When I was a little girl, before I was even school aged, I loved to
play in my mother’s things; her glitzy jewelry, her high heels and
thigh-high boots (which swallowed every inch of my little bitty legs),
her favorite cherry red lipstick, and especially her purses. She had a
bag for every occasion! Sturdy cloth sacks for toting snacks and
whatnots for me and my younger brother, Justin, leather satchels for
paperwork or notary seals she would be doing for my dad, who was a
stellar attorney, an everyday-long-strapped purse to match her
outfits, and the most glorious clutches for an evening on the town
with my Daddy or her friends. I’m talking satin, lined in gold,
beaded, brocade, a clutch in every color. Enough for her ID, lipstick,
mints, and a few of dollars.

When I was a bit older, old enough to date, well, I’m 32 and I’m still
not old enough to date in some of my family’s opinion, however they
thought they’d let me give it a go in high school my junior year. My
mother told me a story about why she preferred a smaller pocketbook
when she would hit the town.

“It’s simple. I leave the house with two dollars, I come home with two
dollars. I don’t take more than that so a gentleman can buy me a
drink. It’s your job to be pretty and not thirsty.”

“Mama”, I protested, “I don’t want to depend on a man to buy me a
drink. What if he follows me around?”

“That’s what your girlfriends are for. You dance, laugh, joke, talk
with them. Make yourself desirable, but unavailable.”

“But-“, before I could get the words “Mama” out of my mouth, she
butted in, “Don’t believe me?!?! You have a father. Thank you and good

I couldn’t do anything but laugh. But as I began to blossom, or lack
there of, it wasn’t too much else to laugh about. I had uncontrollable
curly hair, which I love now, however it was a focal point on most of
the teasing and bullying I received in school. In addition to my mane,
I had the most horrible acne, my back is still covered with scars from
blackheads and painful outbreaks. My hips were full and my bottom was
round, but my chest was flat. While other girls were filling out their
bras with a more womanly bosom, I was stuffing my bras with toilet
paper. Boys didn’t flock to me, only gawked at me. Stress and puberty
were my worst enemies. We were always at war.

Unsettling enough, I had drawn another and unlikely adversary, my mother…

Though I was awkward and not a traditional pretty, people were drawn
to my creativity as a blooming actor and poet, people felt invited by
my jagged smile, people liked me, even if I wasn’t much to look at at
that time. My spirit was luminescent and there was something that
shifted between my mother and I.

There wasn’t a free exchange about boys or about life, there was
conflict and criticism for everything. “You think you’re pretty
because you’re light skinned, you’ve got a color complex”, my mother
would spew at me, “And you think you’re so sweet, you’re not, and
you’re not fooling me”, she would continue to light into me. My mother
was “darker” than me, but I was her kid, why would she think that. I
came boring through her body to enter this world, it perplexed me. How
could she feel this way about me? Her baby? Those were just PG
versions of many of the nasty things I heard from her during my
formative years. Insults rained down on me like a giant storm, a storm
that never let up, I was always covered in darkness. I didn’t think
much of anything of myself, I didn’t really have any room left between
the teasing at school and taunting from my mother. And there was no
talking back. Because “Light skin” bruised easily, so I made it a
point to silence myself. I felt so small.

The only person that defended me was my father, he and I had twin
spirits. He acknowledged my light and fawned over my beauty. There was
no greater person I had ever known. That bond between my father and I
only eroded deeper the canyons of misunderstanding between my mother
and I. She hated how close we were and she made me pay. There was a
price on my head, and the head of anyone that loved me. It was a
difficult time.

I was in my mother’s clutches, not able to be molded by her hands, so
I was stifled under the control of her demands. I tried to do my best
not to displease her, however I lived in misery being at her beck and
call. Most of my friends called me “Melancholy Mercer” in high school,
all the way through college. She was never satisfied with me; I
couldn’t wear this, because of my hips, couldn’t say that, because of
my lips, couldn’t work there, because of my hair… she made it a
point to make me believe that no one would accept me. For I long
while, I believed that very thing.

Until something happened… I found an unlikely ally… I found myself.

I picked my curly hair out until it scrapped the clouds, I stopped
stuffing my bras and let my chest be, I reveled in my jagged smile, I
couldn’t afford braces and I didn’t want them, I just wanted to
smile… so I did.

The discord between my mother and I never found a harmonious balance.
We’d try, we’d give up, we tried again, but ultimately we have
accepted that we are too disagreeable on most issues. It’s hurtful,
however, it’s necessary to tell the truth, some mothers and daughters
aren’t going to be friends. Though genetically tied, everything else
seems to unravels.

I don’t dwell on frayed edges, I remember those times when we were
stitched together like my grandmother’s quilts. I have taken on some
of my mother’s habits even. I have a bag for every occasion! For
market, for a weekend getaway, a travel duffle for turnaround trips, a
backpack for long days with a jacket and snacks to keep me warm and
hold me over, and the most glorious clutches. Beaded, wooden handles,
lined in funky, bold prints, and just enough space for my ID, lip
balm, mints, and few dollars. I hold on to that, because some stories
don’t have an happy ending, they just have details…

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