It’s July 1992 in South Georgia. To say it’s hot is the understatement of the decade. But we don’t care about the heat. We’re smearing foundation on our clean skin and carefully applying teal eyeliner and heavy black mascara; copying the open mouth mascara face we’ve seen our mothers make. We’re debating the best shade of hot-pink lipstick. We have pulled out a salon’s variety of brushes, combs, hair dryers, curling irons, and a family size purple can of Super Hold Aqua Net. When I’m finally pleased with my face and teased hair we turn around to look at the pile of clothes on the bed. I choose a turquoise and black leopard print mini skirt and solid black t-shirt. I gather the waist of the shirt over my left hip and knot it so it fits tighter. Before we run out the front door of the single-wide, I slip my red toenails into black jelly shoes. I’m 9 years old.
We walk the dirt paths of the trailer park like we’re on a mission. Our heads are high and we’re smiling. We’re not going anywhere in particular. We’re just making the rounds and showing off our excellent fashion sense. When the grandma sitting on her front porch on a milk crate says how pretty we look, we are validated. Nevermind the sweat gathering on our hair lines. We have small wads of toilet paper to blot the sweat away, so it doesn’t mess up our faces.
Later in the day we pile into the back of a station wagon to get Icees. The windows are down and we’re in the way back where there are no seats. We’re looking out the back window and making up stories about the people we pass. The sweet scent of a burning joint drifts into the back. We smile at each other. Our hair is coming undone under the wind that is whipping around in the back of the car. But we don’t care anymore. We are reminded that we’re still just girls, and the grown women in the front don’t care about their own beautiful locks flying in the wind – so why should we? There’s no music playing and the car is quiet, except for the rushing air twirling around our sweaty bodies. This is a peaceful, reassuring quiet.
A quiet that tells me we’re all part of each other and our souls are old friends – my mother and aunt and cousin and me.
When the sun is setting we decide to go for one last stroll. I’m wondering if we’ll see the cute boy that lives a few trailers down the road. He’s probably off with his brother. I decide if he asks about my messy hair I’ll tell him this is my evening look. But I freshen up the pink lipstick, just in case. And I’m glad when I see his blond hair around the corner. He’s on his bike and he begins to circle around us as we’re walking. So we straighten up and suck in our small bellies and begin to giggle. He asks where we’re going. We tell him we’re going to see a man about a dog. That’s what my mama always says. And we giggle some more and we think this is cute.
Later, in the bed with the air conditioner going and the lights out, I stare at the ceiling. I am glad to be part of this tribe of bohemian fiercely independent women. In this quiet time, laying next to my beautiful mama, I think this life ain’t so bad, and I never want to return to my daddy’s house. I pray God will help me find a way to stay with my mama in this cocoon of feminine power that she weaves around us.
It’s July 2015 in Southeastern Pennsylvania. A lazy cool breeze goes by. We’re wearing baggy dresses and no shoes. I have a tube of Burt’s Bees in my dress pocket. I’m 32.
We sit on the front lawn, glad to have nothing to do. We watch the clouds bump into each other. We lay next to each other on the grass and hold our hands above our faces. We look at each other, then she places her right hand to my left. Her’s is a fraction of the size, and she knows the story of how we both have her grandmother’s hands. We think of this at the same time and smile. We don’t say much because we don’t have to.
We’re part of each other – my daughter and me.
She grabs the chalk from the porch and draws pretty pictures on the walkway. I enjoy the childishness of this activity. I am comforted by our closeness, especially in the sweet silence. I am thankful that girls like my 9 year old self can grow into women like me. I mother my daughter a little closer, in a cocoon of feminine power that is tightly woven, borrowing silver strands of thread from my foremothers. In these quiet spaces, we don’t need words to know each other.
Agere Contra, friends