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.”