- Sour Apple GreenA Queer Memoir of Black Family
An Ugly Telling
Why is my name such an ugly word—Black woman, Black girl? It must be. Whenever mentioned, SOMEBODY gets scared, takes offense, cringes, feels threatened, or worse—turns their head, their attention away. Why is it so dangerous to talk about me? Why hasn’t anybody realized that I am the answer? I am the key. You haven not found the answer, with neither your half-assed, nor wholehearted attempts. You haven’t found the key. I have the answer right here, and you won’t even look at me! Nobody wants to learn from me. You are afraid of my ugly face and ugly name; and I have they key.1
There are few things I am absolutely positive about in my life. I cannot live without the writings of Toni Morrison. And I make this statement because of the manner in which Morrison constructs a narrative, handles the lives of the characters within it. Morrison speaks naturally, without struggle, and tells multiple lives of blackness story after story. Toni Morrison manages to center life on blackness, rather than append Black narratives from the margins where we have been taught that they reside. I start with a poem, these words strung together with anger and dissatisfaction, in order to remember, to remember that I understand what Toni Morrison does, and why she does it so well.
Morrison’s Paradise intertwines ugliness, fantasy, mystery, and beauty in a narrative that highlights the complex lives of women of color. The world around them—the men, the towns, the history—provides the backdrop that informs both the tragedy and the beauty of their existence(s) in the way that my own story informs a queer, black experience. Diving into this narrative, I am initially confused, very confused; but allowing myself to move around, to almost drown in it, I realize that this story is not unlike my own. It is not unlike life. It does not unfold neatly, nor does it answer all of the questions it asks. It is. It tells. And from it, I learn to tell as well.
I remember the first time I realized I was ugly. It is a memory that sticks with me. I carry it everywhere; but I did not realize until recently that UGLINESS is what I have been carrying, UGLINESS in these bags. I was seven years old or so. My cousin Travis—who is only four months older than I—had been hospitalized due to a sickle cell crisis. He has been sickly our whole lives; but this is the first memory I have of him being in the hospital, in a room, in a bed, sick. I had gone with my mother to visit him. A few other family members were by his bedside. The reason I remember how I looked has never been clear to me; but I did. I remember very clearly how I looked. I remember it exactly, and I remember that I had transformed the occurrences in my mind. Why? [End Page 1042]
In my memories, I had made myself beautiful. Why? I had long straightened hair, shiny, silky, adorned with beautiful barrettes. Sometimes it flowed down; sometimes it was in shiny and silky braids. That is how I made myself. Why? In my later years, upon deconstruction of the memory, I realized that I was ugly. That is why. My hair was actually in big ugly braids—Ms. Ceily braids as my Black-women-family-members say. My mother had washed my hair that day and the braids, the big ugly braids were a rushed-style so that we could leave the house quickly to accomplish our tasks for the day, including seeing Travis. I remember that when I looked at Travis, walked close to his hospital bed, tried to touch his hand lying atop the sheets that covered his body, he snatched it away from me. My friend, my almost-twin, cousin, playmate, looked at me as if he did not know me, or worse, as though he had been disgusted by me. Those big, ugly braids must have...