I don’t know what makes ugly: straight noses or forgetting to wash your face with tapped water after you cry. I’m starting to think, just maybe, ugly is pretty’s sweet cousin. I’m starting to think, just maybe, ugly always puts effort into creating gentle.
For instance, I know this nigga named Mark’wain. People say he received clemency. I don’t know much about that but Mark’wain sure was ugly and he was strong enough to pit bulls to quiet–always held the door open for the person coming in. Don’t get me wrong his appearance was frightening but no one shuddered around him unless a cool breeze sprinted and quickly condensed high afternoon sweat into the saltdrink sun juices in late June.
When I say he was ugly? He was UGG-LEE! And his mama loved him and his brothers loved him and all his lovers loved him. And he loved them too with written letters and delicate kisses and held hands and smiles made wholesome by jumbled teeth. Mark’wain was the ugliest nigga I ever did know and I’ve been trying to come into myself like him ever since I first seen him: behind the bread truck, telling the pigeons it was safe to eat what he offered. He read about them, gathered what they liked, and prepared feed fit to their pleasure.
You just want to be the baddest bitch in a pair of two dollar pair Beauty Mart chancletas, rocking a fresh tip set and a perfectly combed doobie. You want to fit into the hood easy: no designer nothing, all Conway everything, with attitude that could sail your ass back to the island your family ran from. No matter how many hip hugging pants you buy, you always end up with your ass-crack out. You wish that your hips would spread like those coke bottle women. Instead, you are straight like a fucking pencil and your family calls you maaaaugerand blaaaackand you wonder why they hang on to the aso long.
No mind, you just want to be bad. You want to be sexy even though you don’t like sex. When it was explained to you, in detail in a middle school bathroom, you retreated into a sadness you are just now escaping.
You want to be hard. Badness is hard. Like concrete hard. Like slamming into a brick wall hard. Like never having full access to your mother because her silence is too loud hard. Like losing your love in a man who promises to stay but doesn’t know how to keep his feet still hard. Like the floor is never too far for a fall hard. Like pushing every stone of life up a hill hard.
You do not know how those who achieve the best levels of badness can be glass carafes and hide all of their hairline cracks.
At night, when all is quiet, the hood sleeps. You sit outside with your feet bare and your ass-crack visible to anyone who chooses to look. You get loud and you cuss out all the motherfuckers who laughed at you when your glasses slipped down your nose and off your face because, after reading a particularly resonant chapter of a meaningful book, you cried. You feel like the only people who see and understand you are dead. You are still learning and it hurts the same way having learned does. And you cuss and cuss. Didn’t know curse words could descend on your heart like obeah. Didn’t know the island was in you enough to know what obeah was. But here you are, alone in the hood— ugly— unable to perceive your own hurt as beauty, buying into so much bullshit of how you should look that you remember wearing long sleeved shirts on your head and letting the sleeves dangle by your ears just so that you could be that Pantene girl once. Just once. Just once you want to have someone look at your spaced and bucked teeth, held together by cement and wires, and say, “Girl, them gaps tell stories. Will you share them?”
Let’s say that throughout the universe there are innumerable versions of you. Let’s say that you can be you can be you can be you can be you. All of those yous are ever so slightly different. And let’s say in one universe, Hood: Index 3, there is a version of you that popped the chicken pill and your ass is thick and your hair is laid and Conway is the only store with elastic pants stretchy enough to fit over your curves. Let’s say, in Hood: Index 3, your family does not break into the lower middle class and the braces you eventually got here, in Universe Prime, are not even a consideration. So you, version Hood: Index 3, have gaps in your teeth with no chance to bridge them with cement and wires. Buck toothed and apologetic, still, even though you in Hood: Index 3 are so much more of what you in Universe Prime wants to be. But you both are essentially the same person: your hands are clumsy, your heart murmurs, your expanse of emotions red circle around words like ashamed and embarrassed and fearful. Same person: you. Anyway, with all them gaps, you, in Hood: Index 3, smile even less than Universe Prime you does. Them gaps are so wide, when you part your lips, your friends say the distance between your two front teeth requires an airplane. Diaspora teeth. That’s what it is: diaspora gaps, teeth of travel.
The thing is, in Hood: Index 3, when your glasses do slip down your nose and off your face, because after reading a particularly resonant chapter of a meaningful book, you realize that you haven’t heard your glasses hit the floor of the school bus and someone has their hand outstretched. They catch your glasses and your tears land on the plastic bridge. That someone looks at you with a smile. They have diaspora gaps of their own. You smile too. They say, “Where did your family run from for you to get gaps like that?”