No matter how hard we try, are we genetically designed to follow in our parents footsteps? Our grandparents footsteps? Our great times eight grandparents footsteps, even if we never met them? Or are the habits we develop a product of our environment? Is it possible to pick and choose from a catalog of characteristics and personalities so that I can stand out from the woman I grew up around?
I don’t dislike my mom entirely, only 99.88917 percent of her ways. As a child, I adored her. My mother was the most beautiful woman in the world to me and I wanted to look just like her. Light beige skin with soft, speckled, brown freckles. She always had her hair done in this curly, short bob that landed just above the nape of her neck. Never allowing a gray hair to survive longer than a week. She did this thing with her rose red lipstick where she’d only apply one thin layer of color on her bottom lip, then swoop quickly across the top one with one flip of the rod. I never fully understood why she did this. Why even take the time to apply it? No one can see it. Her paper thin lips still looked the same shade of pink they were when she got out the shower. I guess in her mind, a subtle hue enhancement that only a magnifying glass could capture was all she needed.
Then, my mom rubbed the tip of her middle finger on the edge of the lipstick rod and gently smoothed the color into her cheeks. She had multiple blush shades in her paisley make-up bag, with a hundred brushes for application, but I guess the lipstick suited her cheeks better. When it came time for eyeliner, no one could talk, move, or breathe throughout the entire house. Even though her hands weren’t the steadiest for this activity, we were still blamed for any near missed eye gouging.
My mother had a million articles of clothing crammed and shoved into her closet, so naturally it took her three hours to dress for a thirty minute event. Many of the clothes were never touched and remained plastic wrapped or strapped with tags. She’d say,
“Oh I’m not getting rid of that. Look how cute it is.” She’d hold the garment up to her body and model a few poses. Her attempt at making it easier for me to image her strutting her stuff down the streets of Dayton. If she actually had the nerve to walk down the streets of Dayton, let alone strut. My mom would then follow with,
“This is what the young people your age are wearing.”, which was my favorite response of hers. As if I didn’t know what everyone in my school wears.
My mom never left the house without a hair astray or a button unloose, and she made sure our appearance was tip-top and in sync with her. She told us to be quiet and to only speak when spoken to. We represented her; her look, her personality, her parenting style. When around outsiders, everything had to be perfect. My mom needed to portray this image of ‘perfect single black mother of the suburbs’ and if we messed that up for her . . .
As a child you don’t think you’re doing anything bad as long as you follow the instructions, and as a child I took instructions literally, broke them down word by word, and anything outside of those rules were free game. You tell me to be quiet when it’s time to be quiet, fine. No peep out of me. You tell me to say “please” and “thank you” when prompted, I’m your girl. However, nothing in the instructions excludes me from touching things. Things are so much fun to touch, so I’m going to touch. You never said anything about tapping my fingers and toes. I’m tippity-tapping ’til my heart’s content.
In my mind I wasn’t breaking the rules. I did exactly what she told me to. In my mom’s mind, however, I disobeyed the hidden exclusions. The unheard of, miraculously new, hidden exclusions that I should have been privy to because I was a mind reader at 6 years old. Apparently she knew about this random talent of mine, and failed to inform me.
Nothing was ever said in public, cause again, appearance was everything for my mother. Mrs. Hyde never showed her colors in public. Her children were the only ones blessed enough to grace the presence of her horrifying second personality. In public Mrs. Hyde showed herself through my mother’s eyes only. I’d turn to her and everything in my body went cold. No joy, no kindness, only fury and anger seeped from her pupils. Her eyes didn’t even appear brown anymore. The creature lurking within changed shape with each new occasion. How bad is it going to be this time?, I thought. I knew I was going to pay for something, but what, I had no idea.
I’d say, “What’d I do?”, ultimately regretting that I even asked. Without a word she continued staring, and staring. Staring so hard at me my bones were too afraid to keep my body standing. I’d cower and shrink, and turn my attention to my feet, then she’d return to herself for the remainder of the event until we were alone. Any time after I received that look I dreaded the walk to the car. She’d grab my hand with a strong clench, sinking her nails into my flesh. If I flinched, she grabbed harder. If I cried, she grabbed harder. What the hell did I do to deserve this? I wasn’t causing any problems. All the outsiders adored me. They complimented my clothes, my hair, my way of behaving, yet somehow my mother found offense in something I did.
Once in the car she strapped me in with force, nearly pinching the skin under my pants with the buckle. I was afraid to cry out, fearing she might do something else to make it worse. My mom remained quiet with pursed lips, furious eyes, and blood red cheeks. That smidge of lipstick smudge had nothing on her naturally, contemptuous cheeks when they flushed with fire. I waited with trepidation for her next reaction as she climbed with ease into the driver seat, strapping herself in with one gentle motion. Her facial expression remained unchanged. My mom started the car, adjusted her mirrors, reversed out of the parking spot and started down the road.
Through the first couple traffic lights I thought, Is this a trick? Is she waiting until she gets me home? Through some cosmic magic, am I free? Or is she going through the change my granny mentioned at dinner last week? Maybe this is that hot-flash thing. But wait, her hands were ice cold. Maybe she’s just–
Before I could finish my thought, hell’s gates opened. To this day, when I think back to past screaming matches I had with my mother from ages 6 to 16, I can’t remember what she was saying or where her anger originated from. I will always remember the sound her mouth made. I can’t even use the word ‘voice’ because this was not her everyday voice. The screeching of her tone, the shrill pitches and overbearing volume that cascaded me like a straight jacket, pulling so tight until I couldn’t even move eyes it was so tight. I was confused. Did I really do something bad enough to deserve to be screamed at like a prosecutor would a murder suspect? Whether I tapped my feet one too many times, did the dishes one hour later than she wanted me to, or stood up for myself whenever she was wrong, I always got the same treatment. Blood curdling screaming to trump my voice, until I gave up and went to my room.
To this day I hate arguing about minute things because my mother loved it so much. In her eyes this was good parenting. In my eyes this was a way to play the victim, and add extra stress and issues where they weren’t needed. I was always to blame for something. She never specified what, but stood strong on the justification for her misguided anger.
All my life, as I got older and older, closer and closer to thinking about finding a boyfriend, allowing him to be my husband, and creating children of our own, fears of the kind of mother I’d be crept into my mind. Will I be fair? Do I even know how to be fair? I’ve never seen it up close. Will I be loving? Will I be caring? Will my children want to come and talk to me? I pray they want to come and talk to me. Second to God, I pray I’m the person they always run to. I don’t want them to fear me, or hate me, or curse my name when I’m not around, or feel helpless in this world because they can’t talk to their own mom.
The worst feeling in the world for a child is not being able to confide in their parents. It’s a caution I still have to this day, because I don’t trust her with my emotions. I don’t trust her with my secrets or my fears.
I don’t mind being beautiful like my mother, just as long as I remain beautiful on the inside as well.