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African American Coming of Age Teens & Young Adult

Take the pink sponge rollers out of your hair quickly because it’s Sunday morning and everyone is already rushing toward the car to go to church. Slip the black Goody comb through your dense, hot combed, jet-black, Ultra Sheen-glazed hair and style your curls because it is important to look shiny, crisp, and coiffured at your church. When it doesn’t look good, keep combing it over and over, even when Mom is banging on the door. When you finally open it, angry because your hair is still a flat, lackluster mushroom-shape, do not give Mom any attitude when she slaps your face and pulls you out of your room by your hair, down the hall, down the steps, until you finally break free, still trying to fix your hair because you have to go to church with impressive hair. Do not look at her hatefully when you break free because she will slap you three times instead of just the two. Suck your lip to remove the blood; don’t wipe it with your finger because Mom will say you are making a production out of it. Keep a straight face and don’t look hateful in the car when she describes to your father and your four siblings how she slapped the hell out of your vain self and pulled some of your hair out for your primping in the mirror, exposing your punishment to everyone, even though it was done privately and could have stayed that way if it were discipline, not a Mom-temper tantrum. Be patient during the long ride that starts in the idyllic tree-lined street in your neighborhood, crosses into the next town, traverses the downtown, over the railroad tracks, over the drawbridge, and into the hood. Ignore the shenanigans occurring on the way to church, like your mother placing a topless ceramic mug filled to the brim with coffee, on the car’s dashboard. Do not react to your mother’s shrieking and name calling at your father when a drop of her coffee laps over the lip of the cup because he could have driven over the bumps in the road more smoothly to prevent the liquid from spilling during the 45-minute car ride, she said. Wonder again if people live in the houses that look like small square boxes with roofs, have peeling paint, crumbling steps, and tires, furniture, and mattresses strewn in the yards around the corner from Mount Zion Baptist church. Then ask your father if anyone lives in those houses, even though he never answers that question when you ask him every Sunday. When you get to church and the car is finally parked, after 10 minutes of your father searching for a parking space, be careful when you open the car door because there are expensive cars there, packed tight. Walk quickly in your semi-high, black heels and long skirt to the church because you are late again, but do not switch your hips because you do not want people to believe that you are a fast-tail girl. Go to the bathroom first to check to make sure that your hair looks fine. Do not pay attention to the sour smell in the bathroom, the cracked linoleum, or the leaking sink. Do not be upset that your hair looks puffy because the humidity got to it and it was pulled halfway around a house. Go to the basement and into the corner room where your age group is having class, and everyone is already there. In Sunday School do not laugh at Ms. Ida May when she tries to teach, even though you cannot understand what she is saying because she works her mouth and mushy words tumble out. Do not join in with the other kids who are fooling around in Ms. Ida May’s class because you don’t know how to fool around. Notice that Ms. Ida May wears her white church suit that looks like a nurse’s uniform every Sunday, looking like a walking black and white picture. Think about why Ms. Ida May has always been there and will always be there. When it is your turn to read in Sunday School, read each word correctly and in your real voice. Do not pretend to not know how to read and do not speak with a black brogue just to fit in like Tracey Hightower, who was a soft-spoken, sweet girl last year when she was new to church, but now is mean and womanish acting - walking wide-legged and and throwing her developing hips into it, rolling her eyes and popping her neck at you and your sister for no reason every Sunday. Don't be surprised when sixth, seventh, and eighth graders cannot read words like ‘the, come, thus, thee because it happens every Sunday.Try to say hello the right way to Antwon because he is always cool and confident, even if he cannot read. Do not sound stiff when you talk to cool, black, church kids. Do not feel disappointed because when Antwon nodded and said, “Sup” you blew it and said “Hello,” way too timid and proper sounding. When you line up to march into the choir stand with the youth choir and high voice Tonya gives you the dirty eye and tells you and your sister Belinda off, ignore her. Remember that you and Belinda always have each other, and you don’t need the tough, black church girls. The youth pre-teen choir gets to sing with the teen choir today, and they will sing fast, loud, hand-clapping songs. You will sing in the alto section, and so you cannot sit by Belinda because she is a soprano. You will be fine because you will get to sit by Carolyn, Lisa, and Sheila and they have never made fun of you. Do not get caught by Ms. McDonald, the choir director, talking to Carolyn, Lisa, and Sheila during church. Instead, pass notes. When the choir director starts directing the choir to move back and forth to the music, admit to yourself that you do not want to rock in rhythm with the choir, even though you can. Stand still.

May 13, 2022 22:23

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6 comments

Amanda Lieser
09:35 May 28, 2022

Hello! I agree with Zack that the POV and formatting added so much depth to this price. I was not raised in religion, but I know some of my friends felt trapped by the constraints associated with religion and routine on Sundays. My heart broke for the MC when her mother greeted her in the morning. I know it can be challenging as an adult to remember what felt so big to us as kids. I also loved the little part about the cool boy. I remember feeling so excited to meet other humans outside of the bubble of school and home. Nice job on this piece!

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12:33 May 28, 2022

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment Amanda!

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Belinda Moore
17:42 Jun 20, 2022

I like that the protagonist's sister has my name. I too went to a Mt Zion Baptist Church (but we are a MISSIONARY Baptist Church), though I don't think there is really any difference. I love that this story is told in first person and can definitely relate to the protagonist, especially when she talks about her manner of speech and how she reads. I also too sang in the church choir and sang alto. This is probably my favorite story that I have read from this website so far! The POV that the story was told from is sheer genius! I can't give en...

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20:54 Jun 20, 2022

Belinda, Wow! That is the best comment that I have ever received on any story I have posted on here! I cannot read it enough times! :-) Thank you for letting me know what works about the story and how you can relate. I am sure you (us) are my audience for this story! Thank you!

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Zack Powell
01:48 May 26, 2022

This is really beautiful, Ellison. Love the choice of second-person POV here to help ground me in the character. Really enjoyed the use of imperative sentences to tell a story - do this, do that. It established a nice rhythm to the prose. No complaints here - great story. If you haven't read "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid, I highly recommend it (you can easily find it online). It reminds me a lot of this story in the best way. Thanks for sharing this one.

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01:56 May 26, 2022

Thank you Zack. It was a voice and style I was experimenting with.

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