Little Wilson


Hi this is Gerry, thanks for visiting our blog.  I am going to share the story of “Little Wilson” and what prompted a grown man to purchase a Wilson Indoor Edition Volleyball at the local Target Store.  It’s all about symbolism, wretched sadness and loneliness.  Tom Hanks, in the superb movie Castaway, found a volleyball in the island wreckage where he was stranded for five years; he scratched out a face and “Wilson” came to life.  As an emotionally private guy, I felt under siege when Patty’s world started to unravel, stranded on a remote emotional island despite good friends reaching out, joined by a loyal tough 100 lb Malamute named Chili (aka Doodles).  Chili was a superb dog, a good listener despite marginal eye contact, who’s continued quest to be alpha male proved consistently unsuccessful.  Seriously, there was nobody I knew in my situation with whom to commiserate, no support groups for men with their wife in the Federal slammer; I searched.  It was a stark island situation for an island boy; pretty ugly.  My wife Patty is petite and fit, thus the tentative yet hopeful face with a cross necklace drawn on a volleyball, was christened “Little Wilson.”  In hind sight, it all sounds pretty dorky, desperate actually, but it was symbolic emotional companionship. “Little Wilson” was perched on the island (ironically) in the kitchen or else seated on the passenger seat in the Prius, riding shotgun for many thousands of miles to and from visits with Patty; be it to Waseca, Minnesota, Pekin, Illinois or Greenville, Illinois.  Nobody teased me about “Little Wilson.”  I probably exuded tired edgy hostility and was left alone.  In July 2009 while visiting the Duluth Target store to buy “Little Wilson,” I can recall thinking to myself, this is really nuts, but frankly I didn’t care.  It was a ragged time.  In retrospect, it was a survival move.

To share the emotional setting in which “Little Wilson” evolved; the following are two excerpts from my June 21, 2009 email summary sent to a group of supportive friends.  At the time, Patty was in the Waseca Minnesota Federal Corrections Institution, a low security facility, not a camp.  It had the requisite razor wire, demeaning guards, inmates serving 20+ years, etc.  The usual caveat applies, this is not a pity party, never has been.

“I write this at 8:15 am having slept poorly and I’m on my 3rd cup of coffee on an empty stomach, work with me here; if it doesn’t make sense just fill in the blanks as you see fit. I talked to Patty at aprox 8:30 PM Friday for the max allowed 15 minutes, she said that “she had had a better day”, she had even laughed, wow.

In response to repeated persistent questions by this writer as to her safety related to corrections staff or other females (ahem), she tells me, and I believe her, that she is just fine. To a lighter subject, the logistics at our house have been interesting. Friday on my way home from work at 6:00 PM (don’t ask), I treated myself to a Whopper and fries, to hell with my triglycerides, I went full rogue.   As I was chowing down at home in front of Chili, I couldn’t help but notice how big the burger was.  Indeed it was a triple whopper, not a regular. Bottom line, I ate one burger patty and Chili got two, the boys were styling. The pooch now is adapting, eating more, new routine etc., getting by.

I am proposing an idea related to Chili, who is aprox 8.5 years old and has tired hips. For the last 2 years, day in day out, he has been the most wonderful therapy dog, companion, confidant, non-judgmental listener to my wife possible.  I am convinced he can bark in tongues and quote scripture. When Patty left on Monday 6/15/09 at 0930, I know she thought she would never ever see him alive again, painfully sad to watch.  I told her that Chili (aka Chili Doodles) would in fact be alive and here upon her return, waiting faithfully, I think it’s 50/50 at best frankly but I’m going for it.

From my vantage point, the humor in this summary masks a thread of deep heartache, love for the dog, and weary resignation that things were completely out of control for my wife; yet utterly controlled.  If you read this and you are in my shoes, maybe your spouse is in prison, whatever you do to emotionally survive, keep it healthy.  Me, I relied on heavy duty structure in my daily routine; I went to church, worked hard, didn’t drink, smoke, toke, gamble or chase; a couple of solid friends were game changers.  I kept my head in the game.  I was not going to let the Federal legal overkill dumped on my wife defeat her or me; game on.  There is punishment and there is destruction, nobody would destroy my wife, period.  For those who tried, you failed.  The whole journey is like a marathon, please rely on aid stations along the way; be it a “Little Wilson,” neighborly home cooked food, back row refuge in a church with great worship music, counseling, fitness, walking the dog , whatever it takes, keep it healthy.  Temptation is everywhere, the divorce rate exceeds 95% when a female spouse is incarcerated, 80% when the husband is in prison.  Stay the course, you won’t regret it; I haven’t.

I recall sitting alone on the deck with Chili on a beautiful mid July day.  I felt like a radiator hose clamp was ever tightening around my head.  I decided to go to one of my church’s “small group” meetings, a huge step and admission for me.  I couldn’t gut it out anymore; I was done.  By finally reaching out to my church and God, I kept my head together and haven’t looked back since.  That too was a survival move, a good move.

Back to the people around you, most but not all, will have utterly no clue what you’re going through and never will. They just can’t get their head around it.  Some will say the stupidest things, hurtful on occasion, blind to the impact of their words.  It just is what it is; however, you can prevail.  Big picture for me, the sacrifice was well worth it.  So, how about “Little Wilson” these days?  Handled with quiet reverence by Patty and I; “Little Wilson” is perched in a corner of the room where I write this blog today. There is serious history with a simple volleyball, pretty amazing.  How about Chili?  The big guy had to take a nap July 2012; old, tired and really suffering, his time was up.  Patty just adored Chili; they walked together every day during the two years of her investigation.  He was perplexed, yet gentle, upon Patty’s return home at midnight May 27, 2011after a two year absence.  Instinctually Chili got it right the next day when Patty gave him the traditional splash of coffee on the sidewalk before they went for a walk.  Then it all came back to him.  We both miss Chili a lot.  It’s pretty amazing to me the combination of God, a loyal dog, and Wilson Volleyball with a face drawn on it, would be significant in my life, but it’s all true.  Sometimes you just do what you have to do.


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1 comment

  1. Great post, Gerry! I love the way you write – it’s so real and authentic. It felt like I was actually there during some of the the loneliness and angst you went through during that time. You guys are amazing – thanks for being such an inspiration to others struggling with loneliness, separation and loss.

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