An excerpt from the performance Phrases of Womanhood (c) Cynthia C Harris and OlaOmi Akalatunde.
Woman#2 :When I was younger, still in pigtails and patent leather Sunday shoes, they said I acted womanish and thought I was cute: all of em, Mamas, Aunties, Daddies, Uncles, and Play Cousins. I remember family outings and church picnics full of honey coated chocolate dipped caramel kissed grown folk, loud talking and story telling. Long rows of women fanning flies and fighting back beads of sweat. In between sips of iced tea, they attacked.
W#3:“Look at her, you gone have to watch that one right there. She ain’t but how old – and already thankin she cute.”
W#1:“Mmm Mmm honey, you ain’t gone be able to tell her nothing in a minute.”
W#3:”That’s the kind of girl that makes it hard to raise your son right. Lord knows we don’t need no mo fast tail girls round here layin up, makin babies left and right”
W#2:And there it was – the only possible destiny for a girl like me. I hadn’t even graduated from dress up shoes without buckles, couldn’t pick out my own clothes, couldn’t even do my own hair or fix my breakfast yet, but they already knew me.
I was guilty – of something. I walked with spine straight topped with a head held high. Ever peculiar about nice dresses and clean hands, I thought I was beautiful. No you couldn’t convince me that I wasn’t special cause I felt it with every part of myself.
I was the center of my very own universe. The stars shined for me. I could call thunder and rain. The crickets sang my song on cue. I was the first and only recipient of the keys to all the sweetness the world had to offer and I all I had to do was show up and be born.
But over time you begin to believe your inherent special-ness is wrong.
If youthful attempts to show pride bring shame then accepting that you are unworthy of positive attention or kindness is your only refuge.
New truth embraced, the scene was set for not telling my mother that every morning after I waved goodbye from the rear of the school bus, boys a few grades ahead of me called me dirty names and touched me under my uniform.
At school a classmate took an interest in me and decided I would be his girlfriend. Even though only an elementary student, he was well versed, in the ways a man treats a woman, especially one that thinks she’s cute.
W #1: (as though teaching or explaining a conspiracy plot)Rule #1-You sit next to her only at lunch and special assemblies, adorning yourself with her as a fancy decoration.
W #3: (as though teaching or explaining a conspiracy plot)Rule#2-You count her with your racecars and marbles, as a valued personal possession.
W #1: (as though teaching or explaining a conspiracy plot)Rule#3-You pull her braids and mess her ribbons for receiving any attention you don’t solicit or approve.
W #3: (as though teaching or explaining a conspiracy plot)Rule#4- You push her down into sharp gravel, for not feeling, looking, thinking the way you want.
W #2: Slowly the weight of it all began to crush. Silence painted my pictures and shame laid my path. Cause this was my fault. I made this happen. It had to be my fault. Surely there had to be something about ME, the way words confidently flowed from my mouth, the way my heart was wide open to the sun and the world that made ME somehow appropriate for attack. Maybe I was born wrong or at the wrong time, Cause the world was telling me I was an Alien here. Wasn’t no place for me to just be as I was – naturally.
When everybody that is supposed to love you, speaks harshly, ridicules, abandons and picks at you till you are nothing but the words they call you and the thoughts they feed you, you wonder who you can turn to when your first, second, and third loves treat you like shit. Those same people that are supposed love you; all demand to know
W#1:Why do you, HOW could you tolerate such disrespectful partners and such and abusive relationships? If anybody ever talked to ME that way I’d…
W#3:I guess I just expected more from you.
W#1:We thought you knew better than to get yourself mixed up with somebody like that.
W#2:They easily forget that the self-love necessary to avoid such pitfalls is long gone. Slight traces found mixed with dirt under fingernails or sitting high in pantries, pickled in jars thick with dust.
Wouldn’t they all be happier if I could just fade away.
Wouldn’t the world be better if I were never here
Maybe somebody else coulda used this space or this brain or this blood or this body
And whatever piece of me still struggles and gasps for life could just relax and finally be
But somehow, always the pieces of you remain, somewhere in the between.
Somehow, no matter what the trauma, however intense, the missing pieces can always regenerate.
Somehow despite the worst of yesterdays and this mornings, right now and tomorrow SURVIVE waiting to be informed.
Deep under all the “other people’s stuff”. Under years and layers of something other than what you would have chosen for yourself, is the little girl waiting to uncurl her spine and love herself again.