I left prison today, last year.
I washed before leaving, taking the longest and hottest shower I had taken in what felt like years. The girls gave me space, so I could get as clean and ready as possible. I left all my bath supplies behind, the bodywash and shampoo, the deodorants. Somebody would use it.
I left everything behind.
All I had was two bags of letters, large ziplock bags that had once held instant beans. I kept my stinger, because Steph said I’d want to show you guys, and she was right. Steph was usually right. It’s why I left everything to her. She was leaving just a few months after me, and I knew she’d leave everything behind, too.
To the girls who needed it, and everyone needed it.
I walked across the Yard, carrying the bags. They were heavy in the way that paper so often is, the way that reminds you it was once a tree. The way that shows the little sheets have not forgotten what it was to be rooted.
It was a drizzling day and I walked the long way. I was wearing sweatpants, a white tank top, and a sports bra that Dave had purchased for me in one of my quarterly boxes. I was lucky to have something to wear out, including broken oversized flipflops. I had left my good flipflops behind and worn out the pair that no one really needed.
They handed me a debit card with $200 on it. It was my gate money, intended to help get me the clothes and transport I needed to get me home, and to my first parole meeting. I was lucky enough to have a car waiting and clothes inside, a possible job, and a house not too far from where my first parole meeting would be. The girl going home the same day as me needed to use the money to buy a bus pass, to get to Northern California, where she’d need to get a hotel for the day to make her meeting since she didn’t have a car. “Will it be enough money?” I asked her, as I did the calculations in my mind.
“No,” she said, and I knew what she meant. She’d be skipping that parole meeting and hoping that it wouldn’t land her in jail again. We all make choices.
I gave her the number of a friend up that way, told her to call if she decided she wanted to do it right this time. She had tattoos up and down her arm, prison tatts that told me this wasn’t her first rodeo. She looked clean now, though. Resigned, older, but clean. She wasn’t trying to subvert the system, but $200 doesn’t take you up the coast and get you clothed and fed and ready to see your children. It certainly doesn’t buy you a hotel room and a bus pass for your parole meeting. It doesn’t pay for the job interviews that you’ll need if your friends and family don’t come through, or if you don’t want to ask because then you’ll be re-immersed in the world that got you locked up to begin with. She’d been down 4 years.
The man in the watchtower shouted down to me. He said my mama was already here.
There’s a tone people have in their voice, when they’ve met my mother. I’ve heard it my entire life. It’s slightly disbelieving, it’s gentler than they’d use with anyone else, it’s sort of wary as if they expect to be told they were the butt of a gloriously juvenile joke.
It had been so long since I heard that voice, that I stared blankly up at the watch tower.
It was raining now and my eyes filled.
I walked to the car. We went and had tacos. I changed into the clothes my sister packed for me. She’s been packing clothes for me my entire life. I didn’t inspect them first or think about it, rote memory clicked in and I gathered the pieces that I knew she would have considered. I changed in the taco shop bathroom, thinking that every waiter in there must know I just got out. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw more of myself than I had seen in years.
I spoke to my family.
I began the journey of reactivating my accounts, but almost all the Rarasaur accounts were locked up. Dave had changed passwords and without his notes, there’s no way I’d be able to figure it out.
I stopped by my father-in-law’s house and gathered up some of my things. Some of Dave’s things. Some of our things.
When I arrived to the home where I’d be staying, I took a bath. The bathroom here is about the size of my cell, just slightly smaller. I didn’t need to take a shower or bath because I just washed, hours before, but the privacy and hot water was too appealing. The shower here is fancy. You can control temperature, flow, direction. I sprayed it on, and stood under it.
And dirt filled the tub.
It washed out of my hair, peeled off my skin.
The cleanest I had ever been inside, left dirt rings on the tub.
I sat in the tub, wasting time, wasting water, getting the outside of myself clean in a way that the inside of myself might never be again.
I thought of the girls and the jokes we told. How we’d wear flip flops in the shower forever. How we’d clean the dinner table with pads. How we’d use the flashlight system to call the kids in from the playground. You joke about trauma because laughter makes it lighter. Laughter distances you from the roots you’ll always remember. It lets you stretch.
It gives your wings a little bravery.
Roots, and wings.
They’re both so important, though they often pull you in different directions. Neither one is necessarily better, or always smarter. They’re just two things that we wish on everyone we love.
In this way, paper is like us. It can be heavy from the memory of roots. It can be light for the hope of wings. Each sheet is no different than another sheet, except for the words we write on it.
I step out of the tub and wrap my hair in a towel, full of colors I hadn’t seen in a long while. I remember standing in front of my dad, my hair wrapped in a towel, trying to make a paper airplane fly. I was six.
Six and one quarter, actually.
The folded plane just kept falling, and skidded across our tiles. I reviewed my instructions over and over again, as dad watched.
“I folded it right,” I told him, as if he had made any claim to the contrary.
He inspected the airplane, pointing at my scribbles that had become unintelligible in the folds. “What does it say on the paper?” he asked.
“It’s my name.” I told him.
“Your full name?” he questioned, surprised. “Well, that’s the problem. That’s a big name. Thousands of years old. Imagine how heavy it is. It might just be weighing it down.”
I peered at him, wincing my face up in skepticism, but his face was blank, so I started over. I used a clean sheet of paper, folded it, and let it go.
It glided across the room.
“Can I have this one?” my dad asked, pointing to the airplane on the floor.
“It’s broken.” I reminded him, looking down at it with a critical eye.
“No,” he said, setting it on his desk. “It’s not broken, it just doesn’t fly yet. I like the weight of it.”
I shrugged. My towel falling off my hair constantly as I ran around the room letting the airplane go and glide, time and time again.
I looked in the mirror again, seeing even more of myself than I did in the taco shop. I wondered where that airplane ended up. I wondered if I could leave the bathroom without panicking now. I wondered how many more times I’d feel clean when I really wasn’t. I wondered why I felt so heavy when I had no roots left at all.
The girl in the mirror had a long name, thousands of years old.
She crossed it off and wrote “Ra”, but her skin remembers the roots.
I look at her with a critical eye. Even today, a year later, a year to the date that she came back.
She is broken, no matter what dad says, because she cannot do what she was built to do.
But I like the weight of her roots, I like the stretch of her wings.
I like her,
even though she doesn’t fly.