Take care of your little mother, my aunt told meshortly before she died. My little five foot four inch mother,whose clothes I outgrew when I was ten, alreadyproud of my big bones—(because nothing could overpowerme if I was made of my father's bones!) My mother was astounded—I should put bricks on your head, & she kept dressing mein pinafores & ruffled socks. Toi, she called me, as if I wassupposed to stay small.
Sometimes it seemed I couldn't have come out ofher, that something was wrong. When I stood behind her I feltungainly, like something that flopped about withoutgravity. I was excessive, too much.I snuck her clothes until it was impossible to make themfit—as if hers was the only body I knew how to make beautiful.
My grandmother bought me a doll you couldn't touch. Shehad peaches & cream skin, breasts, a taffeta dress,& porcelain green eyes. Her fingers were delicate & curvedlike eyebrows. I broke my dolls, so we had to put her uphigh to admire, like a storeowner sticks a manikinon a little black pole to show off what he's got.
My mother gave me dolls that peed, that you had to feed,that you had to bathe in a little plastic bathanette.Everything smelled clean like rubber. You had tolearn to be a mother. Even the pee. One of the bottles [End Page 27] refilled itself when you turned it upright. It was o.k. for adoll to pee. The more work you did the better mother you were.
I was hard on my dolls. The ones that had stuffed bodiescame up missing arms. Monkey-bear had his insides ripped out.Big Rabbit couldn't stand, his legs & feet werebent forward so that, when we played school—with hislittle Buddha smile that,no matter how much I swung him around in a circle & beat himagainst the floor, just stayed there—he would topple off hisseat & have to be shaken again for being bad.
The dolls that cried mamma came up with a busted rattle intheir throat, their eyes clunked open so that they couldn't go tosleep, but stared perpetually up at the ceiling like a middle-agedinsomniac. One doll had a problem with her eyes, they were outof kilter, so that they didn't open unless you whackedher on the back. Then they were stuck open, so she lookeddead. We had to work on her too hard to make her do the mostordinary things—just open her eyes! Her eyes clunked shut &,way back in the pit of her head, we could hear her thinking.
When I was born my mother sat up, hysterical, on the deliverytable. She said it was the drugs. She couldn't stop laughing.Her toxemic body had been pumped out, & I was a robin's eggblue, a pale, delicate thing whose blood vessels youcould see from the outside. My "inner life" stared up at youthrough translucent skin, the way you can see a lovely facefloat up to the surface. I put my inner life right in her hands.
No, that isn't the way my father saw me. He saidwhen he looked in the nursery he saw a baby so hairyhe thought it should be swinging from a chandelier.Though he really loved me for my excesses—for eating too much, for stealing French fries from his plate,"That girl can really hold her liquor," he'd brag [End Page 28] when I was twelve. "They call her old hollow leg,"& even my hair—he'd lift me up by it& carry me up four flights of stairs! He loved my hair!
My mother suffered, oh did she suffer, the way alllight-skinned women were supposed to suffer. She suffered that& more. She proved that she didn't like it. She proved that of allthe un-black women, the ones babies didn't just comepopping out...