CNF: reflection(s)

by tavonne s. carson

I fell asleep with a silenced phone and awoke to information I somehow knew the instant I picked it up. Tiny red alerts on my phone spoke a language of urgency. It’s never, ‘Your cousin got into Howard!’ or ‘Grandpa won the lottery!’ Bad news is inherently forceful, determined to suffocate you like a wave you weren’t expecting. Twenty-plus text messages and calls persisted to tell me my father had passed away.

I fled my apartment. Rather, the mirrors there. Dad’s plump cheeks and slanted eyes had suddenly been superimposed onto my face. Our reflection was magnetic and heartbreaking. Each glance reignited my sobbing; I kept returning to see what a woman suddenly left fatherless looked like. I wanted to be outside of the situation, to be the omniscience in the third-person point of view, but the loss was too visceral to be surreal. I told myself that air and public space would be calming so, with hours before my departure home, I decided my hair had to be done.

People always told me that I looked like him. It upset me since he wasn’t a consistent presence in my life. I didn’t see the resemblance and claimed my mother’s features with a smoldering defiance. It was near impossible to see outside myself then, to see that I did need and want the man who gave me life to act as if mine mattered. Perspective is obstinate in youth.

As two adults, my dad and I came to an understanding at the exact right time because: growth. At 34, I took my first-ever family vacation with him. Me, my dad, sister, brother-in-law, nieces and nephews visited Myrtle Beach. He was endearing and annoying in the way I was blessed to learn dads could be.

None of this crossed my mind as I walked to the salon. I fixated on useless details: blinding daylight, noisy leaves swirling at my feet, overflowing trash cans. I gave myself directives as the tiny chime on the door announced my arrival: act normal and don’t cry.

“Wash and set please,” I managed before sitting to wait my turn.

I breathed. I blinked. My inner-body stirred while the outer me held still. A tornado of regrets swirled the confines of my skull and funneled down my throat. My heart throbbed, coursing blood to nerves that pulsated against taut skin. My lungs burned, raw from the stretch and snatch of frenzied breath. An imperceptible storm of emotions raged as I teetered on the vinyl seat of a vacant hooded dryer.

“Come, mami,” Melanie said, motioning to her station in front of a mirror that nearly stretched to the ceiling. He was still there; our reflection blurred. Melanie handed me tissues.
          “You okay, mami?”
          “Yes, just sad,’ I said, gazing at a reflection that wasn’t quite my own anymore.
          My dad was there, but no longer here. Eventually, I’d find comfort in that.

tavonne s. carson lives and writes in Harlem, New York. she is currently working on a collection of essays and radiating love.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “reflection(s)”?

    reflection(s) began as really strong images and intense emotions i couldn’t shake. the things i see and physically feel at key moments usually stick with me to the point that I have to revisit and deconstruct and reconstruct until I decide what my takeaway will be. i actually stopped writing for a while after my dad passed away. i didn’t want to write sad things and i knew that was all i had in me at the time. but as sad as this piece felt when i initially wrote it, i’m glad that it eventually developed (for me) into something that was less agonizing and more beautiful each time i read it.
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