Monday, February 28, 2011
Boxing The Bang Blues
Of my five sisters, I am the one who most favors my paternal grandmother, Sophie Mae Moss, a woman who epitomizes the words strength, intelligence and beauty. Yet, in spite of possessing her face and head, I have spent most of my fifty-three years hiding from the wind, yanked firmly under hats, bandanna-tied under scarves and above all else, safely ensconced behind crisply cut Geisha-girl bangs or a side-parted, side-sweep of hair (which I'm certain loudly announced I was engaged in a cover-up).
I lamented the size and shape of my high, sloping forehead, as if it were the most horrific feature ever unrecorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. How could this have happened to me? Why was I The Chosen One for rude comments from passing strangers, bodacious teens, classmates and, sometimes, even siblings and cousins? Just now, the thought crossed my mind if my grandma ever experienced the coming of age trauma of being different from the others. Somehow, I never thought to question her while she was living. Possibly because I'd have had to confess that, for me, to look like her was a constant source of pain.
The names---most of which I have since trained myself to forget---once shone down on me as bright and glaring as a hanging neon light. "Big Forehead" seemed to be the one that made the largest splash, whenever some kid wanted to be particularly nasty. So I learned to sweet-talk my mother into combing a shock of my hair (thank God it was always long once straightened) into my face and, pressing one hand to my head while her other snipped the hair into a blunt line snaking across my face, just above my brows. To encourage them to lie as protective as sentry, I resorted to tying a scarf across my forehead at night, at the expense, of course, of the bumps that would spring up in my adolescent face, considering oil and pores, same as oil and water, don't usually jive. That was when "Bumpy Face" got added to "Big Forehead" to weld a double whammy!
One long-lasting memory of the first part of my life is the ingenuity I'd muster to hide my genetic faux pas from the world. Yes, I walked backward in rambunctious wind, avoided direct eye contact with other people with high foreheads for fear they'd witness the self pity in my eyes, and walked with my hand plastered over my bangs if a fan or other wind-generating mishap occurred.
I learned to stand aloof from people, especially other children, when I was younger. Children were prone to observe whatever it was you were concealing, and like adults and animals, they'd find themselves drawn to my forehead; hands moving lightening fast to lift and slick back my non-antagonistic bangs. Yes, that was childhood. Great! Now fast-forward to young adulthood and you have a young teacher making sure to maintain a respectably healthy distance from those youngsters who were prone to invading another person's privacy...didn't matter if the other was the teacher.
One afternoon during sixth period, the last period of the day, I dropped my guard. The student had been standing near my desk rattling pleasantly for a few minutes, both of us charmed Spring Break loomed close enough to smell Panama Beach breezes. And as I'm grading essays, half listening, trying not to take too many sets of papers home with me, this student reaches out and gently but firmly swipes back my bangs! Mercy! I thought I'd be sued and suspended and sentenced, if I hadn't remembered I enjoyed my freedom and had bills to pay. Everything hidden inside me longed to bolt up from that teacher's desk and snatch a crank out of that child. Steam literally roiled up from my nostrils. Momentarily, the whites of my eyes turned alcohol red. I was so heated my hair went nappy then straight in seconds.
In a flash, he apologized and softly inquired if that was why I perennially wore bangs or styled my hair in my face. It took me a minute or two, but I eventually mustered a muffled yes. Surprisingly, the entire scene was privy only to us, but the aftermath remained with me for quite some time.
As the years played out, I vowed to overcome such a mentally and emotionally crippling self-prejudice. It didn't feel right. It didn't make me feel good to judge me. I told myself, I will learn to swim in this lifetime, same as I will hurdle the nudity I felt whenever I wasn't posted up behind my infamous bangs. I was notorious. As the times changed and the styles did the same, I didn't. What? I found a way to work my super-big Angela Davis Afro into a banged wonder. Braids arrived and were everywhere except at the front of my head. And my short natural had to be trimmed with enough hair on the top to tease down onto my bumpy forehead. Drats!
Then came the day I graduated from Tuskegee Institute with Highest Honors and relocated to Atlanta, GA. Wholly loving working and living outside of the confines of dormitories and my parents' hallowed home, I defied the odds one weekend and styled my hair off my forehead and turned the nose of my blue Chevy Chevrolet towards Tuskegee and returned for a weekend visit with my hair, for some unfathomable reason, styled completely off my forehead. My stepmother, I recall, studied me for a second and said, "Wow! I like you with your hair back off your forehead! I can see your whole face! You look wonderful!" And though there was nothing about her expression and tone that bespoke ridicule, I figured she had to be pulling my leg!
But she wasn't. Unbeknownst to me, I faced more years of walking toward total self acceptance and self love. And though that walk was to take a circuitous route at times, much like a snake hunting its tail, I eventually, finally, thankfully, proudly, I accept my forehead in all of its wonder and uniqueness. I am precisely the way the Divine wants me and made me to be. I am a legacy; my son has a slight bit of my forehead and, so too, definitely does my granddaughter, Laila Amor.
A few years ago I remember watching Tyra Banks, who also possesses a high forehead, host a show about accepting what is unique about you and making that feature or characteristic your calling card, your strength, your birthright. And that is what I have embraced...all that makes me One-of-a-Kind. On the journey, I've come to understand that once you accept you, others who love and care about you will also.
Cherishing this golden existence as I box the Bang Blues,