Cassiopeia, Part 2.

Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t the only guy smitten with Cassiopeia.

“You two met Cassi Benson yet?” Richard Nelson inquired one morning in the breakroom. Other than Richard and me, Danny Gator also stood by the counter, waiting for his coffee to finish brewing in the machine.

I drank my coffee and remained silent. I wanted to hear what they had to say, for one thing, and my instant fury at hearing her name exit Richard’s mouth was best left unexpressed, at least in the office.  

“I met her after the all-hands meeting last week. Smart as a whip. And,” Danny said, grinning, “utterly gorgeous.”  

“Gorgeous isn’t even the word,” Richard replied, shaking his head. “I wanted to take her to dinner in Rome or something. She messed with my mind the moment I met her.”

Well, he was right about that.

“What are your thoughts, El?” Richard then asked me.

I shrugged. “I don’t have any thoughts.”

“Come on. Haven’t you met her?”

“Yeah, he’s met her. I saw them talking at the all-hands meeting,” Danny said.

“So, what do you think about her?” Richard pressed.

“She’s great.” My own words burned my tongue. Great was such a meaningless word. Cassiopeia didn’t deserve that word, even if using it was my attempt to get out this inane conversation.

“I wonder if she’s married,” Danny then said.

“Married like you are to your wife, Rick? And you, too, Danny?” I asked them.

They laughed nervously and in unison, gazing at me with wide, exposed eyes.

“We were Just…just thinking out loud, man,” Richard stammered.

I took my leave, leaving Richard and Danny with their coffee and their excuses.

*

Of course, none of it mattered. There would never be a declaration to Cassiopeia about how I felt or an admission that my work day now consisted of the moments we saw each other versus everything else. There would be no declarations at all, not from me or from Richard and Danny’s respective imaginations. The Jupiter Alliance had a strict non-fraternization policy; workplace romances were completely prohibited. Four years ago, after our founder and CEO, Zachary Jupiter, had been caught in yet another dalliance with one of his subordinates, his wife—who had discovered this dalliance during an impromptu visit to the office—had threatened a very public shaming and brutal divorce if his behavior didn’t change. This resulted in Jupiter establishing a no dating/fraternizing policy top to bottom, from the executive staff to the cleaning crew. Soon, rumors began to crop up that Jupiter was utilizing ruthless tactics to ensure that his employees upheld the policy; some of these tactics included the employment of faceless enforcers who stopped at nothing on his behalf. Of course, no one had any proof.

Then came Ballard Keene and Marnie Anderson.  

Two years ago, it became quickly evident that something was going on between Ballard and Marnie. The way Ballard looked at Marnie when she passed by his desk. The way she invented reasons to stop by his desk. (Ballard was a junior accountant and Marnie was a paralegal; crossing business paths would be rare, at best.) Almost immediately, we started warning them. If we could see what was happening between them, so could everyone else, including the boss and his rumored enforcers. Our warnings went unheeded. One day at lunch, Ballard announced that he would seek approval from Zachary Jupiter himself to marry Marnie. “I’ll volunteer to quit,” he told us. “That way, it won’t make a difference.”

A few weeks later, Ballard and Marnie’s workspaces were empty. Calls and text messages to their phones went unanswered. Some of us visited their respective apartments and were informed that neither of those names were on the list of residents. It was as if the two had never existed. 

That was the part of the story none of us could still digest: the cold dread of knowing, deep down, that Ballard and Marnie no longer existed.

*

That mid-morning, an Instant Message appeared on my monitor.

CB: Japanese or Thai today?

I smiled.

EP: Your choice.

CB: Let’s go with Thai.

EP: I concur. There’s a new place downtown we can try.

CB: Sounds good. Just us this time?

I read her message repeatedly on my monitor, each word burning into my brain.

She wanted it to be just us?

Was something happening?

Had she noticed that I always surrounded us with people when we were together for fear of being noticed and subsequently accused of fraternization and receiving some sort of insidious, Ballard/Marnie-type of reprisal?  

EP: Sure, just us this time.

*

Being alone with Cassiopeia Benson wasn’t advisable if you were in love with her and/or feared being seen by potentially murderous agents. Ten minutes into our lunch at Thai Garden, I found myself doing whatever I could to distract myself and pretend as if everything was fine; constantly drinking my water, fidgeting, looking elsewhere. It was ridiculous, and she knew it.  

“What’s going on with you?” she asked, frowning at me.

I drank my water yet again, draining the glass and wishing it was whiskey. “What do you mean?”

“Elliott, come on. Be straight with me.”

I wasn’t ready to tell her the part that involved my feelings. Rather, I told her the other part, about Zachary Jupiter and Ballard and Marnie. She listened intently.

“I don’t even know what to say,” she said when I was finished. “I was aware of the policy; they stressed it repeatedly when I onboarded. To be honest, I thought it was preposterous. However, that story…” Her voice trailed off.

“It’s a lot to take in, I know.”

“So, you’re nervous because you think if you’re seen with me—”

“We’re colleagues and we have a right to enjoy lunch together,” I said firmly, sounding more determined than how I felt. This was the reason I had given myself before accepting her earlier lunch offer. “But who knows how these guys—if they’re real—interpret these things?”

“I see. That’s why we’re always in a group.” She repeatedly twirled her Singapore noodles around on her fork, not eating, just twirling.

For a moment, I was reminded of my recurring dream and the stars that twirled around on her skin. Quickly, I cleared away the image. “Are you all right?” I asked. “It’s a pretty heavy subject for lunch on a Tuesday, I know—”

“I thought you preferred groups when we’re together because of how you feel about me.”

I swallowed thickly. “How I feel about you?”

The intense expression on her face slightly softened as she nodded. “Yes, Elliott. I’m not blind, you know.”

I wanted to reach for her. I wanted to pull her towards me. I wanted to tell her.

“You’re a bit less transparent than you think,” she said, chuckling softly.

There was no more water to drink and I was suddenly too weak to signal a server.

“Nothing to say?” she asked me lightly.

“I–“

“It’s okay. We’ll talk about it later. Let’s discuss that collaboration project they mentioned at the morning meeting.”

I did more listening than talking, although I wasn’t sure I could speak even if I tried.

Cassiopeia, Part 1.

I discovered Greek mythology as an 11 year-old wandering around the stacks of my local library. One afternoon, I happened upon an illustrated book of Greek myths and was immediately struck by the photo of the frowning goddess on the book’s cover. Naturally, I grabbed the book and set to reading, quickly devouring stories about these gods and goddesses that manifested purely human traits for supposed inhabitants of a celestial mountain. They were very much fallible, yes, and some of the stories were uncomfortable to read, certainly. (Zeus was very much for the streets.) But I was intrigued, surely. This led to more readings about the Greeks; Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, for example, and other related works. I wanted to know more and more about them. By college, I was taking Classics courses on Mythology for that guaranteed A (I mean, yeah), and had read an arsenal of myths of other cultures, too. It was all so interesting to me.

In my fiction and poetry, you’ll find more than a few pieces inspired by Greek mythology. Sometimes metaphorical, sometimes allegorical, sometimes outright pieces spoken in the voice of a chosen character. This particular short story I’ve decided to share with you is brimming with mythological symbolism. Let me know if you can find the symbols (won’t be hard to find, tbh.) Anyway, the story was inspired by a myriad of things; I mostly wanted to write a story about the corporate world, which I know quite well, write from a male point of view, and throw in some suspense in my storytelling.

Here comes Part 1 of Cassiopeia. Enjoy.

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Let’s start from the beginning.

Three months ago, we had the following conversation:

Me: Your name is pretty unique.

Her: Do you know the story behind the name? It’s from my father’s favorite Greek myth.

Me: No, I’m not familiar with it.

Her: You remember Perseus and Andromeda, right?

Me: I’m nodding but I have no clue.

She responded to my statement with robust laughter. The fact that I could make her do this, to throw her head back and laugh, thrilled me in ways I couldn’t even describe to myself, much less to you.

Her: Ok, so Perseus flew the horse with wings, Pegasus. Andromeda was almost sacrificed to a sea monster. Here’s where my namesake comes in. Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, boasted that both she and her daughter were more beautiful than the nereids, who were sea nymphs. Of course, this didn’t sit well with Poseidon, who was god of the sea. He decided to unleash a sea monster onto the kingdom. Naturally, the only way to appease Poseidon was to sacrifice their daughter, because how else do you appease mythological gods, right? Moments before the sea monster takes Andromeda away, Perseus swoops in on Pegasus and saves the day. But Poseidon still wanted to punish Cassiopeia for her arrogance. So, he placed her in the sky as a constellation, in the same position that her daughter had been in when she was chained to a rock at the edge of sea.

Me: Interesting. Your father named you after an arrogant woman chained to a rock…

Her[chuckling]: Well, Cassiopeia was a queen, so she was powerful in her own right. He loved that about her. She also refused to cower to the gods. He loved that, too. But it was the fact that she wasn’t just boasting about herself: she included her daughter in her boasting. To him, that signified a fierce, unapologetic love for her child. So that was the primary reason he gave me the name because he felt the same way about his daughter.

A few things.

1) She was almost out of breath when she was describing the myth. Her eyes gleamed the entire time, her hands moved to and fro as she described the scenes. It was dizzyingly incredible.

2) Her passion for the story quieted when she mentioned her late father. She spoke about him reverentially; it made me wish we weren’t standing by the coffee machine in our break room but that we were somewhere else, maybe in a holy place, a place worthy of the awe in her voice.

Finally, 3) If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m in love with Cassiopeia Benson.

*

Three months ago, I was walking down the hallway that Monday morning and didn’t realize that the empty office I typically passed by was no longer empty. 

“Good morning,” I heard moments after I had passed by.

I reversed and peered into the office.

She sat on the edge of her desk, her attention on the folder in her hand. When she became aware of my presence, she looked up and smiled at me.

Initial thought: my God.

It’s just not enough to tell you that, in that moment and thereafter, I sincerely believed that Cassiopeia Benson was too beautiful for words. Beautiful couldn’t legitimately describe what I saw in that office. Perhaps essence or light or wonder were comparable, but in the end, every word fell short.  Whatever it was that was emanating from her, I wanted it right then and there. Not merely for myself, but with me, next to me. 

“Good morning,” I replied after locating my voice. I then gestured toward the boxes sitting throughout the office. “I’m guessing that you’re moving in.”

“I am—it’s my first day.”

“Welcome and happy first day. I’m Elliott Percy. I’m on the Wealth Management team.” I walked further into the room and extended my hand toward her, which she shook. I did everything to stop myself from lingering there, palm to palm.

“A pleasure to meet you, Elliott, and thank you,” she said. “Cassi Benson, Portfolio Management.”

“Stephen Worthy’s team. He’s a good guy.”

“I’m glad to hear it. But I was warned about eating in the cafeteria?”

I laughed. “There was an incident about four years ago. I won’t go into much detail, but it’s probably safer to consider outside options for lunch.” I paused then, quickly making up my mind on what next to say. “A few of us were planning on Italian for lunch actually, this afternoon. There’s a great spot close to the office. Feel like joining?” I was amazed by how casual I sounded, being that my heart was minutes from imploding. No, it wouldn’t be just the two of us at lunch, but it would certainly feel that way to me.

“I’d love to. You can fill me on other office-related things I need to know. Want to pick me up here?”

“Sounds like a plan. Again, happy first day.”

“Thanks, Elliott.”

When I reached my office, which was a few right turns away from hers, I took a seat at my desk and stared dazedly at the blue screen of my monitor for what seemed like an eternity.

*

When I arrived to pick her up in the afternoon, her new nameplate was now emblazoned on her office door. CASSIOPEIA BENSON. I gazed at the curious first name and decided, before knocking, that “Cassi” was far too average for a woman who was nothing like the word. It was after our Italian lunch, in the breakroom, that I asked her about the origin of her name and heard that breathless, reverent, amazing story. 

*

I started dreaming about Cassiopeia soon thereafter. The dreams usually consisted of the same scene: me standing silently before her in an unknown, shadowy place, the only light coming from the constellations that whirled around on her brown skin. A breathtaking, endless display of moving stars on her arms, hands, cheeks. The dreams rarely went beyond us standing still before each other—until the most recent dream. In that one, I reached out to touch the configuration of stars spinning around on her cheek. Before I could, however, she pulled me toward her and locked her arms around me until the stars appeared all over me, too.  

Blogtober #12: Bookworming It.

(This blog post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a small commission for purchases made through these links.)

Welcome to Monday. Since this time of year–for me, anyway–breeds even more reading than usual, I wanted to share my top four favorite books of all time with y’all. (Fun fact: I declared that I would never combine you + all once moving to Texas. So, yeah. Y’all it is. Never say never.)

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. What can I even say about this inspiring book? You know it. You either read it and/or watched the film adaptation in your classroom growing up. You fell in love with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. You were moved by this engrossing tale of lessons and race relations in the Deep South. You loved reading about Scout and Jem and Boo Radley and Dill. You were enraptured by the trial and case of Tom Robinson. This book was everything for me. As a budding writer and just as a person, I’ll never forget how this novel made me feel.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. Loooooookkkkk. Let me tell you. My 12th grade English teacher was the meanest lady this side of Planet Earth. I wish I were exaggerating. Nevertheless, I will forever thank her for inciting my enduring love for Jane Austen and her writing. Never have I loved fictional characters more (Elizabeth Bennet: personal hero; Mr. Darcy: husband), for one thing, and never have I adored the witty writing style and voice that an author created even more. It felt as if Jane was talking to me privately about these people she knew.

A Good Man is Hard to Find (and other stories), Flannery O’Connor. If Austen significantly influenced my writing style, then Ms. O’Connor majorly informed my desire to end a story with a bang. She knocked my literary socks off when I discovered her in college. Not only were her observations about human nature absolutely unrelenting, but so were the finales of her fascinating stories. (Seriously.) My love of writing short stories was also influenced by her; there’s nothing more enticing than fitting what could be a novel inside a short piece of work, which Flannery did over and over again.

Everything written by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Lois Lowry. You’ve likely heard it before, but most writers begin as voracious, devoted readers. Well, these three authors began the ball rolling for me. Memories of ensconcing myself in library stacks surrounded by their stories of intelligent, verbose heroines, annoying siblings, and the pain and discovery of girlhood are never far from mind. They began the blueprint for me. And yes, I’d read all those books over again now and still relate to them.

I have tons of booky favorites, needless to say, so another post with a new batch of favorites will come. Here’s where I’ll tell you that gone are the days when I had stacks and stacks of actual books that my mother threatened to get rid of if I didn’t arrange them with some semblance of order. These days, I enjoy maintaining a digital bookshelf and read everything on my Kindle app. (I’d love an actual library, but the living arrangements don’t presently have room for that. Maybe in the next place I find with more room.) I also have a Kindle Unlimited membership through Amazon and yes, it is awesome. A friend of mine knew how much I loved the whole library book borrowing system and recommended Kindle Unlimited–and I’m glad she did. With this membership, I can borrow books and discover an array of authors whenver I like. At present, I’m reading Mindy Kaling’s latest six series essay collection, Nothing Like I Imagined (Except for Sometimes), and the convenience of borrowing the titles and simply returning them when I’m done is the best. Gift the membership to yourself and/or to other bookworms in your life here.

Happy Reading and bon Monday.

A Stoop Wedding.

So, this pandemic and the resulting quarantine has proved, over and over again, that necessity truly is the mother of invention. I’ve seen people find creative ways to continue living and doing: roll-by parties (especially for 2020 graduates), young folks creating sanitized ways to hug their family and loved ones, so on. And one favorite thing I’ve come to love during these unique times are virtual weddings. Y’all. Virtual weddings, though. The intimacy (almost reverential), with just the couple and maybe an officiant, are so striking and beautiful to me. But when I read about Elaine Welteroth’s (whom I just adore) absolutely amazing wedding on her Brooklyn stoop, the squealing and inspiration was endless.

Image courtesy of Vogue magazine

Here are five reasons Elaine’s stoop wedding slayed me:

1. Like I said, I’ve been hooked by the intimacy of weddings in the time of COVID. Elaine said bump that. She had guests, bridesmaids, even her neighbors there for this wedding, all while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

2. My queen Lupita was there.

Image courtesy of Vogue magazine

3. I felt a palpable sense of joy while reading about Elaine and Jonathan’s commitment to still having this beautiful day happen despite possible obstacles. It was really lovely.

4. There was an elegant simplicity about this wedding. Elaine’s wedding dress came from her closet; her veil belonged to her mother. Everyone wore white. Just dreamy.

5. The mechanics: a “Soul Train” line of bridal party members socially distant standing on the sidewalk while Elaine walked down the “aisle”; each person having a FaceTime “buddy” so friends and family could see the ceremony. The love was truly in the details.

Image courtesy of Vogue magazine

This wedding was beautiful, dear reader. Like most weddings, yes, but I really appreciated the creative lengths Elaine and Jonathan went to ensure that despite the current climate, it would be beautiful and memorable. Read the article and enjoy.

Have you attended any virtual weddings? If so or if not, what are your thoughts about them? Let me know in the comments.

Square Peg Stories. (#2)

Welcome to Friyay, and welcome to our second Square Peg Story. (Look for this feature twice a month on Fridays.)

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Today, you’re going to meet Lauren. I’ve known this lovely beacon of light for several years now and have always been impressed by her positivity, her smile, her talent, and her fashion sense, among other things. Everyone needs a Lauren in their life. Meet her below.

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Tell me how you feel you stand out from the norm.
LL3What is the norm?! LOL I ask myself that all the time. I will say I never felt I stood out from the norm because I don’t even feel normal.  As a black girl growing up in the Bronx, you automatically get labeled as this rough, tough heartless person before you even open your mouth or people get to know you. I have the same feelings/insecurities as any woman no matter where she’s from.  I keep things bottled up and the slightest thing (like my coat pocket getting stuck on the doorknob) can send me into a crying fit like a baby. I was always told I was sensitive and it always stuck to me as a negative trait, something not normal. However, being sensitive is actually a normal thing. It means I feel things deeply and have a strong desire to bring happiness to the ones who I love and not have them feel pain. So I stand out by being true to who I am as a sensitive, full of emotion type of woman with her own sense of style that fits her outspoken shy personality.  It took an artist like Kelis to really help me see that standing out from the norm as a black woman was super cool and dope. To this day I still embrace that feeling!

What’s a time you took your own path and chose the road not traveled?
Okay so this is going to sound funny but what I can think of is a situation when I was much younger.  My sense of style was always different than my sisters or anyone for that matter (so I thought). I showed them an outfit and my eldest sister said, “I mean, I LL2wouldn’t wear it but if you like it, then so be it.”  My mom said I looked dejected because I really wanted it and was on my way to put it back but she said, “Lauren, you love it! It doesn’t matter what other people think.  This is you, mixing patterns and colors that don’t go together.  Never let anyone make you feel uncomfortable about what you like and want”.  LET ME TELL YOU HOW PROLIFIC THAT WAS TO ME!!!  That spoke to me in so many ways that it stuck with me to this day.  Many of my friends now will say “Somehow what you have on Lauren doesn’t make sense to me , but it makes perfectly good sense on you!” or they see something and say, “That is so you, Lauren. I see you rocking this!”  I have changed the narrative of feeling dejected into feeling inspired. I don’t necessarily take a road not traveled but I do travel that road in a way that I like and makes me happy.
What would you tell your 15 year old self?
OH 15yr old Lauren……first let me give you hug.  Your life is going to get much worse before it can get better and that will be a lesson that will help you during your tough times as an adult.  You are beautiful, you are unique and not everyone will love it or like you but YOU will be proud of who you are.  Don’t let rejection bring you down.  People reject what they are not ready for in their life and my dear WHOA! what you have to offer in love, friendship, talent and heart will shake even the tallest mountain!  Your presence will be felt in a room and your smile, your smile will be the one thing that makes lions purrrr. Make sure to always smile bright wherever you go, whomever you’re around and whatever you are doing. It will make others feel special and loved.  Don’t let anyone tell you you are too strong; you have been through soooo much that others would’ve broke under the pressure and your endurance under this pressure has produced a beautiful rare pearl.  Wear it proudly but allow your heart to be loved. You are worthy of that although no one has ever shown you it.  Men will come and go but you stay true to yourself and one day SOMEONE will appreciate your beautiful rough pearl self.  Love you always even when you don’t!!
LL1
Who are you?
I am Outspoken Shyness!! I am outspoken when I need to be but oh so shy at the same time.  I speak my mind but hide it behind a blushing smile LOL.  I am a lover of all things dance. I love to dance in supermarkets, in the streets, it just doesn’t matter where! I love to travel. I love, no, I am in love with all things Italian. I tell people I am Italian at times. I have a song for every situation in life, even if it’s not my situation and I will sing it for you lol. I am a woman who would love to be in love but until that happens, I will photograph the love I feel in my heart. I am an ambivert at heart.  I overthink everything and already know what you will say after reading this because I thought of it while I was typing all of this.  I am a city girl with a country heart and a love for the outdoors.  That’s who I am.  Lauren Layne…Just 2 LLs.
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Full of life and sincerity, no? Thank you, Lauren! Your kind words to your own self are reminders that, as women, we are our first fans, advocates, and true loves. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I take the following from your responses:  People reject what they are not ready for in their life and my dear WHOA! what you have to offer in love, friendship, talent and heart will shake even the tallest mountain! Please follow Lauren on the ‘Gram: @Just2LLs
Keep telling your own stories, dear reader, and share them if you can.

 

Square Peg Stories. (#1)

Welcome to a brand new feature on TSP.

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By now, I’m sure you’ve captured the following about this little corner of the Internets:

  1. Women’s empowerment means the world to me.
  2. Every woman has a journey and a story, and I’m significantly interested in both.
  3. It’s not just about me.

All that said, we have a new feature here on TSP: sharing the inspiring/empowering/personal journeys of other women. I’m blessed to be surrounded by an abundance of women/sister friends whose individual paths in life can be mirrors of inspiration for others, and it’s my privilege to share these with you. Today, we’re sharing the first Square Peg Story. Meet Tiara.

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Tell me how you feel you stand out from the norm.
Is it weird that I don’t think I stand out from the norm? There was a time that I felt that I did, but in a negative way. I always felt that I was the only one with body and self esteem issues, the only one with mommy and daddy issues. I thought that I was the only one who felt I was undeserving of happiness and love because I just wasn’t good enough. It was a very lonely feeling. However, once I started sharing my story and opening up to people I realized that I was not alone. There are so many other people, or women out there that deal with the same things I do.  That’s why I say I’m not that different.

What’s a time you took your own path and chose the road not traveled?Tiara2
Hmmm. I think for me that was probably when I decided to pack up and move to Charlotte, NC. It was a year after I graduated from college. I just woke up one day and decided I wanted to go. The odd thing about it was that moving there would be the first time I was going somewhere with no family and no contacts. I just–I was looking for a reason to believe in myself, and to believe that I could thrive and survive on my own. I knew what I wanted for myself and I was starting to refocus on my life spiritually. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get that spiritual growth if I stayed where I was. So despite the concerns of those closest to me, I made the leap. It was probably one of the best decisions of my life. I met amazing people, accomplished some spiritual goals, including getting baptized. It was great!

What would you tell your 15 year old self?
A LOT! Lol. I’d tell my 15 year old self to be vulnerable. There were times that I was told i was a cry baby and punished for crying so I learned to hide my feelings. Which has made expressing my feelings a challenge now that I am an adult. I’d also tell myself that it is okay to make mistakes, just don’t let them define you. Don’t be afraid to fail. The way people, family, parents and friends treat you is not a reflection of you, it’s them that need to do or be better. Ignore the negative voices around you. Never change your heart. Give the best of yourself and your love to YOU FIRST, then pour into others!

Who are you?
Wow! Good question. I’m still learning how to answer that. I shock myself every day.Tiara1 But I guess I’d say that I’m a person that loves love even though it hasn’t always been kind to me. I’m a hopeless romantic. Sometimes too hopeless. Lol. I’m a dancer, and a music junkie. I’m an over thinker, and a perfectionist. I’m a person that loves to laugh until I cry. I’m an introvert, a writer. A blogger, and now I am a self love junkie!

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Thank you, Tiara! Your willingness to share your journey is a breath of fresh air. TSP wishes you well on your continuing journey, and I take the following from your transparent responses: Give the best of yourself and your love to YOU FIRST, then pour into others! Please follow Tiara at her lovely blog here.

Keep telling your own stories, dear reader, and share them if you can.

A Black Woman and Her Hair.

***This post was inspired by a video I watched last night on YouTube from Whitney White, a natural hair influencer that I took note of years ago when I began my natural hair journey. See the video here. While watching the video, I felt the deeper implications of the joy Whitney felt when she cut her waist-length hair. Whitney’s subsequent Instagram post about said haircut really got me thinking: as Black women, our relationship with our hair is so, so deep. And I wanted to talk about that. So here we go.***

My relationship with my hair began when I was about 12 years old, when I received my first relaxer. Prior to that seminal moment, I was an energetic kid; not really focused on pic2pic1my messy pigtails and all of that. I really had no concept of those things. In the adult world, however, my mom was hearing from some relatives that my hair, along with my sister’s hair, looked “wild”. Peer pressure is powerful, and it certainly doesn’t wane when we grow taller. My mom responded to this “wild” talk by taking us to our very first salon visit, where I received my first relaxer. Yep, it burned. Yep, I said nothing as it burned because I wasn’t one of those kids that spoke up. (Whew.) Born from that was something I had never known before: straight pic3hair.

Unbeknownst to me, also being born was the direct tie between my self-image, my sense of beauty, and my hair. This is universal, by the way. All women go through this at one point or another. But when it comes to us as Black women, Black girls, the path is altogether different and far more complex. The kinky and curly hair we’re born with, when it’s straightened and “relaxed”, now becomes largely acceptable, malleable, presentable. Westernized ideals of beauty become us. I remember feeling a sense of anticipation before I walked into the school the weekend after the relaxer. My long hair hung down my back. I felt pretty. And needless to say, I was the center of attention that day. “Look at your hair!” I heard more than once from a variety of girls. It was amazing.

From then on, I would beg my mother for a relaxer when the straight hair reverted back to its curly texture. If you know anything about my mother, you know that this begging typically fell on deaf ears. Despite her now knowing how to apply the creamy stuff, relaxers would be saved for specials occasions (like our annual worship meetings) and nothing more. Once in a while, once, she’d give in to a random relaxer request, but overall, it was usually a no. Needless to say, when I finally started making money and working for myself, I took myself to various salons for my touch-ups and things of that nature. Again: the state of my hair was wrapped up in how I felt I was being exposed to the world. I’ve mentioned the long struggles I had with my self-esteem and self-image. I can honestly say that when my hair was straight, I felt valuable. There was power in those strands.

bob6But as I got older, something started happening. I wanted to experiment more with my hair. Straight, long hair wasn’t enough for me. When I turned 30, I cut it all off and opted for a chic (still straight) bob. My mother nearly passed out. I think she thought I’d shave my head. (That came later.) bob1From there came more experiments: an even shorter bob. An asymmetrical cut with one side shaved and the other side long. Weaves. My hair now became a canvas, a tool for expression. Black women: for many of us, our hair is our art. It certainly became that for me. Still holding its power, yes, but also very much mine. I still had a bob2relaxer, though. Because it was all I knew. Remember: my hair journey began with it being straight. Prior to that time, I didn’t even care or notice.

Whitney says this on her Instagram post: This was more than a hair cut to me. I NEEDED THIS. I NEEDED to see myself as I felt inside.

Reader. Those words hit me. Because after years and years of experimentation and yet maintaining the straight look that still felt acceptable to me and to the world, I woke up one day and didn’t want straight hair anymore. Can’t explain it. I remember being in that revert/touch-up time and feeling the roots on my scalp and loving how those curls and coils felt against my fingers. And like Whitney said, something was happening inside of me. That prison of low self-esteem and feeling like a zero was losing its hold on me, and somehow, my hair was following along. I wanted to be myself. And I wanted the hair on my head to reflect that. When I told my mother I was returning to mybigchop2 roots, to my natural hair, her excitement was indescribable. “Your natural hair was so beautiful,” she said. “I’m so glad you’re going to see it again.” It reminded me that hearing that her children’s hair was “wild” hit her hard. She had no intention of straightening our hair. But such is life. She was happy the choice became mine.

Says Whitney on IG: It was suffocating and I was no longer someone who needed the extra length, the extra baggage to define her. I DEFINE ME by BEING ME. And just like I no longer wanted to carry MY extra baggage with me into the future, the hair could kick it too. Those words describe my Big Chop in 2012. Shaving my head in 2018. And all the styles and haircuts in between. Women: some of us, a lot of us, hold emotion in our hair. I certainly did. And I continue to do so. It’s no surprise that, while in reflection, I realized that a lot of heartache and disappointments in my life preceded my hairstyles and/or the reduction of length.

Whitney: Also, while yes – it IS just hair, it will always simultaneously be MORE. It’s more than “just hair”. It’s a lot. Art. Emotions. Power. Wherever you are, whoever you are and whatever hairstyle or texture you maintain (because I’m not a guerrilla girl; I returned to natural on my own accord, so do you do you do you):

shine.

That’s the bottom line.

On Harry & Meghan.

If you’re living on this side of Earth, you’ve heard that Harry and Meghan have decided harrymegsto significantly change their status with the royal family. (I won’t link to any articles because, whew chile, the bias.) In other words, H&M want to step back from being senior members of the royal family, become financially independent, and split their time between the UK and North America. I’m here for it. Let them live. Let them also live in a place where they’re not targeted viciously. I support it. The vitriol and abject racism I’ve seen for Meghan in the British media is indescribable. We talked about leveling up, didn’t we? Well, they did and I think it’s a fabulous decision. I won’t even discuss all the fallout and how Piers Morgan is just…no words. Team H&M. (I definitely hope Meghan resurrects her blog, The Tig. Wonderful writing. Wonderful voice.)

In that vein, I wanted to share a ‘lil short story I wrote inspired by the royals and my admiration for the Ginger Prince and his lovely wife. In case you’re wondering, 2020 hasn’t necessarily resurrected my creative writing. But I have hope. Read on, enjoy, and onwards & upwards. For everyone.

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The Queen and the Green

The queen had spinach in her teeth. The offending green vegetable was right there, lodged between her two front teeth for all the world to see. And the world would see it, because after this morning tea, the queen would announce to the free world that her eldest grandson, the prince, was engaged to his troublesome fiancée.

For the record, she, Margie King, was the troublesome fiancée. She was the American commoner, the former executive assistant to the prince’s solicitor, the woman who wore a dress that didn’t even reach her knees when he had first brought her to meet his grandmother. (Never mind that the dress, hastily purchased when he had made her aware of his plans, had shrunk in the wash and was short because of that and not because of some wicked attempt to shock the ruler of 14 countries.) She was also the woman who wanted to alert her soon-to-be grandmother-in-law that there was spinach in her teeth.

It baffled Margie that no one was saying anything. The woman was presiding over a grand, long table, flanked on both sides by various family members and relatives, and no one had the guts or decency to tell her about the spinach. Yes, Margie was aware of the rule that that no one could approach the queen without being summoned or being spoken to first. Clearly, propriety trumped sparing her from humiliation. Even the queen’s husband, the perpetually bored prince who seemed half asleep most of the time, openly observed his wife’s mouth as she spoke, his eyes widening with each word and subsequent presenting of the food in her teeth. Margie was pretty sure that the man wanted to laugh. Unsurprisingly, he, too, said nothing.

Where were her ladies-in-waiting? Did they even call them that anymore? Margie had done about a month’s worth of royalty-related research to prepare for this event, but wasn’t sure if she had read anywhere that ladies-in-waiting still retained that title.

She wanted to tell Frederick about it, to lean over and whisper in his ear that someone needed to help his grandmother. But Frederick was seated about twenty cousins down from her. Someone had muttered “royal protocol” as a reason why they weren’t seated together, but Margie didn’t buy it. She knew it was the queen’s way of prolonging what it would kill her to soon announce—even if that meant temporarily separating her grandson from his fiancée during tea.

She would never forget the queen’s face six months ago, when Frederick declared his intent to marry her. Rage. Confusion. Fear. Nausea. A bit of sadness. Her features twisted up like the worst scene in a horror movie, right before the end comes. Margie had stood off to the side, breathlessly observing a stately sovereign turn into a creature of volleying emotions. Well, the twisted features aside, there were no actual outward emotions being displayed. She had the stiff upper lip reputation to maintain, after all, even if the audience was just four people: Margie, Frederick, the queen herself, and her half-asleep husband.

For a moment, Margie forgot about the spinach and thought about him. Her regard moved from the queen and rested on Frederick (although she could barely see him), her Frederick, the man she didn’t know she had been dreaming of until they met.

It had been raining buckets that evening. Her boss, Mr. Knox, had requested that she stay late to assist with greeting a client that would be arriving after closing time. Margie knew that Knox had high-profile, top-secret clients, some unknown to even her (such as this one) but the image of trudging through the rain and the dark to get to the Tube instantly became that top-secret client’s fault. She intended on being as nonchalantly rude to he or she as possible.  

He had arrived precisely at half past six, calmly entering the lobby as if there weren’t oceans of rainfall and high winds behind him. No one was with him; you’d think the heir to a throne would be trailed by a sea of security detail. That being said, yes, she had immediately recognized him. Who wouldn’t? Everyone knew Prince Freddie, The Prince of All Princes, a title coined by the media. His handsome good looks (in real life, Margie quickly decided that “handsome” as a description was grossly insufficient) and famous girlfriends were well-known and well-reported. Standing up from her desk, she had greeted him—stopping herself from bowing—and led him toward Knox’s office straightaway, as her boss had instructed. “You move quite fast,” he had said from behind her. Margie gulped and turned around, glancing at him. He was smiling, his dark hazel eyes dancing at her. Instead of explaining that rapidly walking was her way of avoiding a royalty-related collapse, she had merely smiled at him in return and said nothing in reply. She doubted that her voice box would work properly anyway.

Much, much later, Margie watched Knox and Frederick speak to one another in hushed tones in the lobby. Their appointment had officially ended but the conversation continued. Margie then wondered if there was some sort of prenuptial agreement in the works; the prevailing rumor was that Frederick was close to proposing to his latest girlfriend, a French actress. Was that why he was there? Did royals even have prenuptial agreements? she then wondered. However, the presence of Mr. Knox now standing by her desk sharply interrupted that line of thought. She stood up. “Yes, Mr. Knox?”

“Our client would feel most welcome if you would allow his driver to take you home,” Knox replied.

Blinking rapidly, she glanced at Frederick, who again smiled warmly at her. “It’s rather awful outside and you’re here late because of me,” he explained. “Ridgely will take you wherever you’d like to go.”

“But…how…?” Her voice trailed off. At the moment, she wasn’t sure how to form a complete sentence.

“Simply say thank you, Ms. King,” Knox instructed under his breath.

Nodding, Margie turned off her computer and grabbed her handbag. After a year with Knox, she had learned to simply move quickly in spite of whatever questions she had about something. She approached Frederick and thanked him for his kindness.

“You’re quite welcome,” he had responded, holding her stare long enough to communicate that perhaps this wouldn’t be their last meeting.

It wouldn’t be. 

“Ms. King,” said Ridgely the driver as he pulled up to her flat in Clapham that rainy evening, “His Royal Highness would like to contact you for dinner later this week if you would like to leave your contact card inside that box next to you.”

His Royal Highness? Dinner? Her contact card?

“Did you leave your card?” her flat-mate, Dory, shrieked after Margie had dazedly informed her of the evening’s events. “Did you, Margie?”

In that moment, Margie’s her mobile phone vibrated in her palm. With wide eyes, she presented the text message on the display to Dory: I hope I’m not being too forward, but you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. 

Many quiet dinners later, he confided in her that the French actress he was dating was a longtime friend from university that had agreed to attend all public events with him. He had long tired of questions about just when he would marry. “It’s exhausting, really, but I’m well aware that it’s the price we pay for this life. I’m hardly complaining,” he had remarked that evening. “They’ll simply have to wait until you say yes to me.”

Margie had nearly choked on her wine.

She gaped at him, waiting for him to continue. He gazed at her meaningfully and reached for her hand. It wasn’t the most romantic venue—Bernie’s Fish and Chips was a few miles from her flat and was the only place they could eat without being mobbed, being that most of the clientele were slightly inebriated, blue-collar blokes who thankfully had no idea who anyone was, much less the future king of their country—but Margie clutched his hand and recognized the moment for what it was.

“Are you asking?” she whispered.

“I’m imploring. Please marry me, Marjorie Lorraine King. I’m quite sure I can’t take it anymore, when you’re not next to me, and I’m also in love with you, so it just won’t do.”

She had laughed as tears cascaded down her face. “You have a way with words, Prince Freddie. You really do.”

He grinned at her. “So? Marry me?”

Margie said yes. Rather, she repeated it.

“It won’t be easy,” Frederick then said. “We’ll have a few mountains to climb: the prying eyes, the press, the questions.”

“The fact that I’m black and you’re white.”

Frederick nodded. “We live in a maddening world, don’t we?”

“Absolutely. But I’m ready for anything, Frederick.” She leaned into his tightened embrace and breathed him in.

“Believe it or not, darling,” he said, “the biggest issue, above all, will be my grandmother.”

Now they sat twenty cousins away from each other, his grandmother baring a portion of spinach in her teeth and everyone remaining silent on the matter. Some of them would likely laugh and wonder why Margie cared so much. Wasn’t the queen the same woman who muttered that she was troublesome when she arrived at the palace with the now discarded above-knee dress? The same woman who regularly leveled Margie with the kind of vicious stare meant for enemies of the kingdom? And yet she was also the same woman who  invited 10 year-old girls from low income areas to tea at the palace two Saturdays a month, something the media didn’t know about. The same woman who sometimes put her head on her half-asleep husband’s shoulder when they were walking around their country home (he was pleasantly surprised each and every time). It was just spinach, but it might as well have been a “Kick Me” sign on her back. Margie had learned about the court of public opinion since her courtship with Frederick had begun. It was the one place the queen had no power over, and no one deserved to be fodder.

The queen then abruptly stood, signaling everyone on both sides of the long table to do the same. It was time to hold the press conference in the Tudor Room. As she smoothed her dress down–brocade, tea-length, and gifted to her by her kind, soon-to-be aunt-in-law–Frederick quickly appeared by her side. “You look beautiful,” he whispered in her ear.

“Thank you. Your grandmother has spinach in her teeth.”

Frederick chuckled. “She knows. She does it on purpose to see who will have the courage to approach her unsummoned and inform her. I’ll be sure to let her know that you said something.”

Stunned, Margie then looked up and found the queen studying her, the latter’s demeanor not quite as stone-faced as it typically was when she placed her attention on her troublesome almost granddaughter-in-law. Her expression seemed…softer? The woman couldn’t hear that far, could she? Did she know that Margie had mentioned the spinach?

“Come, Frederick, Margie. We will be late,” the queen called over to them.

Margie couldn’t even recall when the queen had mentioned her name.

“Onwards,” Frederick said softly, lacing his fingers through hers.

And upwards and everything in between, Margie thought, as she watched the queen begin the processional as the first in line.