The first thing I can remember is numbness. The sizzle the flat iron made when it pressed down on my hair. Burnt hair smell wavered in the living room as Momma desperately tried to make my afro presentable. A dissolution of my identity also hung in the air, but I wouldn’t really smell that until my teen years.
Around the corner the crackling of frying chicken caught my attention, and in between the grease pops, I could hear my Nana groan after burning her hand on the scorching pot handle. Like all Black grandmas do, she toiled in the kitchen alone cooking collards, neck bones, and black eyed peas for the whole house, sweat blotting her face.
Often we could hear a pitter-patter of small rodent feet in the ceiling. Momma’s alto voice resounded through the dimly lit hallway as she yelled for my step-dad to place more mouse traps. Our guests barely showed their faces, but sometimes we noticed abundant gifts of black paw print artwork on our beige dining room walls.
After my weekly hair session, I would slip into the bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror. Burn marks were scattered across my face, where Momma got distracted by the TV and mistook my earlobe for a thick part of hair. This instance is where I learned that beauty is pain and to be beautiful is to look like the white girls on the magazine covers that covered our coffee table.
after Margaret Atwood