through of our old home, I noticed a tooth apparatus.
I collected each one I found.
Once in our new home, before I even unpacked, I inconspicuously positioned the tooth apparatus I had found in the old home in our new home, a place where together we shared no memories. Now, each time I come across one, I move it; that way, the element of surprise keeps my husband alive, marks his territory, and fills my heart’s empty space.
Keeping the tooth apparatus pushed the boundaries of my sanity and cleanliness. But with long prison sentences, it is hard to recall the moments that matter, especially when fading memories are replaced with the demands of prison life.
For me, these tooth apparatus are symbols of auld lang syne, a contorted pathway between yesterday and today that pushes the play button on this life lived before incarceration. It takes me back to the time we fell in love, our courtship, and our engagement. And whenever I discover these apparatus, it all comes back to me with the promise of better days; a promise he left behind.
But whether the bobby pin is used as intended or a tooth apparatus, its greatest use for me is that it keeps two people connected who are caught between two different worlds
This piece appeared in First Person Arts Workshop: Through the Bars: Objects and Memorials for Individuals Affected by Incarceration.
What do you keep to remind you of your partner?