Saturday mornings at the beauty salon were ritual. Longgggg ass ritual. The women, the T.V., R & B or Gospel buzzing as background music to their voices. Laughter, stories, the understated, but powerful affirmation of the “mmmm hmmm” or “ohhhh chile” was symphonic. You could get everything you needed while you waited your turn to have it cut, pressed, curled, permed and laid. Advice and solace were always available and as omnipresent as the fried fish dinners, pork bbq sandwiches, bootleg movies, oils and candy. You could even get sexually assaulted.
The summer before my Freshman year in college, I attended a writing camp. It was to prepare me for the vigor of college English, it was where I was told I was a bad writer and where I told this story.
He was always there…a part of the Saturday ritual at the salon. Elder, dapper (a feat given his missing teeth and thinned out hair), cane in hand holding up his thin frame passing out hugs, compliments and laughs. You know, I can’t even remember his name, but I can remember he smelled like dipping snuff and Old Spice. Every time I saw him, I would rush to give him a hug. He had kind eyes and funky fedora. He would ask how school was (I had just started high school) and if I wasn’t there with my sister and my mom, he would ask how my family was. I liked him and he seemed to like me. You know, like an uncle, right?
It was the day I talked my beautician into cutting my hair into a double mushroom inspired by Naomi Sims. I was one of the last folks in the shop which was broken into two sections. The front, was a small unused space except for a few wash basin for washing hair that you would walk through to get to the back to be greeted by the smell of grease, chemicals and burnt hair. I was so excited when Dee turned me around to check out her creation. For a sister from Blount’s Creek, NC, she was stylish, modern and always willing to try something new on my hair. I felt like a million bucks. I called my mom to let her know I was ready to be picked up and as I made my way to the front to wait, he made his way in. I greeted him as I always did…why are my hands shaking as I type this? I greeted him as I always did with a hug and when I went to hug him, with the hand that was not holding his cane, he grabbed my breasts. When I let out an exclamation of “OH!”, and with that, he stuck his tongue in my mouth. He.had. no. teeth. I went rigid as his shaky hands groped me. He stood back and said with delightful triumph in his eyes, “you didn’t know I had it in me, did ya?”. I just stood there looking at him and then my mom pulled up and honked the horn. I got in the car, but I didn’t tell her what happened. I just asked if we could stop on the way home for a soda so I could get the taste of him out of my mouth. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything until later that year when he died and I told my mother that I was glad he was dead and why. I was disgusted and I was ashamed. I cried and she cried because she didn’t know. She told me she believed me.
I/we have been sexually harassed on the street by strangers. I/we still do. I/we have been sexually harassed by people we know. I/we have had our butts, breast and vaginas grabbed. I/we have been sexually assaulted. I/we have been pinned down. I/we have barely made it out of cars after the date was over. I/we have been chased around our own apartment by folks who were told no, but wanted more. I/we have been called slut, bitch, hoe, etc. We carry all of it…every bit of it in these bodies that are sacred no matter what has happened to us. In these bodies that are sacred no matter what we had on. In these bodies that are sacred even though when we trust them and they broke that trust in the most intimately violent of ways. In these bodies that are sacred and deserve to be believed, healed and loved.
It happened to me too…