Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rediscovering my Hair Style

My daughter is a beautiful young woman with thick, dark brown hair; wine colored, almond shaped eyes; creamy, full cheeks and hundreds of other attributes, talents and gifts. When the hair on her head is long, thin and shiny she believes me when I tell her she is beautiful.  When her hair is her natural length, either natural or relaxed, she does not.

It isn’t that she only feels beautiful when her hair is beautiful; she worries that she is only beautiful when her hair is longer.

I wish I could convince her otherwise.

My words are not those that will convince her, probably because I have and sometimes still do feel the same way about myself. When my hair is braided it frames my face and falls to my shoulders, the faint swish of braids makes me move differently and sometimes even feel differently. Braids, more precisely the hair, makes me feel more beautiful—for awhile.

As a child I had short thick hair. I can remember trudging behind my sister through the streets of Atlantic City as we went to my grandmother’s friend: a hair dresser.  Before, when I was more na├»ve, I used to enjoy the walk. Entering her house was similar to a trip to the museum. Thick plastic covered already hard furniture; multi-colored baubles adorned every surface; what wasn’t slick with plastic was covered in color. Color followed her. Thick lipstick stained the hairdresser’s teeth. She didn’t seem to notice.  That was fine, I guess. Something about her wigs should have told my grandmother she didn’t really do hair—my grandmother didn’t seem to notice. 

When I was a kid I had an idea of what styles would make me look glamorous. Either the hairdresser didn’t agree, or she couldn’t do them. No matter what my sister and I asked for the results were the same: dreadful.

I learned not to ask. I learned not to think in terms of hair style.

It would be years before I would even realize it was gone—let alone determine to find it again.

My next hair styles were developed by people who had little interest in the end results. Their friendships already tested in other areas, these friends of my grandmother or friends of my mother didn’t feel pressured to perform hair miracles. And so they didn’t. My short hair got even shorter. They weren’t taking care of it. I wasn’t taking care of it.

My last childhood hair memory was at a hair school. The technician assigned to do my hair needed her instructor to show her just how to do my hair. The instructor laughed at the task, or at something she was thinking, or at their adult conversation. It doesn’t, as an adult, matter what they were laughing at.  At ten, they were laughing at me.

I never went back.

Over the years I mainly allowed hairstylists to style my hair. I literally put my identity in their hands. Sometimes I was impressed, other times not so much.

Three decades and three children after my first visits to the hair salon, I still don’t have my hair style. Braided, relaxed, weaved, I haven’t given much thought to the style more to the effect.

Sliding in to salon chairs became more of a task.

“What do you want done?” they would ask.

“Something cute,” I replied vaguely.

For five years or so my neighbor did my hair.

“How do you want me to style it?”

“Something that says I’m 35 and sexy.”

A few hours later I would be sexier. Sometimes, a bit too sexy.

Today my hair is braided. It’s time to take them out.

It’s also time to develop a hair style. For the past few weeks I have been considering: a wrap; a bob; something short, healthy, and confident. I am considering styles that frame my face and highlight my cheek bones.

Each day I get closer to picturing hair styles; my styles. No matter which I decide on, my sense of hair style is coming back—one strand at a time.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Inheritance (Fiction)

     I am terribly close to breaking another one of my constitutions and reading her mind.  I have shockingly few constitutions intact which is one of the reasons I am holding childishly on to this one.  It will be her fault when I do it; just like it was the first time, when I was nine years old.  We were sitting around the table one night, a typical family dinner, when I asked her an innocent question about my father.  In that swift unguarded moment, her face contorted with pain and fear.  In my confusion I read her mind and learned she was ever so slightly afraid of me.  Of course I changed the subject, silently vowing to never read the mind of another.  Over the years I’ve amended that rash decision.  It has been whittled down from never reading any one’s mind; to never reading the mind of a family member; and finally to never reading her mind again.  She is the last obstacle to my using my talents freely.

      I try to appear patient as she rambles on about her youth.  There is a point to this, I must remind myself.  My mother had called me fairly in hysterics, begging me to come home.  Foolishly I jumped in my car and sped to close the distance between us.  I had done this threes time in the less than three months since I had moved to Maryland.  It had to be the last.  I was not worried about getting a speeding ticket; I’ve never gotten one though I rarely drive any where near the speed limit.  The miles were taking a toll on my sanity.  My patience was wearing rather thin with this woman who had given birth to me.  Each time she called, she had herself convinced she would finally tell me her big, shocking news.  The news that would rock my very foundation.  She would utter the words that would knock me down a few pegs; off of the pedestal the world had apparently placed me on.  Perhaps, she silently wished, it would take some of the air out of my ego.  I had not gleaned this information from reading her mind, rather her actions.  I knew despite her love for me, she still lived in fear of me.  Of my rejection, of my acceptance.  Who knows?  I have never been that certain of her sanity.  The thought makes me smile.

     “You’re not even listening to me,” Mother pouts.

     “Have you said any thing?”  This banter could go on for hours if I let it.  I fear I may end up doing her bodily harm.  I had taken an unscheduled extended vacation from the magazine where I am an advice columnist.  My editor almost had a heart attack until I gave her my back-up advice letters.  Of course the letters seeking advice were also written by me, but she didn’t need to know that. I gave myself excellent advice and took some too.  I advised myself to take a vacation.  By now I would have thought I knew a bit about taking advice, mainly when to take it and when not to.  Yes, I should have taken a vacation but under no circumstances should I have come to my mother.

     The last time I came here ended badly.  My mother had come close to peeling off the final layers of her dramatic display when she decided she just could not do it.  I reared up to my full 5’7” towering above her.  Even if she had not been sitting, I would have towered over her, she’s only 5’1; but it was more intense with her sitting. I could almost feel her fear and this time, I liked it.  Standing before her I slowly sank to my knees in front of her and whispered, “You will take your news to your grave.”  Then I left.

     I knew better.  I could not have stopped the words from leaving my lips along with the menace that accompanied them, but I knew better than to disrespect my own mother.  By the time I got back to Maryland I called her and all was forgiven.  A part of me wanted to make her forget the incident, but I chose to let her keep it.

     I am honestly not certain of the extent of my abilities but I have confidence in them, in the end that’s what matters.  Ever since I can remember, things have always turned out as I expected; if not better.  I had an ideal childhood.  I breezed through high school and college with a 3.5 grade point average, achieved with minimal effort.  I was as popular as I wanted to be and have had as much success as I have desired.  I am 32 years old, beautiful, accomplished and single.  That in itself takes miraculous power to achieve.  I have had my share of relationships at varying levels of commitment.  To sum up my dating experiences: I have never cheated on any one, emotionally. 

     That’s another thing that scares my mother.  She is afraid that I will find Mr. Right and afraid that I won’t.  Even she is not sure which scares her the most.  I think she is worried that I will meet someone with abilities like mine and together we will create a monster.  To admit that, would be to admit that I am a monster; and what mother wants to think that of her only child?

     There is no limit to what I think I can do.  Partially that is my mother’s fault.  When I was growing up she never failed to tell me: “There’s nothing you can’t do, baby.” 

     Well, I believe it.  I know I can read minds; I can tell when people are sick by that smell they emit; I can visualize what people will look like when they are older; I can make at least small animals do what I want-though I rarely attempt this on humans; and I can move objects with my mind.  If such a place existed I would go somewhere to learn how to maximize my abilities.  It has been rather fun watching them develop on their own.  I have tried to use them for good; with only a few notable incidents where I failed on that account.

     Just as I feel my resolve slipping, the very air around my mother changes.  It’s her attitude really.  Her eyes are more focused, her demeanor is intent.  Good gracious!  I do believe she is about to tell me.

     “I must tell you, Steven is not your father.”

     “What?”  I know she has misunderstood my outburst.  My mother seems to think she has shocked me.  I am at once angry and disappointed.  This is no news to me.  I had discovered this ages ago by reading the minds of various relatives.  I’ve always known this.  I am angry that she thinks my love for him will diminish.  I have always been fiercely protective of my father—as he will always be known to me.  Her treatment of him has been the cause of more than one argument between her and I.  She is constantly degrading him for having been a mail carrier for over twenty years.  He is the only constant in her life and she is precariously close to losing it.  One thing that keeps me from sending a tiny bolt of electricity, if indeed I can even control such a thing, to her heart is that my father truly loves her.  In all of her selfish, bitter ways, he finds comfort.  It’s almost sickening.

     This is one of those times I feel I can not stand to be in the same room with this woman.  As if time with her is time away from something, anything else.  Yet there are times I can think of nothing more than the comfort and love she has given me through out the years.  If not for her I would not be this woman I am I remind myself.  If only she would get that smug look off of her face.

     “Mother, I already know this.  One of your drunken sisters told me years ago.”  Ahh, that’s done it.

     “There is more you need to know.  It’s about your real father.  No one else knows this and I would not tell you if it were not urgent.  When I was younger, some of my friends and I took a trip.  You know, we had just graduated from college, the world was at our feet, but since money wasn’t, we took one of those cruises to no where.  One of my friends started sort of seeing a crew member and convinced him to let us borrow one of the U-boats.  We wanted to explore a little island not too far from where the ship had anchored.  He agreed to come with us.  The island was beautiful, yet stifling.  The smells were intense, the air thick.  It felt as if everything was breathing.

     Don’t look at me like that, we all felt it.  Anyway, some how I got separated from the group.  I was lost and more than a little afraid.  After walking for what felt like hours, I came upon a house.  Wonderfully built, fairly modern, forgive the real estate agent in me,” she smiled, “ I was moved to go inside the house.  I felt like Goldilocks.  When the door opened to my touch, I knew I should get out of there fast.  But I didn’t. I went inside and let the door close behind me.  The foyer was dusty and dark.  I groped around the rooms, sometimes on hands and knees, trying to make heads or tails of the house.  It was larger than it looked from the outside.  Although it was clearly abandoned, it had a warmth to it, as if it had not been long abandoned.  After wandering around the house for almost an hour, I flipped on a light switch-- don’t ask me why I didn’t do that before--and to my surprise; the lights came on.

     The dust disappeared and before my eyes the form of a man appeared.  He was the most attractive man I had ever seen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Death Sells (fiction from the attic--sort of)

Dear Editor:

  As the editor-in-chief of Nemesis, the leading source of obituaries in the Washington/Baltimore area, I would like to share one of the secrets of my success: death sells.  Almost every day death is reported in newspapers worldwide in one form or another.  While most expected in the obituary section, it can be reported in the crime, local, entertainment or in almost any section from the front page to the last.  The media coverage a death receives and the placement of the notice depend on the way a person lives or dies.  Your actions in life literally affect your place in history.  In your newspaper, those whose lives or deaths touch the most people appear to get the largest coverage, while others receive minimal space in which their lives are condensed. 

On February 4th, 2005 the online version of the Baltimore Sun announced the death of activist, actor Ossie Davis in an article published by Associated Press writer Hillel Italie. On that day they also announced the death of Elizabeth T. Braden, homemaker and secretary.  Both notices reported the information people expect the obituary to include: the person’s name, age and cause of death, major accomplishments and information about the survivors.   The differences were in the presentation and amount of information in the piece and the placement of the articles.  Davis’ death was a memorial; Braden’s a death notice. Each life deserves to be celebrated, memorialized, each death treated as a loss to the community.

Ossie Davis’ obituary appeared on the main page of the Baltimore Sun website.  In an emotional, informative article, Hillel Italie memorialized Ossie Davis’ life and death.  According to the three-page obituary, at the age of 87 Davis was a writer, actor, director, producer, activist, husband, father and grandfather.   He and his wife of over 50 years had received honors and awards for their work together in the media industry.  His obituary was personalized with quotes from a former cast member, a photo gallery and in-depth information about his role as activist and actor.  This tribute included a poll for readers to vote for their favorite Ossie Davis movie. 

Elizabeth T. Braden’s life was no more and no less significant than that of Ossie Davis’.  According to her obituary, by the age of 91 Braden had been a daughter, wife, mother, secretary, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend and neighbor.  Her obituary says she was married for 68 years and had six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.  According to the Sun, the Baltimore area resident died of a brain tumor in the assisted-living home where she lived.   Braden’s Baltimore Sun obituary has reduced her 91 years of life, relationships, obstacles, joys and sorrows into 20 lines.

Both Baltimore Sun articles painted sketches of the lives of the deceased; as obituaries they fulfilled their roles as assigned by the media.   The attention given to both Braden and Davis may be what is expected for someone with their varying degrees of contribution to society.  If that is so, there is something wrong with the way we measure contribution.  This problem does not merely exist in the Baltimore Sun. 

Fred Barbash and Wil Haygood wrote Ossie Davis’ obituary for the Washington Post.  Describing him as “still handsome and elegantit was a colorful tribute to his life.  Their four-page article was filled with information about Davis’ personal achievements; statements from his family, friends and colleagues and commentary on his activism efforts. While there were no pictures or polls, his obituary painted a picture of a vibrant man, someone you would be honored to have known personally.

Elizabeth Braden’s death was not reported in the Washington Post.

At Nemesis we pride ourselves on our ability to make news happen and to report it objectively.  Each Nemesis obituary is a memorial and we take an active role in each obituary we report. Unlike other reporters, we take the time to investigate each aspect of the subject’s life before we kill them. In this way, we report the facts, photos and the person’s last words, thus painting a vivid picture of them in life and in death.


Yvonne Battle-Felton, Editor-in-chief, Nemesis

P.S.  Pick up the next issue of Nemesis; you never know which edition will feature you.

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