Both Sides

bothsides

Girl did I tell you what happened with my Mommy last week?

Unh-uh chile. These recitals have had me missing playdates all month. What happened?

Ok so last Saturday, I wake up, 8 o’clock in the morning, you already know what time it is. I run downstairs, pour me some Sugar Sparks, put on my cape and get ready for Teddy Toodles Adventures.

Roight, roight. TOODLE GANG!

IN THIS THANG! But anyway. Here I am, about to fly off to Toodle Town with the one sugary thing I get to have all week, and guess what yo mama’s friend comes to do.

Uh oh girl, I’m scared to even ask. What did Ms. Donna do now?

Girl, she came and stood her butt right in front of the TV! Right in front of the Magical portal to Toodle Town!

No.

Yes.

Giiiirrrl.

Right?! So I’m sitting there, trying to use my words, trying to not have a temper tantrum, but eventually I’m like, “Hey! Big Ma wasn’t a glassmaker ya know!”

Tahuh! I know that’s right! And what did she say?

Girl. Not only did this lady not move from in front of the screen, but she turned around and cut the whole TV off! Talkin’ bout, “Jonah, today is a working Saturday.”

A WHAT?

THAT’S WHAT I SAID! A WHAT? A WHO?

OH GIRL. SHE DIDN’T!

But wait, that’s not even it! Then she pulls out my Toodle Gang drawing board with all my Toodle doodles erased and replaced with a list of “chores.”

(stunned silence)

Girl. I. Was. Shocked. Like, is this the thanks I get for learning how to read? You couldn’t find anything else to write on? Since when did I get “chores”? AND DID THIS CHICK REALLY JUST TURN OFF TEDDY TOODLES ADVENTURES?!?!

TRIPPINNNNNN’.

STRAIGHT TRIPPIN’, RIGHT?! First off, I’m 5. I don’t do “chores.” Second of all, I just spent a whole week listening to my teacher talk in that God-awful “funny” voice she uses during story time, beefing with Ranique because she never wants to take turns on the good swing and avoiding hair pulls from doodoo head Matthew. She knows that Saturday is my day to unwind. The only day I have to not worry about making beds or practicing workbooks or going to piano lessons or getting my hair combed or eating doggone carrots and apple slices. I’m just trying to pour sugar in my mouth and put on my adventure cape and watch Teddy Toodles. But girl, she would not budge. I swear I’ve never been more betrayed in my LIFE.

Dang girl. I am so sorry. Your mommy is really, really mean. I hope she don’t start talking to my mommy about no chores, cuz’ Ima tell you right now, I ain’t doin’ em. I’ll call my granny and tell on her.

Girl, get ready, cuz it’s coming.

Jesuuuus. So what you do?

Nothing at first. I just stood there looking at her because surely, I thought, this lady is joking. I probably would have stood there all day if she didn’t hit me with the, “you heard me.”

Mmmmmmp. Girl. What is we gon’ do?

WeIl, I’ll tell you what I did. Shoot. I went upstairs alright, but I didn’t stay.

OH YOU DIDN’T STAY?!

Ta-huh! Girl, you know I ain’t stay. I probably cleaned up two toys before I sat in my Toodle chair and really got to thinking.

Yes Toodle chair!

So I’m in my chair, thinking cap tied tight, and I realize that my mommy is always trying to tell somebody what to do! From the moment I wake up it’s “Jonah brush your teeth,” “Jonah put on your seatbelt,” “Jonah take your vitamins.” And what do I do? Say, “yes mommy.” “Ok mommy.” “Sure, mommy, sure.” She doesn’t even notice that I’m a good little girl. Shoot, I’ve even been getting my tantrums together! And you KNOW how I can throw a tantrum. But now she wanna turn cartoons off on folks???

Giiiirrrl these mama’s today!

What is wrong with these women! I was mad, pacing at this point. Like, yo, who does this lady think she is? All up in my business, trying to control my interests. I don’t know if she forgot, but these are are my Barbies. My Berenstein* Bears books. These are my daggone Happy Meal toys. What business is it of hers where I leave my Legos? Or how long Skipper wants to chill by the pool I made for her in my bathroom sink? Do I go in her room and start criticizing things? Do I ask when she’s gonna dust the top of that TV? Or how long them panty hose are going to hang off the shower rod? Do I say anything? Do. I. Say. A. Word?

SURE DON’T!

Meanwhile, it’s dead silence downstairs. Not one pan clanging, not a snack getting fixed.  No vacuum cleaner noise or Windex bottle squirts. I thought we was doing chores! But no, she’s down there getting a free ride. A free ride in a fancy car! Putting me to work while she’s living the life! Writing her name all loopily and leisurely inside a checkbook. Opening envelopes and putting stamps on things. Nah. It’s not going down like that playboi.

Mmmp mmp mmp. If only. If ever.

I told her.

What you mean you told her?

Just what I said, I told her!

YOU TOLD HER?!

I toooooold herrrrrrr. No temper tantrum, no loud talking, nothing. I simply walked back down the stairs, posted up in her doorframe, crossed my arms and calmly demanded to know why she was always telling me to do this, and that, and this, and that. Pointing to imaginary tasks with my finger.

(stunned, silent disbelief)

She was like, “excuse me?

GIRL NO, EXCUSE ME. WHAT DID YOU SAY?!

Girl, I cocked my head to the side and said, “you heard me.” Just like she said had said to me earlier.

NO YOU DID NOT.

YES I SURE DID!

Daaaang Jonah!!! Yessss!!!! That’s what I’m talkin’ bout! Show these mamas they can’t be walking over us like that!!!! Unt uhhh! Whaaaaat!

(satisfied smiling)

So then what happened?!

Honestly I’ve never seen my mommy look so…surprised? I thought she was going to pull the switch out on me, but she just called my Auntie Deena and told her to “come get this girl before I beat her.” But I wasn’t trippin’ cuz Auntie Deena lets me eat all the Sugar Sparks I want and watch Teddy Toodles Adventures.

I cannooooot. You really went up against your mommy and won?

I won my right to watch cartoons on Saturday but when she came to pick me up on Sunday she had all my toys bagged up in the car and stopped to drop them off at The Goodwill. Talkin’ ‘bout, “you can get them back when you learn who’s the mama and who’s not.”

Daaaaaaaaaaaaaang sisssssssssss! That’s messed up! Even the Teddy Toodles chair?!

Even. The. Teddy. Toodles. Chair. It felt good standing up to a mommy like that, but when I saw that empty room? I can’t lie, your girl was distraught.  

Dang.

Not that I was finna let her see that though.

(raises eyebrows)

I walked around the empty carpet a little bit then turned back to where she was in the door. “I guess I don’t have to clean up now,” I told her.  

(flatlines)

 

 

*I know it’s Berenstain, but I also know that it’s Berenstein.

Savannah and Jonah vs. The World

wonder woman

I was four mimosas in when Malik decided to give us his take on black women being “hoes.” He stood up from his chair and slammed one of Savannah’s stemless wine glasses down on her dining room table. Loud enough to quiet the drunken dissent around us; commandeering enough to capture everyone’s attention; obnoxious enough to make my shimmery eyes roll.

“All I’m saying is!” he shouted, as if he were Moses delivering commandments from Mount Sinai, “we need to hold our black women to higher standards! I know I ain’t marrying nobody who been bustin’ it open out here!”

A few of the women threw their hands up and collapsed hopelessly into each other. Some of the guys burst into trios of head shakes and laughter. Malik basked in the glory of all the attention.  

“Well what if a woman just wants to explore her sexuality?” one of Savannah’s other friend’s asked, sweetly and innocently taking the bait. A precious little lamb being led to the slaughter. The whole room seemed to hold its breath in anticipation of his response as I took another sip of my pear mimosa — studying the sense of hope all over this poor girl’s face.

I, too, had been hopeful once about the possibility of converting a non-believer to the light. Of showing a card-carrying member of the Black Patriarchy that my views on black women’s sexuality were based simply on freedom, love and personal autonomy, then watching hearts and minds transform before my eyes. “Who knows,” I used to think. “Maybe one day the two of us will get a kick out of how hopelessly misogynistic he once was.” I wanted so badly for this little lamb to snooze safely inside her dream.

“I don’t give a fuck if she’s Marco Polo,” he said. “Ain’t no exploring bi-, women, welcome over here! ”

The room burst into a fit of commotion, and I totally understood why. I mean, come on, were they not entertained? This coon ass nigga would provide fodder for the group text for days. It’s not like there was some vast historical precedent of literally everyone trying to control black women without any repercussions, right? They’d probably think about it on the drive home from work the next day, and have a good hearty laugh to themselves about it. Ha. Ha. Ha ha ha. Oh, Malik, what a ham.

But for me? Myself? When it came to black women, I personally was not with the shits. Even less so when the shit was coming from a black man. And don’t let your girl be gone off the fruit juice and Andre.

I gathered my phone and my clutch and my pear mimosa, giving polite “excuse me’s” as I stepped over legs wrapped in chic textured tights; smiled and waved at no one in particular; suddenly dying to catch up with folks on the other side of the room. Almost as if, in that moment, there were nice feelings inside me. As if there were anything but flames dancing under my skin.  

My eyes landed on Sav’s as I moved through the maze of furniture, guests and fuck boys that lined her and Devin’s living room. She was busy Phylicia Rashad-ing in the breakfast room of their brand new house — bantering in French with a guest someone brought from Côte d’Ivoire and setting out a new charcuterie board — while keeping an ear to what was going on in the living room. You wouldn’t be able to tell from watching her, but I could tell that she wanted to fight that nigga too.

***

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Halle Berry

halle berry pic

Christopher moved to a place off campus right before we started our junior year at Howard. He said it was because he had “outgrown” student housing, but I was like, “nigga, you just couldn’t get student housing.” He smirked at me like it was cute that I thought I knew his business, but he didn’t try to refute my claim either. Christopher knew better than to debate me on facts.

He didn’t tell me about “the incident” at first because he didn’t want me to know that he was messing with some girl in the Annex, but of course Braden’s messy ass told me everything. How the girl had snuck Christopher in through a broken emergency exit, and how the two of them had fallen asleep afterward, and how they snuck back out at the exact time that Ms. Hadley, the resident director, happened to be lighting up a cigarette in the courtyard. Christopher came up with a semi-believable excuse about the girl having his asthma inhaler and him desperately needing to retrieve it at three in the morning, but when Ms. Hadley asked to see said inhaler, they both stood there patting empty pockets like “uhhhh, ummmm, I think…”

A week later the two of them got a letter saying their housing for the next school year was revoked. A little dramatic if you ask me, even for Ms. Hadley, but the decision was final and no amount of calls from Christopher’s parents could get him into a dorm. Fool spent the whole summer with his mom slapping the back of his neck every time she thought about it, and his dad telling him he was out his mind if he thought he would be spending any of his retirement reefer money to get him a “batchla pad” in D.C. “You out cha mind, boy. You better believe that.”

It was all talk though, because after two and a half months of uncharacteristically humble behavior, coming straight home after his internship and promising to pay them back after graduation, Mr. and Mrs. Beasley cut the check for first month’s rent and a deposit, and early that August Christopher hit me up saying he found a place in Northeast. An old brick row house that wasn’t too far from Gallaudet’s campus. The picture he sent showed a scraggly tree leaning in the front yard and some cracks in the mortar, but he said there was a fireplace and a basement and a backyard that had a “real romantic quality.” The kind of space that was just made for blowing L’s in the grass late at night.

“Cool,” I texted after he sent the pictures. “Congrats.”

“Thanks,” he said back with like 5 ellipses. “So, when you coming thru?”

“Never,” I answered with a single period.

He thought I was playing but the first week of school came and went, then midterms and homecoming and even Christmas break, all without me stepping foot inside “Hotel Montegro.” Christopher and Braden and the rest of the niggas he lived with started calling it “Hotel Montegro” shortly after they moved in, once it became hard to tell who actually lived there and who was just a friend crashing for the week. The name stuck and someone even made a social media account for it. They posted pictures of the towers they made from empty beer cans, wild shots from whatever party they had the night before, and stray earrings they found in between couch cushions the next morning.

I rolled my eyes every time he brought the place up and pretended like I didn’t have time for his lil den of iniquity. Like I was offended by condom wrappers or discarded blunt guts. Like I just didn’t fuck with Chris at all. But that wasn’t the real reason I hadn’t gone over there. None of those were the reasons at all.

***

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