personal, stories, Uncategorized

Rat Tail Comb

I sat in between her knees Indian style. I could feel my right foot going to sleep. I didn’t care because I was too focused on the tugging and pulling of my hair. I squirmed. I made ugly faces. My eyes squinted with each yank. Sometimes I would cry or scream. She would hit my head with the rat tail comb. “Chiiiilllllldddddd, if these braids come out crooked!”

This was a ritual. A black girl ritual. Getting my hair done by my grandmother was a process and I was what Black folks called “tender headed”, meaning that my scalp was extra sensitive. My hair long, thick and curly. She was very proud of my hair. Her hands worked furiously in my scalp weaving and creating a masterpiece in my curls and kinks. With each brisk move of her arm I could smell the hair grease which was her mixture of castor and coconut oil with a hint of orange. Sometimes if she used too much I could feel it drip down the nape of my neck and down my back. It tickled and felt warm.

I would smell like oranges for the rest of the day.

The end result of her work would be rows of calculated braids, each one decorated with a colorful barrett at the end. When I would move my head from side to side I could hear them clank against each other. Red, purple, pink, blue and yellow. My head looking like a rainbow after a harsh summer rain. Everyone coming out to see it. Pointing, smiling and happy faced.

I would hold my head upward to the sky and with my eyes I would say; yes it’s me and like the rainbow I too am beautiful…

My grandmother a Baptist woman with wide hips and a husky laugh was from Mississippi. Her hair long and straight with sparks of silver strands throughout. Her skin light and eyes deep brown. Her looks being a constant reminder that her father was the result of his Black mother being raped by a White man. His white father never denying his son would constantly refer to my great granddad as “his nigga.” The other White men taking note not to mess with him because that was Neil’s boy.

Grandma Vivian.
Often times I would hug her and bury my face deep in her bosom. She would grab me in her big arms and squeeze. The air would leave my lungs and then she would give me permission to breathe then seconds later squeeze me again. At nine years old love smelled like gardenia and talcum powder. Her hands wrinkled but soft like fresh leather. Her fingernails always painted a soft hue of pink.

As a child I loved to make her laugh because it came from deep inside her stomach. The air pushing it up from her insides. I’d purposely do things just trying to get her laugh out. I knew it was real, not the fake type of laugh to appease a child. She would close her eyes, hold her stomach, bend over and I would wait to hear it make its way out of her mouth. Sometimes it felt like eternity waiting for her mouth to make that sound. My ears waiting in anticipation. A sense of accomplishment was felt once I heard her laugh. I had done something big and I would laugh with her.

 

One day she was laying on her sofa and told me to get the comb and hair grease. Her paisley night-gown draped on her body and her hair sitting in rollers. Her house slippers dangling off her feet. I stopped in my tracks. Looked dead at her. “Now you know I don’t have all day girl!” I knew what was coming. I sulked and slowly walked down the hallway to the linen closet dragging my feet behind me with every move praying to the Lord that she would forget. Finally, I made my way back to her with my arms over flowing with hair items. She had not forgotten. My eyes began to tear up and my scalp tingled. She sat up on the sofa and I sat on the wood floor between her knees. Our cat Maggie brushed up against me and with my right foot I kicked her away unleashing all my frustrations on the helpless animal. Maggie whimpered as she limped away and I felt bad for a moment until I felt the first tug and busted out in a cry.

As an adult and after an ex who used to be Rastafarian I would dreadlock my hair. One summer I came home to visit my grandmother and took my scarf off. With my locks draped down my back I shook my head to let my mane breath. Each dread as black as the night.Grandma Vivian’s eyes welled up and she held her chest stumbling towards me in disbelief. “Baby, how could you be so lazy to let your hair mat up like that?” I said nothing.

_____

I still make ugly faces when I get my hair done. When I smell oranges I often think of Grandma Vivian and sometimes when I weave braids into my baby sisters scalp I see a glimpse of her hands.

But,

I don’t cry anymore though, at least not in public.

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online, dating, tips, tips

Being 30 & Twinkies

Thirty seems to be the magical number for a lot of people.

It’s when they say you’re supposed to have a majority of your shit together. Additionally, you should be in a solid career, have a pristine family and be on the road to financial stability. In my early to mid-twenties this was my goal. To be honest, at that time, ten years seemed like more than enough time to get my affairs in line.

Once 30 began to creep up I began to internally “freak the f&%$” out.

Rewind.

Let me give myself some credit here though. I’ve done things I wanted to do. I’ve accomplished a lot in my career and personal ambitions but societal expectations can weigh heavy on you. That’s why its important to fight against them and remind each other.
Now that I have been 30 for almost six months I can have some say-so in this matter.

Dish out my own piece of sistaqueen advice for things that may happen once you reach 30:

  1. Picky Princess: If you are single people will start to inquire what your standards are and determine if they are too high. Standards should never change based on your age they should change based on what you want. Men are allowed to have standards, actually they are encouraged all throughout their lives to reach for what they think they deserve. Somewhere along the way women are told to re-evaluate what they want in life. Unless you’re being crazy unrealistic don’t do that. You wouldn’t do it for anything else, right?
  2. Matters of the heart: Your approach to religion or spiritually may change. As we get older the assumption is that we become more solid within ourselves. You won’t be so quick to jump on the bandwagon when your favorite sheikh is coming to town or when there is an Islamic conference happening. Depending on our experiences some of us may even align ourselves more with our spiritual side. As an individual you are changing all the time. So it’s naive to think your relationship with Islam will remain the same all throughout your years.
  3. Baby Fever: You will view having children differently. In your teens and early twenties the sight of a baby excited you and it still does. It made your ovaries jump with joy to see a baby swaddled up or bouncing on someones knee. Once you reach your 30’s you will approach childbearing with a different attitude. I’m not saying you will not desire children but you’ll modify your expectations. At one point I remember wanting a huge family. As I’ve gotten older and realized what that exactly entails. Getting older brings about a sense of realism.
  4. Just say “NO!”: You will begin to master the art of saying no to folks. This can apply to many things in your life but I am going to focus specifically on time. As a married woman or as a mother your time will be respected by people. Folks wont ask you for very much because the assumption is that you are busy with your family. If you are single people genuinely think you have no life. You will have to check folks, you will have to say no *sometimes* and at first it will be hard! When you complain about being tired your friends who have kids will laugh in your face. I didn’t know we were competing on some “lets see who sleeps less hours” gameshow.
  5. “She get it from her momma”: The other day I was arranging pink roses in my flower vases. I had trimmed them all, picked off the extra leaves and placed them throughout my condo. It hit me that I was doing exactly what my mother did every two weeks when I was a child. The sweet scent of flowers was something I grew up with. After the flowers would die she would dry the petals and place them in a bowls as decoration. We all become our parents whether we realize it. Some of us fight so hard against it. It’s inevitable.
  6. You may be jealous of your friends: Yep, I see you scrolling through your Facebook timeline. You can’t believe she got engaged before you. Well, hey sistaqueen it happens.
    1. Your friends may be jealous of you: This one too. As cliche as it sounds, grass is always greener on the other side. Your married friends will envy the fact that you don’t have to cook every night or that your time truly belongs to you. At the end of the day life is all about perspective.

If you’re a woman in your late twenties to early 30’s I already know I’m preaching to the choir. If you’re a woman who could careless about turning 30 I bow to you because you have successfully bypassed all the expectations that society and people throw on us.

As a woman most of the expectations will get pretty personal. They rotate around two things. These two things will become a platform for public conversation:

  1. The inner workings of your vagina a.k.a “your uterus”.
  2. Your current relationship or lack thereof.

People will think its their “right” to advise, discuss and even sometimes embarrass you. Like these will become regular dinner conversations and sometimes they will carry on even if you’re not saying so much as a word. It is forever disrespectful to talk about these topics without consent from the person you’re actually talking about. Yes, y’all I just used the word “consent” because I could name the countless of times I have heard or been involved in conversations that revolve around the body or choices of a grown ass Muslim woman. If its a conversation about you and you prefer not to have it than your consent has not been respected. These conversations can be very humiliating for some folks if they aren’t able to stop people in their tracks.

Your body is not open discussion for people.

Because by the time you reach 30 you’re grown as hell.

So stop moping around and be like a Twinkie!

Staying forever sweet and never expiring.

 

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Room #8

The only reason I remembered him was because of his name. The extra syllables indicated he was of African descent. North African to be exact. Algerian, if I wanted to be precise. I grabbed his leather wallet that had the word “Chicago” imprinted on the front and pulled out his ID. The leather smelled fresh and was still snug. It took me a couple pulls to get the card fully out.

With his ID in my hand I looked at him with curiosity in my eyes. “Algerian?” I said. He smiled bright showing his straight white teeth and said a resounding “Yes!”. I knew he was in pain because the smile quickly turned into a grimace as his eyes closed and face contorted. He was holding onto his left arm and squeezing his shoulder. I handed his ID to the registrar, her hair short and red just like her attitude. She snatched it from me. I always thought she took her job far too seriously.

Earlier, Chicago Fire Department paramedics called the ER saying they were bringing in a man who had just called 911 complaining of chest pains for the past hour. Three minutes later the ER doors busted open as two muscular medics wheeled in a man on a gurney. One of them looked like he was about to bust out of his t-shirt. I looked at his toned arms longer than warranted and pointed them both down the hall to room number 8.

I followed them in with an EKG machine and closed the door as the man shifted from the gurney to the hospital stretcher. I noticed he was taking in deep breaths between each move that he made. The paramedic with the ridiculous arms began rambling information to me. I was trying my best to look at his face and not at his arms that seemed to be pulsating with each word he said. My mind zoned in on the important words as I turned the EKG machine on. “Stents placed last year…” The man looked like he had just come home from work. His pinstripe button up shirt was creased on the sleeves. “49 years old…” I gently smiled at him attempting to ease his fears and unbuttoned his shirt in order to stick the cardiac monitor on his chest. “No significant cardiac history in his family…”

As the paramedics left the room the attending doctor and student drifted in. I handed the EKG over to her. She took a glance at it and told the patient his heart looked fine and lab work would be more definitive of any serious cardiac complications. She instructed me what to do with a look and nod and I proceeded to do what I have done so many times before.

I’ve been a nurse for six years. I’ve been a caretaker for many more. My spirit has always been drawn to people, especially when they are sick. I recognized early on that caring for people was part of my make up. It is one of the things that are at the core of my being. I’ve worked in the heart of Brooklyn to the coast of San Fransisco and there is one thing everyone has in common; we desire company when ill. Very few people want to be alone when they are sick. Illness breeds a sense of vulnerability and makes most of us yearn for human connections. The essence of living and what makes life are those around us. Realizing your own demise can be a smack in the face.

He was lying in the bed, topless with his bare chest out. His chest hair curly like the full head of dark hair that sat on top of his head. His jeans and shoes were still on. I unlaced each shoe and gently slid them off of his feet, readjusted him in bed and asked him to put his left arm out. I tied a tourniquet around his upper arm and watched veins begin to surface underneath his tan skin. I noticed a faded tattoo on his arm and in my broken Sudanese Arabic I could make out the name of a woman. It read “Nasrin”.

I told him to count to three and warned him that I was about to pierce his skin. He asked me if it would hurt. I said yes. As I stuck the needle into him I imagined him being in far away sandy places deeply in love with a girl who had deep brown eyes and long eyelashes. Nasrin. She would wear a black headscarf and readjust it when strands of her black hair slipped through. It was always her eyes that drew him in. It was the first thing that drew him in. She would walk past his classroom everyday. He’d wait for her even if it meant just one glance. He would wait. Their relationship would be awkward stares and lingering looks until the day she got close enough for him to say something. This time she was so close he could smell her. He froze. She would wait. There was a sense of patience to her. He begged for the words to come up. He cursed his brain for not giving his body permission and demanded his mouth make words but it did not comply. She didn’t look at him with eyes of stupidity instead she quietly looked downwards and gently commanded out his throat a simple “hello”. They would begin to meet in secret while their love began to grow.

His naivety and love for American movies taught him that if you really loved a woman you would get her name imprinted on your body. Eventually, he would get her name tattooed in secret places because Islam forbade any alteration of the body. When he showed her the tattoo she covered her mouth in disbelief. She grabbed his arm and her eyes shifted up to his face. This was when he realized no woman had ever looked at him with such intensity and desire. He tried his best not to grimace as she sensually traced her index finger around her name. He looked at her supple lips contrasted against deep caramel skin. A ray of sun snuck into the dim room and hit her eyes as she looked up at him again. Her eyes dripping with lust and pure passion. This time she didn’t hide. She wanted him to see it all. The room smelled of their sweat and ravaging hormones. With all the humidity her scarf began to slip off. His body was feeling things that he didn’t know or even cared to describe. At that moment no one else existed in the world. It was only him and Nasrin. His hand was slowly making its way to her face. He imagined what her skin would feel like under his finger tips. He stopped. He couldn’t. All the waiting he had done for this one moment. It was the worlds turn to wait for him. He wanted the world to turn seconds into minutes, minutes into hours and hours into days that would never end and if the world couldn’t do that than by Allah the world needed to freeze time all together for him. He demanded the world wait and his conviction so deep and devoted that he lost himself in her and she in him.

Later he would find out that time did not wait and a nosy neighbor standing on a nearby roof would tell Nasrin’s father that he ought to have a better rein on his daughters. This would abruptly end their early blossoming of a relationship and this was when he learned the life lesson that time was a taker and never a giver. She waited for no one, not even the begging mother would get a seconds worth of extra time with her dying newborn. It was simple.

A university scholarship would send him to Chicago and Nasrin would marry a man in the nearby city of Constantine. Her face aging but the deep brown and youthfulness of her eyes remaining. Sometimes on his summer visits home he would walk past the school. Children would poke their heads out looking at the people and donkeys carrying water down the bustling street. These were the times he would think of her. Their love would be a faded memory but like the tattoo Nasrin was forever imprinted on his being.

I began to fill the tubes with thick red blood. He looked down at his arm alarmingly and jokingly warned me not to drain his body. I reassured him he was a big man and this was virtually impossible. He laughed as I snapped the tourniquet off his arm.

I walked to the front of the ER to send his blood up to the lab. I could hear a lady crying in one of the rooms and a mother cooing her baby to sleep in another. Hospitals remind us that death and life are one in the same. I sat at my computer charting as one of the medical students hovered over the attending doctor. The secretary turned to me and said, “Room number 8 is calling you.” I walked to his room and he pointed to his chest as his face twisted in pain. I glanced at the cardiac monitor to make sure his heart rhythm was normal. Fifteen minutes later combined with a dose of morphine he rested comfortably in his bed. He turned to me and asked if his blood results had come back. I told him they hadn’t but he’d was more than likely going to stay the night at the hospital. He let out a deep sigh as I left his room.

As the night went by the ER began to bustle with the sounds of patients vomiting, call bells ringing and people crying. I whirled from room to room administering medications, drawing blood and talking to concerned family members. Nearly every time I walked near room number 8 he would wave me down. My annoyance began to reach new heights because of the volume of sick people I was tending to. Right now he was fine and I was too busy to casually talk.

Eventually, my shift was over. I put my jacket on and grabbed by bag. I was heading out and walked past his room. We exchanged smiles and he asked where I was going. He was lying in the stretcher with the heart monitor on. Different colored wires were sticking from under his hospital gown. I told him my shift was over and I was headed home. With concern in his voice he asked if someone else would be in to take care of him. I thought that was a silly question. I told him yes and that I had given her a full report on his condition.

I left.

My co-worker would call me the next morning as I walked into a dental appointment. She told me that the patient in room number 8 went up to his room and began complaining of worsening pain. One of the residents decided to order a second set of lab work. As he was Face Timing his family he went into cardiac arrest. They were unable to revive him. Once his lab work came back his cardiac enzymes had tripled. He was having a full blown heart attack.

The doctor said she had never seen this in her twenty plus year career. His blood work coming back nearly perfect. She said that ,“Timing did not work in his favor.”

Again, time waited for no one.

I sat in the chair and cried feeling like I had abandoned him. It made me feel even worse when I closed my eyes and remembered how his face looked as I left my shift the previous night. I was drained and in a rush to get home after working 12-hours. Surely, I could have given him a couple more moments. I blamed myself for being selfish with my time. I began to recount my interactions with him the previous night. Even with the gloves on I could feel the warmth of his body underneath my fingertips. I watched his heart pump out his blood into tubes. It was deep red. He was so alive.

The dentist walked in. I quickly wiped my face and smiled. He asked me what was wrong and I told him my allergies were acting up. He paused and looked at me as though he knew I was lying. Formalities would cause the conversation to stop right there and I was perfectly fine with that. He put his gloves on and I heard a snapping noise as the latex hit his wrist. “OK, open up.” he said. Normally, I hated the taste of fluoride. Normally, I hated visiting the dentist. Normally, I would have been fidgeting in that seat.

My mind was in another place.

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