Laylah Reid

Things never go the way I plan. There’s always some underlying factor I leave out that ends up biting me in the ass. I used to say, math class is useless, when am I ever going to use the Pythagorean theorem in my day-to-day life? I should have paid attention in geometry rather than spending precious minutes in class turning down the brightness on my Chromebook so no one saw my angsty sophomore-year fiction. Slowly I’m realizing every aspect of life is an equation and I always miss a step. A+B=C. I always forgot to square, which is probably why I passed  Geometry with a low C. My tendency to exclude things as ‘important’ in my mind simply because they bring me no immediate satisfaction is why I barely scathe past in life, just enough to survive, never enough to prosper. Never enough to be what I need to be, and what is that? Something strangely mundane and innocent, like a childless wife making cereal from scratch or writing letters to myself, sitting on the cool white stone of my backyard gazebo. Curling pinky fingers with my lover— promising nothing— just cause we can. 

My great-grandmother had a misbelieve tree in her backyard buried a few feet away from the family dog that died shortly after she did. Though I love the fruit so dearly, I stopped eating it after they both died because every time plucked one of those little bright orange fig-like fruits it always seemed to rot in my hands. My mother said it’s bad to bury the dead and the regrets of the past near food, she says it’s cursed. My father says it is the highest honor to eat the harvest of passed souls ripened fruit, he says it’s blessed. I think it’s a fruit tree planted in the backyard of a home that was always a little too warm, next to an elderly dog that missed its owner so much that it took its tired old claws to scratch at the dirt under the gate and lay peacefully in the street, awaiting a long honk followed by an attempted swerve, and a few moments later the sound of a little girl screaming at the bloody tire prints in the road and the still figure of ‘thewsi.’ She could not stop crying to pronounce the S in Suzie.

I’m challenging myself to wear natural hair this entire week. I’ve grown tired of being tricked into hating myself. I didn’t have ‘good hair’ like my mom. I got my dad’s hair, slightly thin, and refuses to hold a curl. I didn’t get my mother’s lighter complexion either, but I did get her small, mean eyes, instead of my father’s big glossy doe-kind eyes. No one is quite sure where my nose and my lips came from, both were nothing special. Over time my features became my enemy. I felt unkempt if my hair was not in some style— braids or faux locs, quick weaves or lace fronts. I needed something to hide the things about me that weren’t right. I need makeup, I need clothes, I need a boyfriend, I need a better body. I need to fill the things inside of myself that this world has convinced me are empty— that I have voids in desperate need to be filled. 

I need a genesis, I wish to be a god for a moment. Not long enough to be praised like one, but long enough to create like one. If people built monuments made of the earth’s fickle resources in my honor, killed people in my honor, rejected communities in my honor, and disregarded the ideals of millions in my honor, it would rain every day. When I was young, my grandmother would say each time it rained it was because god looked out onto the world he’d created and it was no longer good, he felt sadness, and he cried. She said the story of Noah’s ark wasn’t a flood, it was a sob. She said Hurricane Katrina was an angry cry, she said god screamed and hollered. 

The other family dog has now died, though the information is being withheld from me. I didn’t take to it well the first time around, but in my defense, I was 10 and had no real bouts with grief. Even so, I was so painfully aware of death my entire life. I was raised old, meaning my mother was a late child, making me an extremely late child. All of my cousins were nearing adulthood once I learned to walk. Aunts and uncles I’d never known without gray hair and wrinkled smiles. As a child, I was always going to a funeral for a distant relative. It was such a frequent thing— putting on a little floral black dress on Saturday mornings became like an outing to me. I never knew the person stuffed in the little white linen-lined box, and if I did, they were very cloudy in my memories. Only recently have the people I second-lined bodies down the street with become the bodies being danced down the dirty roads with umbrellas and handkerchiefs and bitten bloody lips and strip lashes lifting from all the tears. 

To be a teenage girl in this day in age is nearly impossible. Things are so confusingly yet pressingly marketed, it drills the fragile mind of a young woman into nothingness. To be beautiful, whatever that means. To smell good, but a certain scent, each woman should smell different but a good different, it is a part of your individuality. You are meant to scour the aisles of stores sniffing random perfumes and bath soaps until you feel nauseous. You are meant to be sexy but not too sexy or you’ll venture into slut territory, and be cute but not too cute because then you’re trying too hard to stay youthful. There are levels to everything in teenage girlhood. Your makeup should be natural, not natural enough to where it looks like nothing is on but natural enough that your beauty strikes someone. Heavy makeup isn’t attractive unless you’re part of the outlying group of girls who can wear heavy makeup and get away with it because they have the facial compatibility for it. You should look clean and classy, but don’t look uptight, no one likes a stick in the mud. Don’t be too outgoing, people will think you’re easy, but don’t play hard to get or you’ll never find anyone. But these are the baseline requirements, black women have an additional list of what ifs and but thens to categorize them in society. You’re meant to be skinny but not in the ways of a white woman, not thin. Aunties will start to ask if your starving yourself, and your father will tell himself you look like a racehorse. Be nice and soft around the hips and thighs, ample in the chest, and round in the face. But make sure you’re well covered up unless you wish to be fast or asking for trouble. And be a poised black girl, not like them hoodrats that godforbid leave their houses in bonnets, or get the long nails and wear 

 as “beautiful”, whatever that is. 

Though sometimes I wonder what God is meant to do. What is this salvation people so desperately yearn to have? I think of religion as an ancient sun ritual that the Aztecs used to participate in. Each night they would sacrifice someone to ensure that the sun would rise the following morning. Three hundred sixty-five lives were taken each year, what would have happened if just one person decided to push against traditional views? People wouldn’t have to live in fear of something as beautiful as nightfall. There are two factors, one being the fear of the sun still rising, and then everything surrounding the falsehood becomes false, people are afraid to abandon their ideals for the prospect of the truth being outside of what they know to be true. The second is the fear of the sun not rising and knowing that the killing must continue day after day and nothing within your one lone power can control it. 

I don’t believe in ancestors, or a promised land. I think when I die I’ll just cease to live and that will be all. It’d be nice to think the dead could hear me when I beg for their resurrection, sob so gutturally my hands can’t help but find their way to the warm softness of my stomach and press deeply into my core. My hands tuck themselves under my weight hoping to relieve my heart of all of the weight I press against it in anger, in disgust, in betrayal, in an aching and a yearning I will never be rid of. I know that when I sit alone at night, praying to my god, connecting to the ones I’ve lost, I am talking to no one but the four walls that trap me.

My room is lined with anime posters, music artists, and poetry quotes to keep a balance of playfulness and maturity— like my hot pink cheetah print bed sheets that can only be seen when pulling back a heavy black comforter. I’ve always wanted my room to have an aesthetic of some kind. To be a girls–girl and have a trendy fun living space. Ive been told my room does a wonderful job portraying me, only there is nothing aesthetically pleasing about it. My room is dark and cramped, with makeup stains on my desk, hair products and bonnets hooked to the side of my chair.,clothes sprawled about on the floor and on the bed, and a turtle tank that needs to be cleaned on my dresser where more clothes hang out of. There are no methods in my room, only madness, and yet I’ve been told, “It’s definitely your room.”

If I could I’d wash it all away, the room, the clutter within it, the clutter in my brain, the clutter in my heart. I wish to leave it all behind and  live in a garden of magnolias all alone and be both the Adam and the Eve. Live with the beast and fruits of my own creation, be my own peace and prosperity. Be something outside of a life, or ideals, or a societal code of conduct. I want to be.