The french call it a certain “je ne sais quoi”. I never knew what it was that made them come. I just knew they never stayed. It’s men, I’m talking ’bout. When I was younger, my mama would tell me, “Chile, you go be a heartbreaker when you grow up”. I didn’t know what she meant for a long time. See mama was born with dark skin as smooth and clear as night. I always wished mine was the same. She was like an unblemished black pearl— smooth and polished all over. Whereas all my mistakes showed up clear across my face. I couldn’t hide a pimple or scratch to save my life. They sat on me like bitter reminders of my gangliness and youthful ineptitude. Dorothy Ann didn’t allow for me to wear glasses. She said she didn’t want nothing to hide my pretty little face. She always thought I was blessed to have this mulatto skin and caramel eyes. My hair was my mother’s crown and glory and the root of my dissatisfaction. While I was in school, I learned that it was other girls’ idea of beauty too. They never admired me for it though… they hated me and made life lonely. So I never had many women friends growing up. They told me I thought I was too good or better than them, but I never thought that at all. I wanted to be part of that elusive group called friends. Well by the time my schooling came to a close, I’d learned to dress down, but never wear my hair in that direction. I learned not to look at any boys because they might be one of the meaner girls’ crush. I learned to seldom smile or laugh or anything that put my face in a pretty light. By learning those things, I was able to have some acquaintances. I knew some of them just used me to have the “mixed girl” around for status but it was better than playing pretend and being in my head all the time. Plus, it kept my backside from mama’s switch— she highly disliked me talking to things that weren’t there and said it was ungodly. The rest of my school mates assumed I was stuck up or bourgeoisie. I yearned to tell them of how many nights the lights wasn’t on and how we warmed our bath water on the stove or even how somedays mama gave me her food just so I could eat. Except I knew they wouldn’t listen, they’d made their minds up about me years ago. So I lived like two people. The me I was and the me folks thought I was. The only ones who saw me were the boys and the men. Even then, not really… they treated me like a shiny penny on the floor that nobody could see but them. When I became a woman, no matter how hard I tried to blend, they saw me and they came.
They came in droves and hordes. Each one idolizing me like the answer to a better life could be found between my legs. Mama always thought I’d be our ticket. That my skin and my eyes and my hair would land me some big rich fancy man. The women thought I was some gold digging money grubber pretending to be all holy and sanctified but if I had the chance, I’d take their men. The men thought I’d bring them status and open doors. It would start off good and sweet. They were always enraptured by me. Then when the leaves with begin to fall, enough time would pass that I’d know they liked the idea of me but not me. They’d stray and say they found someone more like them or that I was too good for them and deserved more. I knew what it meant like them, less beautiful and too good was too beautiful. Maybe they could’ve and just maybe they would have but none of them ever scratched the surface long enough to see what was under all this copper plating. They leave me bereft and empty. I wonder why no one ever wants to see or tries to see what’s beneath this skin, this face, these eyes, and this hair. There is a soul that gives and laughs and smiles and just loves!!! Oh Gawd, I loves. Sure do and I’ve wanted babies and a family and sisters to talk to and a life. Why else would the good Lord bless me with so great a heart otherwise!? Who is there for me living in this in between? Neither he nor she, lovers or friends. Just mama and her disappointing eyes as the years run by. Everyday her hopes fades a little more, like that space between night and dawn and she say, “You was supposed to be a heartbreaker with all them blessings… you should have men lined up down they blocks”. Then she shuffles off and leaves me alone. I’ve spent most of my life this way- alone and thinking.
Oh yes mama, they came but they never stayed. I’ve become heartbroken since I’ve grown up and this blessing has been my curse… and I’d trade my light for her darkness, my eyes for hers richness, my hair for her kinks. And I’d do it to be loved and seen and to get out of this Imitation of Life, not fit for anyone, not even someone in halves as Sarah Jane.
an excerpt from Four Women (c), a novelette 2010 by Kimberley Gladney Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.