by Natyna Bean
It just kinda happened. The breaking? She hadn’t noticed that something inside of her, something so shrouded, yet blatant – the very thing her mama and all seven of her aunties had unanimously marked in the language of fragility and strength - could dissipate with one solid thrust of the hips.
Gone. Like the very moments before now.
Seventeen seemed grown in the wake of high school graduation and late night outings to frat parties fifty miles away in Miami. Adulthood meant decisions and an audacity she had never known prior to the first night she greeted Daniel with parted leg and opened heart. Boca Raton began to feel more and more like the place it professed to be; small, tight and gnawing at her like the mouth of a rat. If Cecilia was really going to be a woman, she was going to take advantage of all of her feminine power and blossom in a world where women were worshipped. Where they were bosses and wives and wanted by all. Where they were splattered across billboards like deities, worked in corner offices and drank their coffee black.
She tossed clothes in a shabby suitcase and a note under her mother’s bedroom door before she hopped into a small El Camino headed for New York City. Bye Mama. I’m off to be a woman.
She hung her afro out the window, blessing the good weather and good riddance of the South. Her limbs jittered in excitement and partial remorse by the time she and Daniel reached the New Jersey Turnpike. They quivered in definite shame when she exited the car, all Southern drawl and sundress amidst the plastered-on pants of pressed-and-curled prima donnas. As she marveled at their bodies, their brash tongues and bulging buttocks, she noticed that her lover joined her in spectating. His eyes, as dense as the rings on peacock feathers, lingered on the women. She knew that look better than she knew the creases of her own palms. That look got her to slip out of her clothes, out of her mother’s home, and into his car.
For the first time since she met Daniel, she felt like a child.
This unwelcomed discomfort would resurface months later when he began to come home too late, or she’d catch a furtive glance on their outings. The only times she’d leave the apartment without him was to run errands. Her entire world became the confines of their Prospect Heights neighborhood. Daniel had discouraged her from getting a job. What’d she think he brought her up there with him for? Southern girls are supposed to be simple. Not dim-witted, just simple. Just bedroom and kitchen and weekly allowances. I want to work. I want a corner office and a large window that looks out towards billboards of women. He’d chuckle. Mockingly console her with a rub on the back or pat on the backside. She didn’t know to tell him that what she really needed was something to do. A distraction from incessantly imagining him with someone else. From him smelling like perfumes that have never called her skin home. From feeling inadequate and inexperienced.
He always made sure to reaffirm her maturity as soon as the sun retired from the sky. When they were alone and intertwined, separated merely by sweat droplets and whispers. And in those moments, her love for him grew like a crescendo. It filled the room from crevice to corner; heavy like heartache, but light as breath. Every morning she’d call for him, her voice stretching out like forever across the paneled walls and yellowing wallpaper of the small apartment on Vanderbilt. He was her rooster and her daybreak. All six feet of him. Her very own sculpted Adonis with a voice painted in the darkest timbre. Cecilia, he’d say, in his mahogany hued voice, you’re my only lady. And she’d melt into an amber wax, ready for him to mold her into the woman he wanted her to be: dependent and ever present.
To be Black girl silent, even though she was born with a hurricane for a spirit, handed down from South Floridian gals with big legs and bigger voices. Vocal folds that would open like phoenix wings to chastise men who even attempted to place them in spaces they were too mighty for. Like modest sized Brooklyn bedrooms with drawn blinds and late returning lovers.
But Daniel was born with the pride of Poseidon, his trident rested comfortably between his thighs, his gaze icier than the Arctic. She’d go, Where you been all day? Thinking back to the women she saw the first day they arrived in the city and how antonymous she felt beside them, the insecurity welled up in her throat, threatening to spill out and scream. Before she’d get the chance, he’d effortlessly quell her protests, sending her hurricane from her throat back to the gloomiest part of her gut.
Then they’d make love until they fell asleep. She’d awake to the sound of his baritone, and make him breakfast before spending another day in the apartment, waiting for his return. Waiting for a larger purpose than panting and pushing and clawing and craving in the nighttime. Waiting for the moment before the initial breaking to return. Sometimes she’d hold a mirror between her legs and will it to reassemble. She’d stare at herself, willing her flesh to congeal and grant her a second chance of conquering adolescence.
She wondered if other women missed theirs too; if the actual price for womanhood wasn’t the breaking, but the longing for it to have never happened. She imagined that the tight-pants-women did the same thing at night when their men took too long to come home. She imagined that they were her or that she was them. It had gotten to the point that she’d try to embody them, mimicking their sashays in the full-length mirror hanging on the bathroom door. Failing to follow their rhythm until the day she succeeded in finding her own.
It just kinda happened. The breaking?
She hadn’t noticed something shattering inside her until one night Daniel’s lovemaking no longer could help her feel like a woman again. She did not sleep well that night. Or the many others that followed it. Each becoming more melancholy than the one before. Some nights, when the sky contested her tear ducts, she thought she would drown. Nights when it rained so hard that it sounded like something was breaking. Sounded like her heart. Sounded like her.
Nearly a year of feeling less like a woman and more like a girl who forfeited her innocence for an unobtainable immortality, Cecilia grabbed her ratty suitcase from the closet, tossed her belongings in it, her keys on the kitchen counter, and a note under Daniel’s pillow. Bye Daniel, I’m off to be a woman. Not your woman or anyone else’s, but my own.
Philadelphia native Natyna Bean is a Blk Girl who hears things and writes them down. She is a graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and recipient of the 2014 KCACTF National Undergraduate Playwriting Award. She writes plays, essays, poems, and the occasional love letter.