Finally, I see her. She stumbles up the sidewalk to the door and pulls it open, arms huddled around her chest, the cold wind from outside billowing in her thin blouse. I haven't seen her for a year, but she looks the same. Her clothes, her grey hair, and the skin around her eyes. Everything about her is loose.
She makes her way to the front desk, and I see her pulling at the edges of her jacket, even though she is inside and the wind is gone. She leans on the counter and talks to the receptionist, who hands her a packet of papers and points to the places she needs to sign. Two policemen appear out of the back room, where they have doubtlessly been drinking their coffee and rummaging through traffic reports. One of them shakes her hand.
I watch all this from my bench in the waiting area, which looks surprisingly like the waiting room at a doctor's office, knowing that she can't see me through her side of the double-sided mirror. I've been sitting on this bench for just over an hour, watching the door, and now here she is. My mother.
The policewoman on the bench across from me, Officer Dunlap, glances up from her notepad and gives me a small smile. Since today is my release, I'm not in handcuffs, but still under supervision, and I wonder if she can tell how nervous I am, how excited and anxious and scared. I suppose that everyone feels like this on their first day back in the real world, and that she's sat in this very room with countless other women, and is used to it. I suddenly feel strangely like a child staying after school under the teacher's watchful gaze.
One of the policemen from the front opens the door of the waiting room and nods briefly to Officer Dunlap. "Bring her out," he says, and we both stand up. I follow him into the front of the station, Officer Dunlap trailing behind me, and then suddenly we're staring at each other, my mother and I. She tries to smile at me but her eyes are filled with tears, and I can only manage a slight nod.
"I'll call in a few days to check up," the receptionist says to my mother, and then she smiles at me, the first real smile of the day. "Good luck, Laura," she adds, giving me an unprofessional pat on the shoulder. The policeman holds the door open and I follow my mother out to the parking lot and then, just like that, it's over and I am free.