Winner of Voyage’s 2021 Book-Pitch First Chapters Contest
Chapter Thirty: Free?
Journal Entry 9:
Prompt: What have you learned about yourself from being in anger management?
Monday, May 9th, 6 AM
My mama once said, these streets don’t hold our memories, we do. Just because something is gone doesn’t mean it ever left. Pieces of all of us exist in this world inside of any person that ever loved us. No, that wasn’t something I learned from anger management, but it’s something that I needed to say.
I guess something I learned about myself through this process is that I actually was angry. I just didn’t think I was, by definition. In the dictionary, anger is defined as: feeling or showing strong annoyance, displeasure, or hostility; full of anger. But what about the days where I’m neither of those things? What about the days when I don’t feel anger at all? The days when it’s something else? I didn’t know what to call that something else until I came across another word: Grief. which means: deep sorrow especially caused by someone’s death. So, then I looked up sorrow and it is defined as: a feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others.
I spent a lot of my life being told I was angry. But after looking at these definitions, I can’t help but think that maybe anger is only the symptom of something way bigger than will fit into just one word.
Mama is all dressed up. I barely ever saw her outside of her work uniform, and here she is with makeup on and a blazer, and her hair pulled back into a bun.
“Mama, it’s just court.”
“So what? I’m celebrating today, and you know I get nervous when I go inside courthouses,” she says, pulling a braid back into her bun that has fallen out of it. I guess I look good too, in a black pencil skirt that stops just before my ankles and a white button-up shirt. Any time I go to court it seems like I’m the only person dressed up, like if I look nice, they won’t be so harsh on me. I guess everybody else learned way before I did, that it doesn’t always matter how you dress, if they gon’ judge you, that’s been decided before you ever walked in the room.
I go into the bathroom to take one more look at myself, make sure my eyebrows are on point. My face is in its natural frown again and at first, I start to fix it. Morph it into whatever look I think is acceptable enough for everybody else, less aggressive looking, less threatening, I guess. But today I’m saying fuck that. I’m me.
As we get closer to the courthouse, I’m nervous. Mama is holding my hand to calm me down. I’m clutching a piece of paper I ripped out of my journal. My P.O. said if I wanted to, I could write something about my experience on probation. I fold the paper up into my hand like a one-way ticket to a future I don’t think I’m ready for.
“I want you to know something,” Mama says. “I know I said before that I wanted better for you. Well, I do. But I want you to know that you’re already better than me, and I don’t care what society, or the world has to say about you, about kids like you. Your heart is pure gold, baby. That’s what makes you better than all of us.” She wipes her tears. “So, you hold your head high and remember that this experience never defined you.”
We walk into the small courtroom and sit down waiting for the judge to call my name. She calls me up and asks if my parents are present. Mama raises one hand. Her chest rises, and I don’t see it lower. I remember her saying that when Pops was alive she often felt like she could barely breathe, always afraid that somebody might take his life. Now I see her looking at me the exact same way—as if she can barely breathe.
“Hi, June, it’s good to see you again.” The judge is a white woman with long red hair. She’s smiling.
“Hi,” I say low. I clear my throat and move closer to the mic. “Hi,” I say louder.
“We are here today to release June Nova as ward of the court. All probation requirements have been satisfied and the probation officer agrees with this motion.” I look over at my P.O. and she winks at me.
“Do the people agree with this motion?”
“Yes, we do, Your Honor,” a skinny man says while looking down into a couple thick files piled onto his desk.
“It is so ordered. Congratulations, June Nova, your probation has ended.” The judge smiles.
“Thank you,” I say. It’s like I can feel invisible chains leaving my body. I turn to leave and forget all about the paper in my hand, now damp from my sweat.
“June,” the judge calls, “Did you have that paper in your hand for a reason?” I look over at Mama, she nods for me to walk back up there.
I step back up to the podium. “Yes, I wanted to say something if that’s okay.”
“It is,” the judge says.
I clear my throat and unfold the paper.
“When I was seven years old my father was killed while I waited in the car for him to come back. But this speech is not just about his murder or about the fact that he died. It’s about how the things that happen in our lives can impact us, and I know I should be happy right now. I should celebrate the fact that I’m off probation. But I can’t help but think about the people that grow up where I grew up that barely even have a childhood. In other communities where they have money and influence and resources, one might say that a person is still considered a child until they’re eighteen maybe even twenty-one, shoot maybe even thirty. But I keep thinking about the reality that in my hood, childhood can be cut down as early as two. Bradly Cameron, he saw his mother be shot in the back by a cop on a search warrant when he was two years old.
The only parent he had, and they had the wrong house. Bradly went to foster home after foster home. By the time he was four years old he knew what a gun was, he had already been in dozens of fights, and learned how to use his height and age to steal out of liquor stores. Bradly was fourteen years old when he was killed. Lakiah Raymond was eight years old when both her parents went to prison for selling weed. They’re still in prison till this day and Lakiah? She’s missing and has been since last year. Her parents are going crazy in prison cells right now because they couldn’t protect her. So, you know, when I think about probation…
Yeah, my P.O. is nice, yeah the anger management was cool, but why does it always seem like we only ever get “treated” after the tragedy happens? Or after jail, after the expulsion? I just know we ain’t the only ones in the world that go through things, everybody on this planet has a struggle, but why does it constantly seem, no matter where you are in the world, that if you look like me, or come from the place I come from, your struggle might cost you your freedom or even your life? Meanwhile, the whole time we struggling, where y’all be at? Waiting for us here?”
My lips quiver and so does my body. “Thank you,” I manage to say.
The judge straightens her back. “Thank you, June.”
I nod and leave the paper on the podium. Mama’s chest lowers as she wipes the tears streaming down her face.
I was free on paper, but now I’m feeling free in all the other places too.