In county jail, the girls would open up a sack nasty, a paperbag full of lunch. They’d take out the four slices of bread and pack of four county cookies. The questionable meat product and often-expired milk would stay inside the bag. They would put the cookies in between two slices, and eat it like a sandwich. These were those cookies that pre-date Oreos, but now just look like sad vanilla Oreo knock-offs. My late husband used to buy them from the dollar store. He liked to fill his pockets with them, and then– for no reason, usually in the middle of a solemn or important moment, press one firmly into the palm of my hand. I gave a eulogy with a cookie hidden in my hand once.
When it was time to make my plea deal official, the officer let me carry a cookie in my palm, if I promised to not let anyone see it. He cuffed me and let me out of the concrete cell I had been sitting in for over six hours. My muscles were aching from sitting on the cold flat surface, and I was disoriented from being up since 3am. Everyone incarcerated leaves for court around 3am. My eyes were tired from seeing sunshine on the drive over, the first natural light I’d seen in weeks. I followed the arrows on the ground, up a flight of stairs, and another, and then turned into the court room. Every time I tripped, the cookie would smush a little in the palm of my hand.
They locked me in a cage the size of a normal studio apartment shower, facing the courtroom, releasing me to a new officer. I hid the cookie, just in case. Three walls were a tangled metal design, but the one connecting me to another cage was just plexiglass. That was the side for boys. In there was a man who was a hairdresser and through the proceedings, whenever no one was looking, he would write his booking number, in mirrored form, on the glass with his tongue. He wanted me to write him.
It was warm in the courthouse, a comfortable temperature-controlled type of room, and I signed my final papers through a slot in the tangled wire wall. My lawyer was beautiful, I thought. A woman who looked like she was built from a medley of strengths. The officer guarding the door was tall and seemed to be singing music to himself. He might’ve looked mean if he hadn’t kept tapping his foot and subtly shimmying his shoulders. It was a good song, I’m guessing.
When I was sentenced, he opened the door for me to return to the cells below. I smiled up at him, looking directly in his eyes to say thank you. He hesitated, then leaned down and whispered to me: “Don’t write him, little cookie-smuggler. Men is trash. Keep on getting your sugar someplace else.”
I guess I didn’t make for a very good cookie smuggler.
Before entering the concrete cells again, the officers below removed my cuffs. My wrists were bruised from holding and hiding the cookie, but it was worth it. The cell was cold, the sliding metal bars closing me in with new faces. We were out of toilet paper and the water fountain didn’t work, like normal. These girls had arrived after lunch because of a scheduling error. They hadn’t eaten all day and were picking through what was left behind by the girls with whom I arrived.
I opened my hand to look at the crumbled cookie, thinking about what I would see next, thinking about all the things I wouldn’t see for a year still, thinking about all the things I would have to get through without cookies or my husband.
A sprite-sized young girl with two black eyes and bruises everywhere sat down next to me. I didn’t know her yet, but later she would live in the same dorm. She’d be there a month, depending on state-appointed legal assistance, before the court decided that locking her boyfriend out of his house in the rain wasn’t abuse. It was self-defense. The judge only fined her for the window her boyfriend broke while trying to get back inside. By then, she had lost her job for being gone so long and so suddenly– but she loved him still. Bruises fade like memories, you see. I would’ve warned her, but back in that moment, I didn’t know her at all.
“Wanna talk about it?” she asked. I didn’t, so I shook my head.
“In that case,” she said with a grin, “can I have the cookie?”
I laughed and peeled the pieces of it into her hand, telling her I’d been holding it for over an hour. She ate it anyway.
Cookies aren’t any kind of substance, and these re-hashed knock offs weren’t any kind of interesting, but when you’re in a particular kind of need, running on a particular kind of empty,
they just might be the thing that fills you up.