Claim To Fame: Why I Breathe Fire

Reflection:

The same thing I am praised for, is the same thing people try to snatch me for—this thing I do with these 26 letters.

In the face of abject crazy which is the current world, I would be remiss in my duties as a writer not to speak or record it. When I decided to lean into writing, being a writer as a career, I knew what I was getting into—what it would cost, and what I aimed to do in it.

This is the thing I love, communication and the art of word play. It’s what I do. It’s legit what I do. And for the love of it, I happen to write down my imagination to sell to people. I keep pens on hand, my desk is covered in papers and my laptops are always running out of space.

This, indeed, is my sweet spot.

Love and blessings,

JBHarris

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Offset, Reset & WAP

Cardi B Opens Up About Offset Divorce: 'Sometimes People Really Do Grow  Apart' | Billboard
Cardi B is getting divorced. This might be the best thing in the world.

I told you so. I TOLD y’all this wasn’t going to work–like at all. The thing that find so hilarious about this situation is he says he is embarrassed about Cardi’s lyrics–his wife now!–to ‘WAP.

The man that cheated on his wife with at least two women, and possibly has an outside baby with or by another one, but mad that his wife wrote lyrics about her WAP. Yet, he is out her chasing other WAP. The dissonance is a super power. I mean, truly! You want to know why toxic patriarchy is trash? Here is the prime example. There is a class of man whom think once they sleep with you, they own you! This same trash logic is what gave Carmello Anthony the cajones to tell the world and I quote:

“My wife [Lala Anthony] is married. I’m not.”

So, him being offended or embarassed about his wife singing about how dope and satisfying her vagina is, rather than be embarassed about his behavior says alot. So he’s not upset that he hurt his wife; embarassed himself; embarassed his daughter, family and these girls he was cheating with. You, Offset, are mad at the woman you married and impregnated, that she made a song about her WAP, while you were seeking out or falling into OPP/WAP. But you mad at her? Her?!

Yeah. This is Hotepian common sense.

She isn’t allowed to be mad, hurt or embarrassed because she is HIS, right? Which entitles him to the most base, banal, basic behavior! And he won’t acknowledge his own behavior in the demise of this professional situationship! He wanted a pretty girl to show off (and do bad!); having her on lock while he did what he wanted, like he wanted.

The killer part is she loved him. A lot. You can tell that.

I truly believe as this situation progresses, he is not going to leave this relationship quietly. I really don’t! I say that from the vantage point of having to contend with a man whom I used to be with–sleep with!–and because I wanted the relationship over? He decided to make the life I wanted without him, miserable! Spoiler: I kept living my best, Black life.

Cardi has money and time, and the rest of her twenties! The last thing she needs is to be attached to a man that doesn’t value her, want her, respect her or think that she is less than who she is! She is greater than her WAP, yes, but she owns all she is–being a wife of this man-child didn’t stop that. She and Kulture deserve better.

Offset need to grow up, and stop letting his penis determine the caliber of his manhood. The question remains that when/where are the men around him going to tell him that the length of his peen, his WAP sonar, and his ‘ability’ to make a woman holler will never make him the man he think he is.

But, this is 2020. Trash peen energy is running the world. Chile, money is an accessory to unattractive men. Remember that.

[image from billboard.com]

The Life Of A Dangerous Black Girl-Lie #4: If You Would Just Change…

The world loves to tell Black women what they are not. It love to look at us, copy us, love the pieces of us, yet choking (or lusting!) on the whole only to then look us in the face to tell us we need to change!

And the world, and those in it want to know why Black women have the nerve to be angry? Octavia Butler said something similar: “Some people have no idea what it is like to have the whole world sat against you.” Nothing could be more right, and leave it to a person who was Black, woman, and writer to reveal such a truth! Why should I change when the world sees me a troublemaker, whore and mule–all three things you can (and do) commodify! The secret is–anything that Black touches is still Black. Why should I change? How can I change? What am I changing? Who said I need to change it? What I have learned is when a woman is told she needs to change, there is something about her way of being–her essence–which intimidates people. Now, essence and behavior are not the same thing! Essence is who you are at your core, those immutable things. Behavior is what you do depending on the situation you are in: this can be changed.

Essence cannot be changed.

This is why we have parents–those people assigned to our lives (through birth or circumstance) to show us how to behave (this is the process of being raised) and who we are (our essence). The world loves to commodify the unique, but persecute what it cannot control. At the essence, at the core of this concept called being Black/Blackness the constructs of white supremacy, racism and capitalism can do nothing with! Black people, Blackness cannot be eradicated. Since it cannot be eradicated, it can be exploited! It can be associated with all things undesireable, criminal and evil. See, if you can control a narrative, you can decide or describe what best suits it.

This is the power of a [the] Master Narrative–and why it must be questioned, challenged and dismantled at every turn! At it’s essence it is wrong. Saying who I am at my core, most base self is evil or wrong because it does not suit you, exists independent of you, and refuses to bend to you–is wrong! I cannot change what I am, what I know and believe to be true of and to myself for the comfort of those whom seek my oppression, destruction and erasure. I will not do it. I cannot suffer it. I will not accept it.

Anything that Black touches, changes.

Black does not change.

Book Release–Thinking I’m Grown

I am so proud of this work.

In this work, I reveal more of myself, and ‘owning my and’. From motherhood, reflecting on my childhood, the death of my father, being in love and not anymore–I examine all of this. In that space, the poetry is divided into 3 categories:

Mind. Body. Soul.

My mother said that after 25, you (as a woman) begin to settle into yourself.

The work is about 30 pieces of poetry, with a surprise in back of it!

Bonus: Own Your ‘And’…

What is the definition of the 3-letter word ‘and’? There are 15 definitions to what this little word means. The best way to remember the power this word has is the word conjunction. A conjunction is a word that allows a sentence to be richer, more complex. Think of conjunctions (such as and, but and or) as the hitch to a tow truck –allowing you to bring all of your imagination to the page. With this in mind, I want you, the writer, to begin to do something radical:  own your ‘and’.

What does this mean, you ask?

This is a reminder to you as a writer to bring all your experiences to the any work, idea or project that you have. For me? My and’s are as follows:

I am Black, woman and writer.

I am woman and mother.

I am a believer in God and am pro-life in the complete sense.

These are just a few, of course, but these are just some of the identities and experiences I bring to anything space, platform and project I am involved with.

There will be no idea you will write or conceive which will not expect or demand you be confident in all that you are. In owning your ‘and’ you are owning your identity. You are defining how you move in the world, undetermined or undermined by the opinions of other people. This kind of radical honesty is imperative to a writer! Ownership and mastery of the self is  tool of a writer, and needed no matter the genre you desire to write!

The work you create will always bring a small sense of uncertainty. This feeling of tightrope walking, holding a stack of dishes on your head! The only way to conquer that feeling is to realize not to look down, and you succeed one step at a time…and the further you go on this tightrope, the more dishes you get to throw off you head. Knowing who are as an individual, accepting who are as an individual, gives your space as a writer! This space is invaluable because it grants you a power to be honest, open and vulnerable. This, this willingness to be honest brings a beauty and empathy to you work.

This is the power of storytelling! When a writer can ‘own their and’ and create because of or in spite of, they give a piece of themselves to their readers whom will become their audience.

Shy from nothing. Embrace everything. Own your ‘and.’

The Life Of A Dangerous Black Girl-Lie #3: If You Would Pull It Back, You Would Have A Relationship.

At this point in my life, the women that I confide in are in two categories: Mother figures and Sisterfriends. One of my sisterfriends is the remarkable, beautiful and completely savage (she describes herself as a ‘manicured pit viper’) Kelly Heflin. I have been a part of her world–happily–due in part to my own wit, love of fashion, and the same substance I believe all women have that have gone through the loss of fathers.

And in that power, with that wit, I call her my sister. Shouts to Kellz!

With that, she never ceases to amaze me with the level of nonsense she reveals from her inbox into the waiting Facebook world. From this, I have seen my sister be called everything that could enter into the heart of a petty, jealous, acrid man. I have seen the messages that she was bold enough to share (because, Kellz–and I love she!). The thing that is so confounding about this, is their reaction to her reaction to not wanting to be treated as anything less than what she was taught she was! Her answer to that, which is my echo, “If you wouldn’t let your daughter settle for it, why would you want me to?”

I agree, Sis. I agree!

I should not–will not–lessen myself to the point of being gaslighted for the sake of ‘having someone.’ Why should I? Who is raising these men-impostors?! Who started this lie that in order to have the woman you want you have to break her like a wild mare? Why is a woman to be broken, to be made whole to and for a man? Let me give you some Bible, because the I know the Hoteps are trying to formulate a way to ‘check’ me.

Note: I write and sign checks; I am never to be checked.

Or, as my ex-husband said: “You can’t handle when a man like me puts me in your place.” My retort, like a reflex, was “Where is my place? What is my place?”

Women are the last divine thing to look God in the face. Think about this! So, if I–like you–am a divine, sentient creature, why should I not be treated as such? If we go through Genesis, and really read it, Adam was in charge of naming all things in the Garden of Eden. And it was he that named the being that came out of him–and praised God for it. And named it. Anything you honor, you care for and name! So, if my job is to be a complement, a help, and source of support, why should have I to dim or become less in order to be suitable? Please, make this make sense.

There is a generation of women before us whom we, the women whom are those late 70s-80s babies entering into middle age, are looking at and wondering–Why was this treatment of okay? Why is my ability to endure, to soldier on, to cry in showers and in pie or cobbler filling the proof by which I am to be chosen? Now, I was taught charm and class by my mother. I know how to handle myself, and be a lady–that is second nature. My father is one who taught me game–who said to me that ‘No one can feel your brain.” Let me translate: it’s not good enough to just be smart; keep yourself up. I, at 39, and examining these conversations my sisterfriend had in a new light. They are hurtful. They are demeaning. They are gaslighting at its finest! The most outrageous one that I have ever seen was the one she shared from a man who told her–unprovoked! No one sent for this dude!–who decided to tell her that she needed to be more humble. That she just needed ‘a good man’ to ‘humble her’.

Let me say this: If you feel you have to humble a woman, in order for her to be suitable, you will never have her. As I say often, “If you have to hold her with a chaser, you don’t know how to run!” What does this mean? It means you are not ready for what it is you want–and you need it to be more palatable to be able to handle it. You just not ready, son. He told her that she was too ambitious and it is intimidating to men. I, like my sister Kelly, thought none of these words strewn together into what he believed with all his strength would make sense–do not, in fact, make sense.

This good man by which homeboy spoke of could handle and support an ambitious woman! A good man would see that the woman he wants, has a life outside of him, and is not defined by him only–and he wouldn’t want her to be! A good man would know his girl to the point she would never have to humble herself: he would make her feel safe enough to submit to his leadership (that is the key to submission: Can you make her feel safe? And care for her? Can she rest with you? But that is another conversation–isn’t it?). A good man would know how to lead, guide and protect his woman without believing he has to break her, hurt her, in order to have her.

Y’all need to check your boys…they are surely not men.

What Is A Darkwalker?

My first love, if I have to admit, was horror writing.

I was fascinated by the things that go ‘Bump!’ in the night. And I was fascinated (much to my parents’ chagrin) with death and the concept of just…not dying. From that, I have like the idea of vampires (Peep this post from a couple years ago!). I have liked the idea of being eternally young, getting stronger with age, and being able to walk in the world as I want–without the approval of a higher power.

Note: Let me say this. I am a woman of faith. I believe that God exists. I believe in Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, His resurrection and His return. I believe all the gifts and talents that I have are God given. In those gifts, I believe that my imagination is one of them. I am not an atheist. I am not ever going to be an atheist! I have seen too much in the world to NOT believe in God. I am aware of the controversy of the Christ-believing writing horror or what I call ‘dark literature.’ With that said, I answer with the Christopher Priest quote: “A real writer can write anything.”

I consider myself a real writer.

There is no genre which is off limits to me, that I cannot touch or will not explore. So, for this I return to visit my first (undead) love. Why is it vampires, and not wolves (I am #TeamJacob, but that is another matter)? Simplest answer–Bela Lugosi. I make no apologies for that. But, vampires to me have always been this mix of scary and sexy. That, and–if I am being honest–I feel A WHOLE WAY that Anne Rice’s Merrick (Merrique) was this dynamic creature (a witch!) and turned (by Louis), and then after not even a century ‘in the Blood (to use vernacular of The Vampire Chronicles), she just…died.

I remember being so angry, so frustrated, and feeling like something had been taken from me.

With the Twilight saga, and Stephanie Meyer having a issue about Black actors/People of color being cast (she said that she wanted to stay as true as possible to the source material)? I mean, the clear intent is that Black people cannot be seen, are not granted the space, to be extraordinary!

For that, I claim these vampires in the names of our ancestors! And if you liked the teaser of Calsepsi? Then you will love the novel that comes in April/May 2021.

#Staytuned.

[Our] Famous Black Aunties Matter

If you didn’t see the Verzuz last night, you missed a whole treat. That is it. That is all!

Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight Set for Verzuz Faceoff This Weekend -  Variety

Lemme tell you a secret.

I have loved Patti Labelle since I heard “Lady Marmalade”. I loved Patti Labelle like I loved Dihann Carroll, Dorothy Dandridge and Phylicia Rashad. There is an easy glamour to them which I believe inspired Beyonce to say, “I woke up like this.” So, when I heard that she would doing a Verzuz with Gladys Knight? I thought it was a dream!

You have to understand one thing: I am the oldest child of Baby Boomers. I had the parents that looked over everything I would listen to! I had a Vanilla Ice cassette tape and they insisted on listening to it. I knew they would take it because he cursed in it. You have to understand how hard Tipper Gore made every child’s life after her Parental Advisory campaign! So, I grew up listening to NWA (at my cousin’s house–duh!), Elvis, Stevie Wonder and Duke Ellington (my mama’s favorites). I remember listening to KLOU, the local oldies station on Sunday nights with my father. When I heard Aretha Louise Franklin and Patricia Louise Holte?

THAT WAS IT!

I was happy to have the rasp to my voice, and happy about my alto! And I adopted them both as my imaginary aunties. And I loved Patti Labelle the moment I heard Lady Marmalade. And still do!

This Verzuz was like being in the room when grown folk were talking. I watched it with my sister, Tawanna, and it seemed that every time Patti sang–it hit different. When Gladys sang? It hit different. This is why music is so transcending. When I heard If Only You Knew at 11, it doesn’t sound (read: feel) the same as it does at 39…with some for real life under me.

Soul legends Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight to face off in 'Ultimate Verzuz'  battle | GMA
These millennium children could NEVER!

While reliving childhood memories and hitting that one IF in the chorus of If Only You Knew, and shrieking when she Auntie Patti kicked off her shoes, all I could do was smile. When Auntie Gladys starting singing On & On, I was transported! But the thing that I loved the most about this event was the love that was there. It wasn’t about who won! Although, I told my sister that Auntie Patti was going to win because she was going to be give me everything that I needed! Everything! From the hair, the bougie glass, her blonde bombshell persona and the rack of shoes! Auntie Gladys was regal, and warm and it felt like I was in a front room again. You remember that scene in When Beale Street Could Talk when Tish had to tell Fonnie’s people she was pregnant? Remember all the love, shade and music in that room? Oh, yes! That is what I group up with, it is that love that I try to recreate when I write, or tell a story aloud.

This Verzuz was a hug. This Verzuz was your favorite aunt wiping your eyes and telling you it’ll be okay. It was your Mom or your Dad sharing playlists with your or their vinyl. It was Black Girl Magic becoming the reminder of those who were watching that we come from a stock that can’t help but see us, gotta see us, because they can’t ever be us. The women on that Verzuz have been giving us memories for a combined 130 years! The beautiful thing is how affirming they were to one another. They called to the Queen in one another, reminding each other they would be friends still, and always. This is the gift and jewel of seeing Black women aging while maintaining friendships.

Everything about this was beautiful. And lovely. And I was here for it.

Iggy Azalea will never.

The Life Of A Dangerous Black Girl-Lie #2: It Doesn’t Take All That!

The world loves to tell Black women and girls what they can and cannot do! It loves to define Black women and girls for what they believe they should be. I am not a should-be Black girl. I am not a should-be Black woman! I own all that I have gone through, all I have done, and I want all that I dream of being!

I own me on a level I couldn’t dream of before! I suppose inching towards 40 which has settled me in a way that I didn’t think I would reach yet. Yet, in the intersection of aging, motherhood and adulthood, I find myself confronting the need to hold my own space. There is a need to protect that space, and every footstep that goes into owning that. The lie that I break daily is that I “do too much” or “it doesn’t take all that.” But, it does! It does take all that–it takes every bit of THAT which makes me Black and woman and walking through the world!

There is a different level of moxie, chutzpah and bravado to be a Black girl in a world that either wants to be you, erase you or kill you! It take every bit of your THAT to walk through the world and not be overtaken by it! What is THAT you ask? THAT can be a myriad of things, but here are the three things that I have deduced THAT is: Voice. Style. Presence.

Voice. There is a power, a magic, that Black women have. There is a natural authority and sway we have. When we open our mouths at certain points, God will come out! And in that space, from that place of authority, people who don’t want to see or hear Black women–silence us. We get removed from rooms. We get ‘rescheduled.’ We get delegated. We get told that we ‘too loud.’ We are ‘too aggressive’. And then those accusations are met with rebuttal? Oh, then we are called ‘bitches’. As if that will make the roar soften because you call me a name! No. I’m too told to be stopped by that.

Style. The poet Nikki Giovanni talks about how divine this thing called style that Black folk have. The poet herself even said, “If the Black woman wasn’t born, she would have to be invented.” There is a power in this! There is something to Black women, whom bear Black girls who, too, will become Black women have that is indicative of self-expression. In a world which is bent toward erasure of anything it considers and aberration, Black women still are noticed–we can’t help but to be noticed! From hair, our nails, make up and shoes–to how will pull ourselves together for dinners, weddings or a night out–Black women have shaped, reinvented, and owned style from the first time we discovered color. This was before chattel slavery, dear ones.

Presence. I have been a tall girl my entire life. In quoting my aunt about the state of my body, she says it this way: “All you had all your life was legs and ass!” That’s a direct quote. Now, I stand 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and about 200 lbs. With the right outfit and shoes I am over 6 feet tall–you notice when I walk in a room. My mother tells me that a lady always has presence about her. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s until I realized what that meant. Presence is owning your life, experiences and all that your body is–stretch marks, muffin top, eyeglasses–whatever. The world doesn’t know what to do with a woman they are supposed to be ignore (let’s not forget we aren’t to be lusted after!), and it wants to erase! What do you do with a woman that you can’t help but see?

So yes, dear ones, it takes all of THAT. This life takes you owning your space. Amplifying your voice. It takes knowing who you are, and having your life not be defined by what other people can look or conceptualize you as! You make the boxes and draw outside of them!

Never let the world which can only take you in sips demand you give them a chaser! No! You have every right to be in this world–so be in it. Be. In. It.

My [Almost] 9/11 Story

I normally don’t write about 9/11. I’m not a native New Yorker, I say ‘FTP’ often, and I have never been to the East Coast. Yet, I remember exactly what time I heard when the first plane hit, I know where I was, I remember the shrill tone in my mother’s voice. In this time of COVID-19, it feels surreal:  both near and far away.

I was in love with New York City.

I wanted to go to NYU. I thought the farthest I could get away from St. Louis, had to be New York. And I wanted to go. Fashion. Culture. Food. People. I wanted all of it!

Then, 9/11.

In the time of COVID-19, it is weird to remember everything about that day–almost 20 years ago. Even when I think of it now it doesn’t seem like it should be something that happened 20 years ago. That morning, a Tuesday of all things, I remember I was sitting in the room of my mother’s house. I was on the phone, talking to some guy who was not my boyfriend. The radio was on, and I was listening to Z1077–my favorite local station.

I remember hearing something about a plan crashing, and didn’t think anything about it. That is until my mother screamed from downstairs, “Jennifer, is there a movie playing on Channel 4 (the local CBS station)?!” “No!” I screamed back. I think I remember her telling me to come see what she was seeing. I ran down the stairs clad in light blue surgical scrubs, bare feet and a t-shirt. I sat on her bed, mouth looking like a catfish.

I couldn’t believe it! Did I see any planes hit the Twin Towers? No. And I am so thankful that I didn’t. That is one memory of that day I didn’t want. I remember being in a daze. I remember nothing making sense. I remember fasting and praying for about 4,5 days for the first responders. Even praying for the police! I wanted everyone in NYC to be okay. It was a few days later that my mother said this:

“See! See! I saved your life! You wanted to go to New York, and look what happened?! See, you could have been working in one of those towers!”

As a 20-year-old kid (yes, at 20 you’re still a kid!), I rolled my eyes and was aghast she would say such a thing to me. As a 39-year-old woman, whom is the mother of 2? Oh, I can see the prophetic panic in her voice. I can look at her observation in a new light; age is humbling that way. I see her relief that I wasn’t in a tower and died, or having jumped or unconscious and burning to death. I feel her relief and stress knowing that I wasn’t ever probably going to New York–her prayers worked. It was years later that I found out my mother, oh-so God fearing, had prayed for me to not leave St. Louis! When I asked her why she had prayed such a prayer, she said:

“I knew if you had left you would have never come back.”

She was right. I wouldn’t have–ever. My demeanor was such that I would have been homeless in New York City rather than try to admit any sort of defeat and come home. She had, in fact, saved my life.

The memory that stays with me from that day is the helplessness! No one knew what to do other than call and check on the people we knew. I remember being in a daze in the days which followed. Unsure of what to do, what I could do, and wanting to do more than what I thought I could do. I remember feeling this way when Hurricane Katrina hit. I was 24 then. I announced to my mother that “I’m going to New Orleans to volunteer!” She looked at me and said, “No, you aren’t!” I looked at her, incredulous that she dare infringe on my adult decision to go help people! When I asked her why, she only would say, “If something happens, there is no one that can come and get you.”

Remembering 9/11 in the time of Orange Thanos and his henchmen, on top of COVID-19, there is a vulnerability that stays with me. It lingers like the odor of something that is burned. It is unsettling, and scary, and it feels like something else is about to happen. It feels like the ‘next bad thing’ is in arm’s reach. The nation is a state of mourning since the first of the year–over 100,000 people are dead. Yet, there are people today which will cry over the over 3000 whom perished in this act of evil, but will tell other people COVID is a hoax. They will support the police as they arbitrarily kill Black people! They will champion Orange Thanos even while he presides over the most corrupt administration aside from the Tribunal one might see on the way to Hell! As an essential worker, as the daughter of a nurse, as a patient care tech, as a mother, friend and daughter–this day feel like how matches smell before you strike them.

The Weird Sisters of Macbeth said, “Something wicked this way comes.” What happens when the wicked is already here? What can those that strive to do good, and love mercy do other than fight? In the face of mourning, we fight. And we listen to our mothers–they indeed are life-saving.

The White Marriage

Meet MacKenna. Her life is complicated. I think I am on to something. Stay tuned.

MacKenna Anderson was due to walk down the aisle in two hours. The dress was delivered a week before, her veil, altered and belonging to her grandmother, Natalie two generations before, in her hand. Her mother, Carolina, fussing over her hair, again for the nineth time. “Oh, Kenna!” she gushed, guiding her face back towards the mirror in the Bridal suite. “You look so perfect! Paul is going to absolutely collapse with joy when he sees you!” MacKenna forced a smile, looking in the full-length mirror. She looked at the girl in the mirror looking back at her. Hair, ruler straight, and highlighted blonde as her mother thought best for a ‘fall event, light hair would be best.’ MacKenna’s mind went back to the early hours where she was alone the house she shared with Paul. That she recently bought with Paul. Her MBA graduation from Saint Louis University three years before and her families wealth and connections, made getting the big, pretty house in  Ladue possible.

5 bedrooms. 3 bathrooms. Full basement and 3 car garage. “Kenna, it’s a starter house. We will get the house we really want after the first baby is born.” MacKenna let her mind wander, let it take her to the days before her revelation at 4am on the night of her wedding day. A week before she and her friend, Jocelynne, sat in her bed. Mackenna had always been so jealous of her, it was for that jealousy they became best friends. She had called Jocelyn over to her new house to talk. Just talk. “Sure, girl! I’ll be by after work.” MacKenna smiled remembering how warm Jocelynne was—how her presence made everything lighter and better. She had come over, in her new black Lincoln Navigator, and Chanel sunglasses and threw her arms around MacKenna. They laughed as they always had in the 15 years had been friends, best friends since 8th grade.

Jocelynne took off her glasses to show her brown face, and natural hazel eyes, with her Delta Sigma Theta tee shirt that she always wore on weekends. “The Maid on Honor has arrived, chile!” She laughed that rolling, deep, thunder loud laugh of hers and MacKenna held her again, laughing infectious now. “I really needed you to come by, Lynne.” Jocelynne’s face slacked, her eyes searching MacKenna’s. “What is it?” MacKenna walked into the kitchen, hearing Jocelynne’s heels behind her. MacKenna took a bottle of wine from the refrigerator, putting it on a table. She didn’t watch for Jocelynne to decide which seat she would want. MacKenna took to wine glasses from the wine glass rack—a wedding present from her grandmother. “You’ll need such trappings of privilege when you start entertaining, MacKenna.” Jocelynne looked at her from the chair nearest the door in the kitchen. Her red peacoat a happy pop of color on the back of the black chair. Her hair, dark and newly done, Mackenna could tell—she smelled the hairspray and her signature Addict by Dior.

MacKenna handed her the glass, sitting across from her. As she shifted in the seat, her reflection expanding in the wine bottle. Her skin, lighter than Jocelynne’s and her hair, needed to be done—the dark roots showing. Her secret sprouting from inside her. She saw her eyes, green-hazel, and saw the tears. MacKenna closed her eyes, feeling the weight of the table shift as the bottle was removed from its station as pillar in the middle of the glass table. Jocelynne’s heels clicked as drawers opened, and shut. “All this shit y’all got in here, and it take forever to find a corkscrew!” MacKenna sighed, a bitter tinge to her laughter. “Blame Paul! You know I don’t have anything to do with that!” Smoothing her face, she opened her eyes to see Jocelynne opening the bottle with a small corkscrew that she had. “Look, if you are about to be the wife of a surgeon—”

“Soon-to-be surgeon. this is the last year of residency for him.” Jocelynne rolled her eyes and went back to her perch at the table. “Anyway,” she rolled her eyes. “You have to be able to—” MacKenna started to cry. She chest ached. She cried as she had when her grandfather died. “Mac!” Jocelynne went over to her, holding her as MacKenna went limp and slid to the floor. “Girl! What is it?” This is how Jocelynne became, remained her best friend. She knew that MacKenna was passing for white. Jocelynne knew all that MacKenna could bear to tell her. How she couldn’t pledge Delta with her. How she couldn’t really play in the sun as a little girl. How when Brandy got to be popular in middle school, she couldn’t get her hair braided. Her mother kept her hair straight. The one time that Jocelynne’s mother, Halle, took her and MacKenna to New Orleans for their Senior year of high school? And she came home tan? Carolina had slapped her across the face for coming home ‘too Black.’ MacKenna’s chest heaved in the mirror, grateful for the gift of the corset bodice of the dress.

“After everything we have worked for! How dare you do this? How dare you—do you not know what you did?” MacKenna had held her hot face, biting her lip and willing her hands not to become fists. She willed the thoughts of killing her mother to the back of her mind. “I cannot wait to get out of here! You can’t control me forever, Mom! You can’t keep doing this to me! Jocelynne knows I’m Black! You grew up with her Mama! Why are you—” Carolina slapped her again, and again, until her screams brought her brothers Samuel and Brandon to get their mother off of her.

MacKenna’s memories splintered as she tried to focus. She thought of Jocelynne’s Dior warmth as she tried to reassure her. She thought of the rage on her mother’s face. She remembered her brothers pulling their mother off of her, but Carolina’s jaw connecting with MacKenna’s left hand. Joceylnne’s words came to her again. “Tell them, tell them what you want, Mac. You can’t keep going through all of this! Paul doesn’t know, does he?”

Paul didn’t know. Carolina’s mother had made sure he wouldn’t know. “Money is a useful tool, MacKenna, and right now, you need to remember what you are getting—not what you are giving up! Stop dreaming and live in reality!” Reality. What was that to people who lie? Who built a family on lying? What was reality to people who made it up? Her mind took her to this morning, to her bathroom, to the straight razors  and hot bath she ran. She was grateful that Paul was gone to his Bachelor Party. Grateful at the thought she might have been unfaithful to her, that she would have something on him like he did on her. The steam of the bathroom fogged the mirror, wiping the steam away she saw her face wet with her own tears. She took the razors and when to her bath,  I’ll just soak, she thought. Soaking is not suicide. Soaking is resting, letting your body rest.  MacKenna just wanted to rest—have her mind rest.

The heat of the bathwater, pulled tension an apprehension, from her body. The wine she had would help her as well. She smiled thinking of the line from Romeo and Juliet:  ‘…no friendly drop to help me.” She had a glass full of friendly drops She let her hair coil, what her mother told her to never do in the tub. “You never want to have your hair, nappy, MacKenna.” She would always have face twisted at the word nappy. “White girls do not have nappy hair.” MacKenna laughed, and drank the wine. “But Black girls do, Mother! Black girls have nappy hair, Carolina!” She swallowed the glass of wine in four swallows, reaching to put the glass on the soapdish near the gold tinted faucets.

Mackenna looked at the razors on the side of the clawfoot tub, gleaming and inviting. She had cut herself in middle school during her mother’s second divorce. Kendall, her middle school best friend, told her that if she cut herself in the tub it wouldn’t hurt so bad and it could heal quicker. “I do it all the time,” she said, applying her Bonne Bell lip gloss in the bathroom of Vianney Middle School. “Whenever you get stressed, don’t throw up like the Barfing Bitches in Mr. Howell’s class. Just…cut.” She said the word with such ease, that she thought she was lying. That is until she looked at her exposed thigh under her plaid skirt. MacKenna smiled at the razors, looking like silver stars on the side of the tub. She cried again, thinking of Kendall and how her father found her in the tub during a visit to his house after her parents’ divorce. She had gone too deep, knicked her femoral artery. Had taken her stepmother’s Valium. She was only 16. That’s when MacKenna stopped.

The tears started again. For herself, for Kendall, for her Jocelynne, for Halle. She blinked hard and felt herself spirited to the bridal suite again. Her skin, still light, flushed and untanned. Her dress pristine, the embroidery indicative of a patience she, herself, was not capable of. She concentrated on steadying her breathing, thinking and believing enough deep breaths could keep her from being pulled apart like a wound suffering dehiscence. MacKenna smoothed her hair, looking at her reflection as the veil lay on her lap. She kept breathing, looking at the false eyelashes she insisted were too big. She looked at her roots, still black, looking at back at her. The hairstylist convinced that if the veil were placed just right, no one would ever know or notice. “They aren’t that bad, Mrs. Walton. They aren’t that dark! I’ll finesse them a bit, and it’ll be fine.”

MacKenna hated her mother then. Wished that she could have just vanished like her older sister, Lorelei, had done. She wished for her sister, wished for that kind of strength. But she looked down at the veil, seeing the tears fall. The weight of everything fell on her again, as she heard Jocelynne’s ringtone from the table behind her.  As tears started again, she felt her mother’s linen handkerchief  pressing into her hand. “Snap out of it MacKenna.  It’s time to go.”