Can I Please Choose What I Inherit?

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.



Relationship for the Relationless: Assistance Required

After two and a half years, you would think I’d be used to this relationship. That I would be used to his way of talking, behaving, eating, thinking. Nope. Every day he surprises me. . . or aggravates me. Somehow I’m still not used to putting up with someone else.

For the better part of the first twenty two years of my life, I’ve been alone. Sometimes lonely. When you’re a multiracial, over-weight girl living in a suburb of predominantly white, close minded, size two figurines, blending into the background comes natural, and at times necessary. You see, most of the residents from my old town only saw a brown skinned girl when her mug shot was plastered on the evening news, or when she guessed starred as an obnoxious bus driver or teacher on their favorite sitcom. So to see me, a soft spoken, intelligent black girl, baffled many and pleased few.

The ones who didn’t know how to “deal with me” chose to ignore me or insult me, and like falling apples, their kids followed suit. I remember one day while minding my business on the playground a group of attitudes found their way on my side of the hop scotch. The girls’ glitter painted hair and pastel clothes distracted me from their villainous eyes, so I was clueless as to why they came to see me.

Are they trying to talk to me?, I thought, Do they actually want to get to know me? The thought of finally turning strangers into friends was exciting. I was eager to learn about them, and in return, school them on the art of me. The ring leader steps forward and says,

“My dad said they have roaches in the ghetto. I bet you saw a lot of roaches at your school right?” Her posse giggled triumphantly, desperately waiting for tears to fall down my cheeks, which was their way of knowing the deed was done.

My blood was boiling. I clenched the stick of chalk so hard I felt it’s thin powder shavings mingle with my sweat and seep into the pores of my palm. If her and her thick headed father wanted to see the “ghetto” so bad, I would gladly show it to them. I wanted to shove that chalk so far down her throat, so far that I could write my name on her colon and she’d never forget what the “ghetto” bred.

However, I thought for moment. What would that solve? Besides, I’d be giving the hell brats what they wanted. They wanted me to “act hood” and flip out, or cuss at them. I was truly fed up with this degrading treatment, but I would not let them see. I swallowed the pain, put on the mask I taught myself to wear well, turned to those half wits, smiled as grandly as possibly and replied,

“No. I actually didn’t see my first roach until I starting going here. Do you guys ever clean up after yourselves?” (Side note: this was actually true. That school was disgusting as hell. As high and mighty as those white people behaved they should have had the environmental maintenance taken care of. Remember, don’t throw stones when your house is filled with pests and rodents.)

My heart leapt with joy as their gleeful faces turned sour and their wishes burned to ash. I couldn’t believe it. I’m never usually quick with the come backs, let alone good ones, but this felt so good. It was perfect. Like a snarkier version of myself inhabited my body for the benefit of revenge. Unfortunately the elusive effects of my mask were beginning to fade. A depressed child can only pretend to be happy for so long.  My true emotions were bubbling at the surface, and before they unloaded on the grounds below I raced for a classroom. The teachers were the few that enjoyed my company, since like the nerd I was, I paid attention in class and raised my hand when prompted. It may not seem like it, but teachers actually want  students to participate in class discussions instead of sitting  like mindless drones. They quite enjoy it. Who knew?

Teachers gave me words of advice and encouragement to boost my confidence when it fell so hard to the ground, it cracked the foundation. A day when I felt particularly shitty and secluded, my fifth grade homeroom teacher pulled me to the side and said,

“If you choose to ignore all the petty, childish insults thrown your way, twenty years from now you won’t even remember half of these kids, let alone how they made you feel. If you hold on to the negative, it will hold you back and eat at you. Your choice.”

This definitely empowered me, but shocked me even more. Even though the teachers cared for me, my experience with compassionate people was limited, especially with strangers from this strange land.

Although I took her advise and lived more for myself, I also became more closed off. I built walls thick enough to contain a country and limited the amount of information I told people. Having personal thoughts and feelings used against you is never fun. Believe me. Any friendships I developed were created out of sheer luck or true kindness when the individual approached me first. Case in point, my friend Kristine.

During freshmen year Kristine was new to the school. After the teacher conducted his embarrassing introduction, he left the seat choice to her. Based off her look: white girl, long brown hair, semi-preppy clothes, I was certain she’d chose a seat with the rabid pack of ferocious cheerleader terrors huddled around their male prey in the middle of the room.

Oh well. One less person I have to get to know, I thought.  In my experience most people feared being genuinely nice to me, terrified their clique of friends wouldn’t approve. They’d berate me in public, but humor me in private. Once I found out I added another layer to my wall in their name. Because of this, the only time I knew a friendship was real was if they approached me first and talked to me in public without insult or sneak digs. When this happened I perked up like a book worm in the middle of a half price bookstore because I knew I finally had a real person in my life.

Anyhow, Kristine completely bypassed the lipstick zombies and made her way to my dim side of the room. The terrors mugged and cursed her name, but she could care less. I’m glad I didn’t let my preconceived notions about her cloud me because her personality did not match her look. She turned out to be funny, brazen as hell, bold, and smarter than the terrors. Since then she has been honest and loyal, which is hard to come by.

With this new addition to the roster I slowly tore away at the wall, but there were still days that I spent by myself. No longer because I was lonely, but because I finally realized the beauty of having alone time.

Single is under-rated, and it’s only lonely if you let those feelings creep in and take root. I didn’t have to worry about someone criticizing me or controlling me. I was never on someone else’s clock, never hassled. I never had to consider anyone’s feelings but my own. I would treat myself to movie dates, with an over priced margarita and large popcorn from the concession stand. I would rent movies, buy all the food I shouldn’t and binge watch five Tarantino films in one night. I immediately regretted the outrageous amount of calories ingested the night before, but I didn’t have anyone to look fit for so I burned fat when I felt like it. I went to clubs and danced with friends from work, with friends from school, with random creepy Russian guys, with random gay guys, hell, by myself. When the music was on you couldn’t tell me nothing.

Even though I adapted to single life, I wasn’t dead. I wanted some companionship. I wanted someone to dance with, binge watch Walking Dead and Tarantino films with, someone to dine out with, someone to travel with, cuddle with, kiss with, have sex with. No reason grimace or hide it. We all want that in a relationship.

I would not rush it though. I wanted it to be right. I wanted it to last. I knew the only way I’d find the right man for me, is if he approached me first. As I showed you before, real people only come into my life when they present themselves to me and show me their true colors, and from there I can make my decision to keep or toss. It may not seem like the best system, but it’s protected me this far when prior methods crashed and burned in my face.

So like most fun loving, single girls, I waited, and waited a little longer. Finally he showed, and in the most unconventional way possible. I’ll release the details at a later date because that’s not the point at the moment. The point is he showed and I couldn’t be happier, and he is by no means who I thought he’d turn out to be.

He doesn’t dance, unless he’s trying to make me laugh. He cooks the most delicious food. His mashed potatoes and fried chicken . . . Oh!

He’s not the tidiest person, but he’ll clean if I drop subtle hints. He’s hilarious and his laugh makes me laugh even harder. We have so much fun together whether we’re doing something or nothing. My walls started breaking down even more until they were mostly a pile of rubble. He’s also smart even when he doesn’t know it. He’s so handsome that sometimes I’m shocked he chose me. He’s self conscious about his appearance so much that he’s kind of a label whore. Only Levi’s and Nike’s can grace his body, and he scoffs at lesser fabrics. He’s very family oriented and is one of the most caring men I’ve come across.

Two winters ago when I had my beat up ’98 Accord, through a series of unfortunate events, I locked my keys in the car while pumping gas. Mind you it was 10 degrees outside with a wind chill of two degrees, so needless to say, my ass was cold. I just left my grandma’s nursing home down the street and thankfully my mom was still there. I called her to come get me since she was only a five or so minute drive away. In her worried, frantic mother tone,

“Oh my gosh, ok. I have to give something to the nurse. I’m leaving in a minute.”

So I wait. Then, I wait a little more. When it’s cold outside, you begin to literally count the seconds until salvation arrives. I continue to wait a little more, then my imagination takes hold.

I thought, well it probably takes her one and a half minutes to leave the nursing station and walk to her Jag outside. Then it takes approximately 1.2 minutes to get settled, start the car, put the heat on, and strap on her seat belt. Probably another 2.4 minutes to warm the car a little so the oil can do it’s thing on the engine. Another 1.8 minutes to leave her parking space, drive to the edge of the lot leading to the street where the gas station is located. Forty seven seconds to look both ways and wait for traffic to clear before making a safe right turn onto said road. Then finally, 3.9 minutes to travel down said road, make a right turn into the parking lot, and a slight left to the designated pump where I wait with frozen breasts underneath folded arms in a poorly sewn gray hoodie. No worries.

The thought of just walking there had crossed my mind, but I figured, why should I? Mom will be on her way faster than it would take me to walk. Plus my purse was on the front seat and I did not trust that to wandering eyes of strangers. So, I waited.

After waiting 15 minutes I was cold, pissed, and I had to use the bathroom. I thought damn, I would have been there by now. The phone rings. I answer gently with numb icicle fingers.

“Alright, I’m on my way”, she said. She hung up. I would have done the same if blood flowed through my digits and allowed movement, but I had to let technology take hold and hope the android was smart enough to disconnect without a babysitter.

After 20 more seconds of blistering cold hitting my cheeks, I decided to call my boyfriend. I didn’t think to call him first since he was 35 minutes away at home. Plus it would have taken him 10 extra minutes to warm the car since he hadn’t drove all day. By my calculation my mom seemed like the more viable option, but in hind sight . . . no.

After two rings he picks up the phone and I unload,

“My mom was supposed to be here 11.2 minutes ago. My boobs are cold, my ass is cold, my face is coldest. I’m hungry. I gotta pee. Can you please bring me my spare key? I know it’ll take you time. I don’t care. She takin’ forever and she’s just down the street. Please help me boo.”

“Alright. I got you.” He disconnects. Now I must wait.

Ten point three more minutes later I finally see a familiar face. It’s my boo. I was ecstatic. My heart started beating again. Blood returned to my limbs. Hope returned to my life.

“How in the hell did you get here so fast?” I cried with joy.

“Shit, I was speeding. It’s cold as f*** out here”, he chuckled. “I’m not gonna leave you standing out here while I warm the car up. What kind of s*** is that?”

“Oh, you didn’t warm it up?”

“Hell nah.”

We both laughed. He gave me the key to my salvation. I started the car and happily headed for home behind him. Halfway home my phone rings.


“Ok, I’m leaving now.”

I smacked my lips with distain. It was my mom of course, but I had to mess with her for taking to long. I replied,

“Who is this?”

“Your mom, what the– ? You said you needed me to come, right?”

“Girl that was two hours ago. Dre been came and got me. You good. Might as well stay with granny now.”

This is just a minor example of his affection, but I knew if he would risk a traffic ticket just to rescue me from Mr. Frost, then I finally found a keeper.

Things were excellent for a while. I never had a real relationship before, so I wondered what people complained about because ours seemed awesome.

We both love going out to the movies if a new suspense, action or comedy came out that looked interesting. We both love Mexican food and drinking, so El Toro became our spot. I got him hooked on Tarantino and the sadistic world of The Walking Dead, and he introduced me to Spaceballs and Little Shop of Horrors. We’re eager to travel the world and make money so we can support ourselves and our families. Our personalities slightly differ, but all our goals were in line and our love seemed strong and capable of conquering most obstacles.

Now. Now I don’t know. We teeter back and forth. I feel like we argue about little things too much sometimes. We could spend days mad about who said what, when and how. Barely looking at each other. Barely saying more than two words to one another. Sometimes even after we talk it out, it makes things worse because more issues surface. I struggle to pull out what he’s thinking and feeling, and it makes me feel like he doesn’t trust me. Like he’s afraid I’ll judge his emotions, which I would never do. At times it feels like his walls are thicker than mine were, and just when I feel like I cracked the surface, he adds another layer.

Once we finally cool off and move past the bull, we’re great. We’re loving on each other like nothing happened. At times I’m confused. I don’t know how to deal with my own emotions half the time, let alone someone else’s. I guess the question I’m trying to ask is, are most relationships like this? Are they normally up for a while, then down, then back up again? Or is this just us? I used to worry so much about keeping him. I love him so much, but now I’m to the point where if I keep him, then I keep him. If it ends, then it ends.

Is that bad? My granny always told me I’d fine with or without a man, and I know this to be true, but for some reason I feel guilty feeling this way.