Tyler Rheaves, 22, is from Georgia and attends the Savannah College of Art and Design. Tyler majors in Writing and with a minor in Dramatic Writing. She mainly produces script writings for TV, film, and plays.
“Mama, why my nose gotta be so big?” Rae takes a piece of cloth from the kitchen counter and covers her nose. She ties the two ends of the cloth tightly around her face making only her eyes visible. Her mother wipes the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. She covers the pot of sizzling chicken then motions for Rae to take a seat at the dinner table. “What nonsense are you talking about now, child?” She pours herself a cup of sweet tea and joins Rae. “Well, you know Billy? Yeah, well he done told me that my nose looked like a door knob and if I didn’t have such a big nose, I’d be pretty or something.” Loud laughter erupts from her mother, and her mother’s heavy breathing fills the room as she struggles to catch her breath. Rae crosses her arms, pokes out her bottom lip and turns her chair to face the window near the front door “it ain’t funny mama!”
“It is Rae, because we black! We all got doorknob noses!” Rae stands up and walks over to the window, she uses her index finger to draw a heart shaped figure against the glass, she then notices her dog outside sniffing a pile of his poop.
Her voice falls quiet and low, “I don’t wanna be black mama.” The house is silent. The only thing audible is the grease sizzling in the pot. Her mother takes a long sip of her tea. She stands up and goes over to Rae and places a hand on her shoulder. “Child tell me what you feel.” Rae nudges her mother’s hand away and presses her cheek against the cool surface of the window. She closes her eyes, focusing on the darkness of the back of her eyelids.
Her mother walks back to the pot to check on the chicken. She picks up a spatula and flips the chicken over. She cusses to herself as some of the hot grease bounces and hits the tip of her nose. Rae raises her arm to her face as if she were examining it and throws it back down in anger. “Mama, I hate that I’m dark skinned! It looks like I’ve been left out in the sun for too long. I hate how I can’t go swimming without my hair swelling up like a balloon. I hate how every time you do my hair the comb gets stuck or breaks. I hate how all the white little girls can wear their hair down and straight, tangle free while I have to have braids that whip me in the face every time I turn. I hate—” Before Rae can get another word out she feels her mother’s hand press firmly against her lips. “I must be dang old ugly, huh?” Rae shakes her head and mumbles “no” through her mothers’ hand. “No no, I think you believe I’m ugly because baby girl you are half of me. When I look at you I see myself… where have I gone wrong as a parent to make you hate yourself this much?” Rae steps backwards letting her mother’s hand fall away from her lips. “You did nothing wrong mama. You ain’t ugly, I am. Your skin is lighter than mine. I got daddy’s complexion.” Rae’s mother shakes her head and places her hand over her heart. “I bet your daddy is rolling in his grave right now hearing you talk like that.”
“Daddy died because he was black mama! I bet if he were white those police officers wouldn’t have shot him.” Rae bites her lip to keep herself from crying. “You…you saw that? I thought you were asleep,” Rae’s mothers voice cracks. Rae nods and sits back down on her chair. “I was awake mama. I saw it all through my window, but why you keep that a secret from me mama?”
“You are my baby girl, you were only nine at the time sweet pea. I thought you didn’t need to know or see that. I was only protecting you.” Her mom pushes a strand of hair that falls in front of her face behind her ear. “I guess it’s about time you know the truth about your old daddy since you thirteen and think you all of a sudden grown.” Rae’s mother leans her body against the counter pressing her weight against the edge. She winches slightly from the pressure or from the fatigue that suddenly seems to weigh her down. “Now he didn’t get shot child because he black so get that out your head. He got shot because he ran with the wrong crowd. He would bring bad people into this house and he could’ve gotten us both killed. I’d be damned if I let anything happen to you. So, I did what I had to do, I called the police. I didn’t think your daddy would reach into his pocket but when he did… well you know the rest.”
Rae sucks in a breath and lets it out. As her chest deflates, tears well up in her eyes and she clinches her fists to control their flow. “So, you the reason my daddy is dead mama?” Rae says through gritted teeth unable to make eye contact with her mother. “You think I’m the reason your daddy is dead? I loved that man with every inch of me…but child I love you more. One day you will realize why I did it, especially when you have babies of your own. Now enough of this Rae! Where is you hating yourself really coming from? I know it isn’t because of Billy or your daddy… is it those white children at your new school?” Rae bites at the dry skin on her lip, not responding. Her mother smacks her hand away. “Now I told you what a bad habit that is, Rae.” Rae rolls her eyes and closes her eyes again, comforted by the dark escape. Her mother is back at the stove and she moves the sizzling chicken around with the spatula. “When you ready to speak child, speak.” Rae opens her eyes and watches as her mother grabs an onion from the refrigerator and begins chopping it into little pieces. She watches the hands she knows so well hold the knife steady and sure. Her mother is quick and precise and soon she gathers up a small pile of perfectly diced onions. “Mama?” Rae’s mother freezes at the sound of Rae’s voice. “Yes baby?”
“I’m ready to talk.” Rae’s mother motions for her to begin. Rae walks over towards her, struggling to get the words out. She takes a deep breath, “All the white girls at school pick on me mama. They say I look like a monkey. Sometimes they even throw banana skins at me at lunch too. They also call me slow because I struggle real bad in math and they say I don’t talk right. You see mama, I don’t wanna get in trouble, so that’s why I keep my mouth shut. Why they hate me? Why my skin make them hate me? I’m human too mama, I have emotions just like they do mama. That’s why I pray every night before I go to bed that God will let me wake up white!” Rae sinks to the floor, clinching her stomach. Her mother sits next to her and wraps her arms around Rae’s shaking body.
She caresses her head and rocks her back in forth like she did when Rae was a baby. “Listen to me child, do not let them girls take the light away from your soul. Being black is a beautiful thing, our ancestors went through a lot to allow us to be where we are today. God ain’t made no mistakes with you or me. Now I know I should’ve pushed you harder with your vocabulary growing up, but I feel you speak just fine! You still got years to grow and develop too. Those white kids don’t know any better, they learn from they parents you hear? I don’t know why they hate on the color of our skin, probably wish they could have it since all they do is lay outside in that hot sun all day. The only thing you can do child is love them and pray for them. Things will change in the future sweet pea. But for now, love yourself, embrace that nose of yours, embrace those kinky curls and show them who the Rae I know really is.”
Rae looks up at her mother. She touches her mother’s nose and smiles. “Mama do you think I’m beautiful?” Rae’s mother cups Rae’s cheeks into the palms of her hands and looks directly into her eyes. “I think you mighty fine.” Rae giggles and hugs her mom. “I’m mighty fine. Mama, I’m going to pray that I learn to love myself again.” Her mother nods and gets up from the floor, she reaches for Rae’s hand and pulls her up. “That’s all you can do child, now go wash up and sit down while I go fix your plate.” Rae unties the cloth from her face and stands at the sink washing her hands. She stares at her skin and begins rubbing it slowly with the soap. She dries her hands and sits at the table. Rae notices her plate and scrunches up her nose. “Mama you burnt the fried chicken.” Rae’s mother bites into her piece and says in between chews “hush up, child, and eat.”