Had no clue what to talk about today. My equilibrium is off and I want to nap. So here’s a photo of me at 8 years old, sitting for a passport photo, giving you frosty face/don’t come at me/who do you think you are?/just try me. An expression that has served me well through the years.
After landing at Heathrow, my hostess and friend had already taken me to dinner, ice cream, a walk around Leicester Square (where I saw my love), and a bit of other sightseeing in between. Here on the Tube, finally headed to her home in Ipswich, was the face of gleeful jet-lagged sensory overload. Look at those eyes.
When I was 15 years old, I was washing dishes in my 10th grade Home Economics class one day. Since I was barely passable during the cooking part, but bomb when it came to suds and plates, I was very comfortable at the sink. A boy in my class, Mario, approached the other side of the sink, adjacent to me, and started to “play” around with me while I washed the dishes. Trying to touch me, attempting to tickle me. I told him to stop, to leave me alone. He certainly didn’t listen, ignoring my protests and continuing with the touching and “playing” around. I repeated that I wanted him to stop. He continued. So I sprayed him in the face with the water gun. He smacked me across the face.
Growing up, my sister and I got into some physical altercations. Being sisters close in age who shared a room, every pair of socks looked the same and therefore had been stolen by the other and deserved some kind of retribution, every eye roll needed to be avenged, so on and so forth. The few times my brother and I got into it officially ended when my mother reminded me that he was no longer a five year-old. “Quit it,” she said sharply, focusing on me as the eldest sibling. “He’s a growing boy and you’re a young woman.” I got her drift. Here’s the point: we were family and therefore not actively trying to hurt each other. We succumbed to physical displays of anger and irritation, trying to prove our respective (largely juvenile) points when words failed us. After a few years, we grew up and dealt solely with words. Mario wasn’t my brother. He wasn’t my sibling. We weren’t family. Looking back, I specifically recall how inexplicably calm everything was, how calm I was. As the right side of my face burned with shock, as tiny stars floated around before my eyes, I continued to wash the dishes. I remained there, glued to that spot, my hands repeatedly drowning in warm, soapy water. After hitting me and demanding what was wrong with me, Mario eventually walked away. I finished my task, wiped down the counters, and returned to my seat. No teacher was summoned, I didn’t run screaming to a friend with tears in my eyes. (In case you’re wondering, apparently none of the students or our teacher saw this. If they had, no one said anything or intervened.) Prior to this, we had been somewhat friendly in class, sitting at the same table at times. After that day, I never spoke to him again.
Sometimes I wonder why I’m so sensitive to tales of domestic violence, why the thought of one person violently attacking another joined to them by marriage or relationship leaves me disturbed and shaken. Eureka. I’ve never forgotten the feel of his hand against my face, the way my cheek stung, how it hurt. I can’t imagine the thousands, millions, of women and men who have dealt with more than that and beyond in their relationships. Might be why I whisper “leave, please leave” when I hear about this happening, especially to women. It’s never justified. Mario’s actions weren’t justifiable. I don’t care about the spray of water dripping from his face.
As with other things that happened during those tenuous teen and adolescent years, I told no one about what happened and suppressed all the emotions that came with it. (I literally just told my sister about it a few weeks ago, when the memory randomly made itself known.) I don’t think I even wrote about it in my diary. I shoved it away as I was prone to do, youthfully unaware of all the little explosions that these events were causing inside of me. But those are the benefits of getting older and working on yourself: I’m talking about it now. I acknowledge the pain, anger, confusion, sadness, and shock I felt in that moment. I acknowledge that I did begin to hate him. And yet I can also say that hate is not an emotion I will presently allow. Wherever he is, I simply hope he’s no longer responding to situations the way he did when we were 15.
It constantly and honestly amazes me that I made it through those strange, long years, dear reader. But with healing comes memories, revelations, conversations. And we shall have them.
There are certain bold names that I associate with my Dad. Sidney Poitier. James Taylor.
The Beatles. Milton Berle and Lucille Ball. Aretha Franklin. I associate these people with Dad because growing up, his appreciation of their art and talent was long discussed in our household, and he never shied away from showing us kids visual (and audible) examples of why he thought they were so cool. And what I love about that, among other things, is that it opened the window to generations and people way before us. We fell in love with music, film, performers, etc., of another time and I really treasure that. One of those bold names I grew up hearing about was Muhammad Ali. I knew his bio from early childhood, it seemed. Before I saw his face, before I heard his voice. That he was Cassius Clay before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, following the change in his religion. That he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. That he called himself The Greatest. That he fought this guy and that guy and won. And above all, that Muhammad Ali came to Ghana in 1964.
My father spoke so many times of Ali’s visit to Ghana in ’64 that I imagined I was there. Never mind that I was hardly a twinkle in anyone’s eye in 1964: my father was a swinging single then, and wouldn’t meet the lady who would bring me into this interesting world until 10 years later. But trust me that the man could invoke excitement from a story: how he saw Ali, how the crowds were going wild, etc. I would observe the grin on his face and his wide, luminous eyes, and wish, so much, that I could have been there to see this larger-than-life man that had whipped my Daddy into such a frenzy. Needless to say, watching his interviews and marveling at his bravado when I was older was always a treat. I knew this guy. We had been introduced so many, many times.
Hearing about his death on June 3 was so sad. I thought about his children, his wife. I thought about how that confident, cocky, and cool man became slower, less mobile, less vocal as he bravely dealt with the effects of Parkinson’s syndrome. I thought about the grief that comes from losing a man of stature, of such significance, especially in the family unit. So many parallels that hit close to home. I thought about those, too.
Ultimately, however, I’m glad I knew him. Even though I didn’t.
I’m still writing poems about him. I don’t think that will ever end.
Perhaps I always knew I would end up near you, my dear, departed one,
near the streets you once walked upon, near the air you once had the privilege to breathe.
Somehow that dreaded constant summer began to call out to me and I began to listen…
A siren’s call, surely, one worthy of wax shoved quickly in the ears, but your memory is far too strong, far too melodic for that Odyssean self-control, and I’m not willing to let you go.
(How is it that the silence that spoke such volumes when we stood across from one another is even louder now, now that you slumber in the ground?)
I’m in the mood for you.
For your fanciful cowboy tales–
For your romantic sunset–
For that gleam of mischief in your bright eyes–
and for the sadness I saw in them, too, the kind that told me who you really were.
I’m in the mood for you.
For your arrogant understanding of me–
For your inability to understand nothing at all–
and for the sadness I wanted to take away so badly, the kind that your actions couldn’t hide.
But moods pass.
So did you.
And sadness quietly changes partners.
Memory becomes my salve.
Numbing the skin, numbing the nerves,
creating a youthful version of you where smiles ruled the day and
laughter echoed through the halls of our temporary home.
Our intriguing, perplexing, awesome, mind-boggling, revolutionary, interesting, and life-changing relationship/journey began when I was 11 years old. This was when my mother took me to my first hair salon. It was owned by a Ghanaian woman who ran the salon
from her apartment. I was terrified. No surprise there. If you know anything about me so far, This Square Peg didn’t really feel changes and strange people and strange experiences. Nevertheless, as I was prone to do, my fears were all internalized, visible only through my wide, horrified eyes. The horror grew exponentially when 1) my mother had to run out for a moment, and 2) it came time to wash my hair.
My mother promised she’d be right back. I knew she’d be right back. This didn’t stop the tears from springing to my eyes, however. Never a prolonged crier, though, I sniffed and nodded and hoped that I wasn’t being abandoned.
I didn’t like water. Still don’t. So when the stylist stood me up and guided me to the sink, I began to hyperventilate. When she placed my head underneath the faucet, face down, to rinse the burning relaxer out of my hair, I began to wail. Like this wasn’t a silent cry, readers. As the water spilled around my face and into my ears, I wailed like I was being murdered.
When she was finished, saying over and over again that we were done and wiping my face/tears, I sat, breathless, while she continued with my hair. This was when the women began to mock my fears and my recent wailing. They laughed at my behavior; they called me a baby; so on and so forth. Bold, no? Except they spoke to one another in Ga, one of the languages spoken in Ghana. What they didn’t know was that I understood (and still do) Ga fluently, having spoken both Twi, one of the primarily-spoken languages, and Ga since I was a little girl. (Alas, they have since left my tongue, but the comprehension is still there.) Anyway, as I sat quietly and listened to adults making fun of a child, my stomach burning with each sound of laughter at my expense. When my mother thankfully returned and picked me up, my hair was lovely. In the car, I told that I would never go back there again and I told her why. Infuriated, she ensured that I didn’t.
But my relationship with salons and hairstylists weren’t all bad, and they certainly didn’t end there.
There was the stylist who repeatedly asked me in 2012 whether I was indeed ready to chop off my relaxed ends. I assured her that, yes, I was ready. As those pesky, straight ends fell to the floor around me, I stopped myself from fidgeting in my chair, anxious to see what the end result was. When it finally came time, she turned me around to face the mirror, her eyes wide with anticipation on what I would think of the teeny weeny afro I now sported. My wide, bright grin was the answer she needed.
And I’ll never forget the stylist who, according to my request, shaved one side of my hair and shared my delighted reaction to this unique new style I wanted to try. Of course, this when she worked for one of those brightly lit, techno-blaring salons in the city. Because I liked her and I liked her handling of my hair, when I learned that she also ran her own salon, I left the big salon and drove quite a distance to this new place…where it took hours to finally get to me, long after my scheduled appointment, where she took advantage of my niceness and had me leave the salon and buy hair dye for one of her other clients, where she nearly yanked the hair out of my scalp during one style…Needless to say, our relationship ended then. Le sigh.
There’s my current stylist, who’s also a good friend, who gets me in her chair on time and does her thing and sends me home utterly satisfied. Can’t beat that. There’s something to be said about pals who are also quite professional when it comes to their business.
One stylist was a weave master. She also had the most melodramatic life. And I loved it. While she whipped those fingers masterfully around my strands, cornrowing my hair before installing the weave, I responded to her request for advice about love, marriage, children. Even though I’d never been married or a parent. Interesting, indeed.
I’ve met women–and some men–from all walks of life: entrepreneurial, utterly weird, demanding, lovely, hilarious, kind. These people have all had a significant role in my eventual discovery that beauty has nothing to do with hair. Hair is the accessory, the accentuater. But it sure needs to look good. These days, I mostly do my own hair. The salon visits are for trims (I don’t trust these fingers with a pair of scissors), braiding, the odd haircut when I want to start fresh with my hair/life. In the end, with all the adventures I’ve been through, some good and some bad, some odd and some fantastic, I’ll always have a story to tell.
I found this photo in my mom’s “secret” stash of photos one evening last week. I should tell you that my mother’s things–her clothes, perfume, shoes, etc.,–have long fascinated me, which means that since I was little girl, sneaking into her room to see what I could find and gaze at lovingly remains a pastime. Don’t worry: I leave most things undisturbed. Except the clothes. Anyway, I love that she keeps hidden photos and mementos that we don’t have access to. When I found this, I snapped a quick photo and placed it back into its hiding place.
This was taken in August 1983 in Accra, Ghana. I was 4 years old. I’m 100% sure my Dad was the photog, being that he loved taking photos of his children and family, even when we were sullen teens and refused to smile.
My birthplace and my home.
That Mustang, which was my mother’s. (Yep, Mama Square Peg rocked a Mustang!)
Those fat braids. (This was obviously was my go-to style.)
Oh, that face. Most photos from back, back, back in the day rarely found me smiling. I was a serious kid. I discovered those teeth a bit later, as you can also see from that ruffled, picture day photo. Other ones are of me coolly staring into the camera, as if we’re moments from battle. Ah, memories.
Look, a cup of tea fixes everything. It’s a scientific fact. (It’s not, but let’s just agree, shall we?) The best part of my day at the OK Corral is getting up from my desk and grabbing a cup of tea at the cafe we have here in the building. Sipping that warm, vanilla-tinged liquid (I prefer chai) does absolute wonders for me (including softening the perpetual frown I seem to wear when I’m in the building.) When a friend recently posted 15 surprising facts about tea, as shown here, I was reminded of just how much of a tea lover I am.
Formerly a coffee disciple since the age of 12, fond of lapping up the leftover bits of coffee my parents would slyly leave me in their cups, I officially switched to tea in 2008. That was the year I realized that the loud drumming I assumed was coming from my co-worker’s desk radio was actually my heartbeat, in reaction to the coffee I was drinking. Needless to say, that was the moment we said our goodbyes. (I still love the scent of coffee, though. Do I ever.) For me, tea is like coffee’s milder, gentler cousin. The dependable Darcy to that wild Wickham. (If you know me by now, you’re not surprised by this effort to use an Austen/Pride and Prejudice analogy.) Anyhow, and more importantly, despite the caffeine in tea, it’s not as intense and I can enjoy it without wondering if I will soon need a defibrillator.
Below are some photos of the afternoon tea (and scones) I enjoyed at Harrods department store during my trip to London in October. After a particularly tourist-y day, it was nice to simply sit and drink and sigh and chew and people-watch.
Now that we’ve sauntered down memory lane with our cups of tea in hand, tell me in the comments if you prefer tea and/or coffee. Or wine, if you’re about that life.
In July 2005, my family lost my beloved father in death. Naturally, all things suffered because of this loss, which meant my overall desire to do anything. One of those things was writing. Significant because writing has always been my tool for dealing with personal pain; my longstanding avenue for catharsis. But I didn’t want to pick up a pen or type a few words on the computer. I didn’t want to do anything. And yet, because writing chose me and not the other way around, my art didn’t thoroughly abandon me. I found myself penning a few poems here and there, some about my father; I started a short story or two. But by 2007, I was done. Even if your art chooses you, you have to feed it with inspiration if you want it to remain by your side. There was no inspiration. I was blocked, absent of ideas, and basically a functioning griever, going through the motions of life and work and all that came along with it. At that time, I was temping at an architectural design company. Eventually, they decided to take me as a permanent staff member. One afternoon, I mentioned my two-year long writing block to one of my supervisors. She asked me if I blogged. I replied that no, I didn’t. She said the following. “Blogging will help you get the ideas and your creative mind flowing. Believe me. Try it. It’ll work.” Well, This Square Peg tends to be obedient when given suggestions. (Don’t confirm that statement with my mother. She will refute it.) That very evening in 2007, I started my first blog.
I knew that there wouldn’t be fiction or poetry flowing from these fingers. Not yet. No, I simply began to document my thoughts. Having kept a journal since I was 13 years old all the way through college, I knew how to pen the endless sentences that ran through my mind. (I still have those journals and I still read them from time to time and oh, boy.) So I began to look at blogging like journaling, except it was online and open for a few people to read whenever they found my little corner on the web. And I wrote and wrote and wrote. About my days, my adventures at work, my sadness, my goals and dreams. I wrote with the intent of merely occupying my mind. That happened and then some. It was also a great source of accountability–whereas a physical journal could just sit there, hopelessly ignored by me, each post I wrote helped me to be accountable to my goal of writing regularly. Eventually, the blog became almost like a friend who was there to listen while I talked to myself and whomever was reading. For six years, I blogged faithfully, even after the creative side of my mind stretched its arms, did away with the cobwebs, and began to churn once again.
My first post on that blog was entitled “So I Don’t Forget.” Blogging/journaling so I don’t forget my love of words, the utter joy of stringing words together. Needless to say, that little blog restored that joy exponentially. After a slight break with blogging, I came right back to my old friend through This Square Peg. I didn’t forget.
Shout out to that former supervisor who gave me that advice years ago. And everlasting thanks to my father, my Daddy–he was Daddy from the start and always will be–who loved the arts and generously gave that love with me.