The Middle Picture

I’m visiting my friend, Newhaunda Darnes.  I look at the pictures to the left and to the right, but the middle picture is the one that takes my breath away.

Newey. That’s what I called the girl in the middle picture. Newey, Newey, Newey…

I still remember the last letter I received from her after she was taken to Jonestown. Yeah, taken, because she didn’t want to go. Her mom never intended to go.

I also remember the last face-to-face conversation we had. I had just found out that I was pregnant, and I needed to talk to my friend. I walked over to the commune they were living in on Divisadero Street in San Francisco. I laughed when she came downstairs because I couldn’t believe she was living in a commune. When I asked why, she motioned me outside. Things had changed, Newey said, and her mom Velma had made up her mind to sneak away. She swore me to secrecy, and when I asked why, she looked worried, excited, and hopeful. I can still hear her hushed voice as she told me about Velma’s plan to get her family out of Peoples Temple, about how she had secretly stored and packed things away for a surreptitious getaway. The plan was to tell the Temple they were taking a short trip to say goodbye to family before departing for Guyana. They were going to hide with relatives instead. All of the details and planning came as whispers. “We’re gonna be free, we’re getting out of here!” Newey said. “Don’t go to Jonestown!”

Funny, I used the same plan when I made my getaway.

The middle picture. It takes me back in time. I remember how we used to laugh about how shocked people were when they met Newey. The description on her ID said she had hazel eyes and auburn hair, so folks expected her to be white. I still see those hazel eyes in the middle picture, and her auburn hair looks reddish. Must have been the sun, because she looks darker.

The girl in the middle picture is smiling. I’ve seen that smile before. We were alike that way. Smiling. Some of the darkest times in our lives are flooded with smiles.

The middle picture. Hope lost. Dreams gone. It’s the girl in the middle picture who wrote me from Jonestown and warned me not to come. The girl in the middle picture wrote, “We didn’t get to take that trip, but maybe you can still take yours before it’s too late.”

The middle picture. I miss her still. I miss how we used to write notes to each other in class. I miss us goofing off in gym class. I’m laughing thinking about how Joyce Douglas, the girl in the middle picture, and I used to make people nervous in our archery class.

We took Carolyn Layton’s French class together. She talked me into taking it because she said Carolyn was a member of Peoples Temple, which made me think it was going to be an easy A. Not! We had to jump higher because we were members of Peoples Temple.

We used to have fun though, a lot of fun. Too much fun to capture in words written beneath the middle picture.

Damn, I really miss that girl in the middle picture.

(Glenda Randolph Bates was the sister of Darlene Ramey, who died in Jonestown. Her articles for this site appear here. She died on March 29, 2022 from pancreatic cancer.)