Friday, April 19, 2013


This is a portrait of real life; at least my life I have purposefully avoided using punctuation except where I thought it might be needed for clarity. I also did not use quotes. I hope that anyone reading it will understand who is talking.
I wanted this to be as stark, cold and raw as those February days were when this event took place.


I hadn’t seen Joe in years
I didn’t even know if he was alive
Kathy called late one night
Left a message on the machine
Your son’s in jail; he has a broken arm
They’re not doing anything to help him
He needs you; don’t call me back

Well I’m sorry daughter your message is too vague
You didn’t block your number
I hit re-dial; she picked up
I told you not to call back
Tell me, do you want me to help your brother
Yes I do, but I don’t want to talk to you
Well the two are bound together; she relents

Thursday morning it’s cold
Freezing rain greets a February day
Nine o’clock dentist appointment
Nine-thirty I’m on my way; Sioux Falls
Two hundred-fifty miles west
North of Albert lea truck spins
Stops backwards; in the ditch

One hour and one hundred dollars later
I’m back on the road
Trucks imprint still in the ditch
Seven pm I’m at relatives home
A sleepless night then I head to
Sioux Falls, county jail

Video conversation; fifteen minutes to the second 
Monitor goes blank and I curse
The jailer, Joe’s mother
The system, God and life

His mother says bail is two thousand
I donate five hundred; credit card maxed
She asks if that is all I’m giving
I become angry, but say nothing

Friday afternoon I pick Joe up from jail
He begs me to help his girlfriend
She is facing federal felony charges
Three year minimum
Once again I disappoint

 His car is at mom’s home on the way there
We pass a store; he asks if I can buy him
A bottle of pop; I buy a large coke
He stands by my truck as I approach
No coat, it’s cold
His broken arm hangs low
In obvious pain, but he doesn’t complain
I help him back into the truck

He drinks the coke; holds the bottle up
This is worth fifteen cents in California he says
He tosses the bottle on the floor
He goes on; out there I can live easy
Life is hard here; I wanted to see mom
So I came back; sorry I did

We visit with his mom one hour
He fights with his half brother
He says he needs two hundred
But, doesn’t say for what; I think I know
I have 350 in cash I give him 300
He hugs us all and drives away
I’m sure by that time Saturday
He was in San Francisco

I linger two more hours with his mother
She heaps blame after blame on me
I don’t argue
She goes through a twelve pack of Bud
Smokes close to a pack of cigarettes
With each beer she becomes mellower  
I get up to leave; she asks; why did you leave me
Bud, I say
What, you left me for a man
I meant, Budweiser
You left me because you like Budweiser
Her confusion showing sadly on her face
No, I say, I left because you like Budweiser
You son-of-a-bitch she said
I let the screen door close softly

I needed gas for the drive home
The coke bottle rolled around on the floor
I stopped for gas; removed debris from truck floor
Walked to the trash can; tossed the bottle in
Tears welled in my eyes as I did so
I retrieved it; filled my tank and headed home

   The bottle sits on a shelf in my home now
Along with other treasured family mementos
Sometimes I look at it and reflect
Joe’s words echo through my head
This is worth fifteen cents in California
Maybe someday I’ll go out there
Take the fifteen cent bottle to him
Maybe by then
it’ll be worth a little more

dale butler
April 2013


  1. Wow, Dale! That sounds like an extremely difficult series of experiences - one on top of another and another and another. I can see why you have chosen to take time to put the pieces of this story together, to share it when you were ready and in the way you chose to share it. Nice job, Dale!

  2. Wonderful personal account of an obviously painful experience. Very well written Dale!

  3. One more to close out the month Dale! (Then I get a nap)