Not My Wonderland – Xitlally Lupian

My grandparents picked me up at my house at seven in the morning. I was eleven. I was really tired but also very happy because I was going to see my dad for the first time in three years. When I was younger they moved him to a prison far away, and we just didn’t have the money to go out there very often. In the car that morning, my grandma gave me a blanket so that I could sleep, but I was just too excited. I imagined the ride was going to be really long and we were going to have to spend the night at a motel. I couldn’t believe it when my grandma told me the new prison was only a two-hour drive. Before I knew it I saw a sign that said Folsom Prison.

When we arrived at the prison, I thought we were going to have to take a number and wait an hour, but the place was almost empty. All we had to do was fill out a card and give it to the people at the front desk. They asked for my birth certificate and the note my mom signed that said I could go in with my grandma. My grandparents took all the things out of their pockets and I had to take off my shoes. We walked through the metal detectors and waited for a bus to take us to the visiting building. We got to B building and we had to go through another metal detector. The guard pressed a button and the immense metal door groaned as it opened. We stepped slowly into a small room and waited for another guard to take us upstairs. Then we walked through another large door and my grandparents had to show another guard their IDs. We finally entered the visiting room and waited for my dad to show up in one of the windows.

When he did I wanted to run up and be the first to talk to him, but I got shy. I was walking towards him ahead of my grandma, but then I slowed down because I realized didn’t know what to say to him. I couldn’t say, “Hey, Dad!” because I tried calling him “dad” once and I didn’t like the way it sounded. It’s like calling your parents by their first names—it felt so foreign. He went to prison when I was only eight months old. I never got used to saying the word “dad” like everyone else.

My grandma grabbed the phone and talked to him for a while. Then it was my turn. He looked shocked to see me. He said that I had grown so much that he didn’t recognize me. Talking to him was awkward at first because we hadn’t spoken in so long. I said “hi” and he started asking questions, and then I couldn’t stop talking. After what seemed like a long time, he looked at the clock and told me he had to talk to my grandpa.

When my dad saw my grandpa he stood up and smiled. I couldn’t see my grandpa’s face, but I could tell he was very happy. I could sense that they just wanted to give each other a hug. They hadn’t seen each other in about ten years. I don’t really know why—something about visiting papers. While they talked, I just stared at my dad. I watched him listen and write stuff down, laugh at my grandpa’s fishing stories.

When I got home I was really glad that I got to see him and that I would be seeing him in two weeks, and every two weeks from then on because he was so close by. The visits every two weeks lasted until I was thirteen. In those three years I started and ended middle school. I would tell my dad how I loved my friends and hated math and science. He told me about the books he read and the movies he watched.

In eighth grade I began visiting him less and less because my grandparents had to go take care of stuff in Mexico. By the end of the year I wasn’t going to visit him at all. The following summer I received a letter from him. There was a stamp on the middle of the letter that said Pelican Bay State Prison. I asked my mom where Pelican Bay was and she told me it was way up north. She didn’t have to tell me—I just figured it out—that I wouldn’t be able to go see him anymore. I guess no one thought about me when they decided to move him. Don’t I have the right to be considered when decisions are made about my dad? I would write him often, but sometimes I wouldn’t get to send the letters because I didn’t have stamps.

For my fifteenth birthday he wrote me a letter that included fifteen words that described me. In the letter he asked me lots of questions and told me about turning fifteen. Every year for my birthday he draws a picture and sends it to me. This one was really special, because without me ever telling him the theme of my quince, he still illustrated an amazing print of his own Alice in Wonderland. There were playing cards, a cat, trees, and me as Alice in the center. I really wished he could have been there for the party. A dad is supposed to be there for his daughter on her quince.

Now I’m 15 and I haven’t seen my dad in over a year because he is so far away. It shouldn’t be this hard to go visit him, especially when we only get three hours together. We used to get phone calls from him. The visits used to be five hours long and I was allowed to hug him. Then he got put back in solitary. Because he’s in solitary he can’t even get a phone call. That’s inhumane. He can’t have contact with anybody else. I can’t hug him. My grandma can’t hug him. We can’t sit around a table and just talk and be a part of the same conversation. Don’t I have the right to speak with, see, and touch my dad?

When I get to see him again, I’m going to tell him about the plays I have been performing in and how my first year of high school was kind of great. I’m going to tell him about my new friends and my plans for the future, like going to college and traveling the world doing theater. I hope that in a few years he will be out and we can go camping like he said we would. I just can’t wait to talk to him. When I do I’ll make sure to tell him how much I miss him.

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