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I. Hair Loss

I consider myself black; my mother is not.

Her hair is black, glossy, and fine. She would have grey (or silver as she liked to call it), but she dyes it regularly—herself, not in a salon.

Black, fine, sparse hair crowned my head when I was born.

My Asian-inspired locks grew until I was six months.

Then, my hair fell out, and my hair began to grow like my father’s in afro puffs.

My mother had no idea how to do black (or ethnic as salons liked to call it) hair.

My father’s family thought my mother was uppity and didn’t offer to show her the ropes.

I spent a lot of my youth in crooked plaits dreading the moments my mother would rake her wide tooth comb across my tender scalp while humming “Good Morning, Starshine.”

I hate my hair almost as much as I hate my mother.

II. Tales of a Teenage Low Life

I sneak out a lot. Sometimes, I leave to meet the guy who only sees me in secret. But most of the time, I stretch out on the grass behind the clubhouse next door and look at the moon. I feel small.

******

“Please touch my face when you kiss me,” I silently pray. I dream that he gently strokes my cheek and traces my lips. Now, he mainly pulls my hair at the nape of my neck or touches my breasts. I don’t think kindness or intimacy cross his mind in our embraces.

I kiss him with eyes half closed waiting for him to see me.

*******

My mother found my secret journal. I forgot to hide it yesterday.

She threw it at me and said, “I don’t know what this is but destroy it before your father sees it.”

I begin to cry and cradle the black speckled notebook in my arms. These were commentaries about my life and feelings I had hoped to share with my future daughter.

Now, it’s something about which to be ashamed?

III. The Opposite of Empty

I am an undergrad at a premiere public university. I am an honor student.

I am not ready to be a mother.

The woman at the pregnancy center on Main Street wants to pray with me.  “Fuck!” I scream inwardly. I want to weep. Instead, I dig my nails into the palm of my hand and slowly nod, yes. She closes her blue eyes, and she prays for the life of my unwanted child. I just dig and dig.  No blood comes.

I walk out of the center onto the littered street. I look for a sign. I find a crushed Coca Cola can and a losing scratch-off ticket in the red, Virginia dirt.

I had learned in my family house without questions or feelings to gain advice from inanimate objects—rickety rocking chairs, crooked knitting needles, broken glasses. In the silence of generational wisdom, I read trash.

Today, the soda can and the ticket say nothing. Their quiet stoicism unnerves me, and I flee.

I come back to myself on the Free Trolley heading toward grounds.  I have no place to go. I feel the dead wood on my back and flinch. I look around and see others with no place to go at the back of the bus. I look sidewise as not to make eye contact.  I am afraid everything will sweep out of me in a huge tidal wave of snot nosed confession, if someone, anyone, looks me in the eye.

I realize I am holding my breath as I also realize I want to go to the Chapel.

I take a deep breath and watch through the Trolley’s smudged windows the groups of other first years laughing and walking towards O’Hill. I feel like I could just float away but my womb filled with baby weight anchors me down again.

I am an undergrad at a premiere public university. I am an honor student.

I have read Toni Morrison. I know what others have done, when they were not ready to be mothers.

“I will not have any of that nonsense,” I mutter to myself as I leave the trolley behind and walk across the grass to the Chapel. I notice a lot of yellow wild flowers. They brush-tickle my naked ankles over my sandals.  Part of me is trained to always smile in public. I grin to no one in particular and press my hand to the Chapel’s handle. So cool and thin and collected.

There is a woman wearing a doily on her bent head in the front of the Chapel. I feel so unprepared with my bare head, and I fear the exposure. I back out of the Chapel and go to my dorm to call my Daddy.

He is cold and doesn’t ask any unnecessary questions. He says he will pay for it during fall break.

I thank him. It occurs to me to tell him I love him after I hear the gentle and insistent dial tone.

Here, I am. All is resolved, except I find myself avoiding my eyes when I brush my teeth in the morning. I stare in my mouth watching the brush go in and out.  I style my hair from memory. I avoid me.

I know I don’t have the courage to call him and tell him I have changed my mind.

I know I don’t have the courage to change my mind.

It’s not really about courage. It’s about trust. I no longer trust myself.

The overblown cockiness and self-assuredness is gone. In its place I find the Pennsylvania doctor’s hushed voice calmly telling me what to do. I hear the whirring vacuum sucking away my responsibilities and my motherhood.

And, somewhere amidst the deep breathing and staring at the grey flecked ceiling, I turn and see what I later learn to be compassion in the nurse’s brown eyes.

And, somehow, perhaps through a miracle or just the passage of time, that one look nestles in my heart, and I am able to first glare at, then stare at, then see me.

I am an undergrad at a premiere public university. I am an honor student.

IV. Judith’s Last Song

“My Ma’s dead.”

He waits to hear more.

“She’s a vet. And, they gave me her–”

And, all of a sudden I am there. I am sitting in the folding chair borrowed from the V.A. in my borrowed, ill-fitting black dress smelling of and looking like a trash bag. Every time someone squeezed me in a hug a waft of Hefty would make me want to itch and throw up.

My Dad does not hug me. He touches my right shoulder for a moment, when he realizes I am on the brink of losing myself in my pain. His heaviness saves me. I do not cry.

The chaplain kneels and tells me the flag is on behalf of a grateful nation and holds up the red and white triangle for me to take.

I just want to punch the flag out of his hand, stomp his face, and run away.

Just run till I get to a place where my Ma is alive frying Spam and eggs with too much soy sauce.

Just run till the pain moves from my heart to my lungs.

Instead, I just sit there, and he places her on my lap.

V. Her Divine Madness

I scratch my practically bald head. They don’t let you have the dignity of a wig here.

I don’t remember what I did yesterday, but it must have been awful for them to lock me up.

I remember not sleeping for days.

I remember thinking someone close to me is going to be killed, if I don’t say the password.

So, I say every word I know while moving the hands back on all my clocks to give me more time.

Time seemed so important yesterday. Today, it seems it is all I have as I sit in a padded room waiting for I don’t know what.

Yelling is useless. No one comes. Begging is futile. No one cares.

I begin whispering to myself, “Please help me. Please. I’ll do anything for this to be a nightmare.  Please wake up! Please.”

Suddenly, I feel a presence behind me. I feel its empathy and compassion for me. I feel like I am being heard. I see nothing. I only feel the calm kindness.

Comforted, I fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.

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