“Don’t Forget Us When You Leave.” – Shirita James
With a back East, down South North Carolina twang Rere said to me, “Claudia, why you ain’t tell me you was leaving?” Her words asked a question. Her tone held an accusation. She knew the answer.
I was coming out of the bathroom with my head down, not paying attention, pretty much sleep. Against prison rules, but I just wanted to forget where I was for a minute. Forget these damn khakis. Forget these grays (sweats). Forget these bright orange moo moos. I just hated it so much. I created momentary amnesia as often as I could. My mind doing a thousand things and none at all, all at once. I just didn’t see her at first.
Her inquisition caught me off guard. Boss ladies didn’t talk much in the bing so believe me when I say, this act was significant. Feeling cornered I did what I had been trained to do. I erected my head, met her gaze, and lied. “Girl, I thought you knew.” She sized me up. Looked firmly into my soul’s windows and held me without a touch. Her response, “Don’t forget about me when you leave.”
As quietly as she appeared, she disappeared. Magic.
My lack of consciousness had been cured with a dose of accountability. An old wound opened in my stomach. That infection turned into fire inside my chest. Because it could not escape my mouth, every apology I had never given my Mom came out of my eyes. Before anybody could see a thug cry, I went to my cube and put on my headphones. “Nobody Else” by Summer Walker. “Come on sis, you gotta make the song sound so deep?” I thought. In a matter of fact tone she just replied “I can’t see them coming down your eyes so I gotta make this song cry.” She sounded like Big Brotha Jay-Z when she said it though. Prison offers a safe place to hurt but no security to show it.
I thought I had learned to tell a necessary lie, but always, and by any means necessary, live the truth. Now I doubted my entire preceding reality. Had I been living a lie and telling the truth? Damn, I been doing it so long I forgot which one it is. Now I had to figure it out.
Shirita James, Rere, had a 135 month bid. She had been down about 36 by the time I got there. This interaction occurred when I had been down eight. She had 100 months left. One hundred months. Eight years. No, I didn’t want to think about it. I had every plan to forget. I would never think about the friends I was leaving behind. The staff always said that there were no friends in prison, but I would have never survived without them. These sisters had offered me comfort when a community that I had done so much for had thrown me away. My value to them at this point was as just a salacious article in the Winston-Salem Journal. I had become “North Carolina Tax Preparer”, or “Winston-Salem Woman” to an ungrateful, nosey, and cowardly part of my previous community. They must have had a hero reporter, Super Scribe, because that article was written faster than a speeding bullet. So many had forgotten who I really was, so I did the same. That’s that amnesia again.
My new village reminded me though. “Bitch, you a whole woman. They can’t treat you any kind of way. We federal.” I now knew how Neo felt in the Matrix. Morpheus was an outcast, a deviant. Because he was fearless though, he was The One who had awakened The One.
I can no longer continue to hold this ache in my bowels. It just gets regurgitated anyway. Emotional Bulimia, an emotional disorder involving the distortion of one’s image and an obsessive desire to no longer carry the weight that remembering holds. It does not heal itself. Pain was trying to make me forget my own Momma. The woman who walked her children to the Public Library because she didn’t have a car, but she did have the determination and desire to give her children the gift of education. Pain lied and told me it was ok to forget because she sold drugs, and made mistakes, and was unapologetic about it. She was fearless. She was Rere. She died in pain and misunderstood. Pain killed her once and I was going to let it kill her again by forgetting her when she left. “Don’t forget me when I leave.”
Disregard and neglect are the blessings to the meals that trauma serves for dinner. Amen. Society has too often given us permission to forget and rewards us for inaction and silence.
Today, I needed a minute. The pain comes first thing in the morning. Now I embrace it. It reminds me that I am alive. It calls me to purpose. Right now, bravery sounds like “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion, the remix with Beyoncé. (Cause she got that shit from Tina).
I will not forget about you when I leave. I will not forget me when I leave. I will not forget. I will not forget. I will tell everyone about you. I will tell everyone about all of you.
I am a Truth Teller.