Thursday, April 14, 2016

Chapter 2: Kid Kassidy

Every other Saturday, I go to my sister's hair salon to get my hair done. Kassidy's Klassy Hair Studio. The studio has white walls with flecks of gold leaf. The chairs are white, soft, and simple in construction. The white vanities and stations are fit for the Hollywood back lot dressing rooms of Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne. Gold and baby pink accents sprinkle the salon in forms of flowers, picture frames, statues, and vases. This salon is a girl's impeccably styled haven. Very much Kassidy. A far and bright cry from my dreary apartment. My spirits are always lifted while spending time here.

I should've known that Kassidy was going to end up being one of the top stylists in the city. I think it was her lack of patience during our childhood that threw me off the scent of her true destiny. In middle school, her Saturday mornings were spent braiding hair on my grandma's front step. She started at 9 am, braided about 5 heads, and she ended at exactly noon, no matter how many braids she had left on her final customer. No one was going to stop her from watching the fine boys at the basketball court playing pickup games. But she was the best, so they always came back next week... Or after the basketball game, if they ended up being that lucky final client. In high school, she only did her own hair, my hair, and Madison's hair. She didn't want to do everyone's hair because then she would be forced to take styling hair seriously. Her main focus was having fun. Partying and styling hair when she felt like it filled her life's focus at that time adequately. I don't know why we trusted her to practice press and curls with hot combs and Marcel irons, roller sets, relaxers, and sew-ins in our hair. We always looked cute though and the practice paid off. Girls would actually try to jock our hairstyles.

"No one can duplicate a Kassidy's Klassy Kreation!" she used to say those very words jokingly all the time, not knowing it would one day be the tagline and guiding force for her brand.

This particular Saturday at the salon started off as all of our appointments do. As she unraveled the twists in my detangled bra-strap length, kinky coily hair, my sister tried to convince me to try a new hairstyle. She learned how to do braidouts and twistouts just for me since I am her only client who wears natural hairstyles. In return, I let her ramble about all the things she wants to do to my hair.

"Maybe we should do a sew-in. I have hair in the back! And when are you going to let me blowout and flat iron your hair?! It would be so pretty, sis. Matter of fact, you should let me lift your hair color, take you a few shades lighter, and give you a sexy bob cut. It would be cute, straight or curly!"

"Uh... no ma'am. My hair is fine how it is, Kassidy. I am not as cute and stylish as you. I can't rock every hair style. I need to just keep my hair simple. Just blend in, you know?" I had to cut her off on this day. She was doing too much.

Kassidy swung my chair around away from the mirror to face her, leaned in and stared me straight in the eye. "Keisha, you are beautiful and you can rock any style you choose to wear." She sealed the deal with a wink and her signature smile and swung the chair back around towards the mirror. 'Twistout it is!"

Kassidy, my Kassidy. Kassidy doesn't even seem like my little sister some times. And moments like these instantly bring up old memories. Things that shaped her to just know. Since we've been younger, her maturity and life experiences has always surpassed age and established her as the leading sister. The leader of our sisterhood and the leader of our group of friends. Kassidy has always had a bigger than life personality. She is never afraid to take risks, even when she is warned profusely that the mistake she is about make can be detrimental.

Sitting in the chair as my sister parted through my hair effortlessly, twisting my hair gently, routinely rubbing oil on my scalp, and pulling gel through the ends of my hair, my mind continued to drift to the turbulent times that brought us to this serene moment.

When Kassidy was 16, she got tired of doing what my parents told her to do. She didn't want a curfew. At the time, her 21 year old drug dealing boyfriend loved to hit the club with her on his arm. He wanted her to stay the whole night with him. She kept getting grounded and breaking her sentences by sneaking out. My parents were upset, her boyfriend was upset, and Kassidy just wanted to be free. Madison and I warned Kassidy that her boyfriend was no good but it fell on deaf ears. I can't lie, we loved the shopping sprees at Franklin Mills and getting our nails done every week. But now that I am older, I wish I would have stepped into my role as older sister and told Kassidy that all money ain't good money and that everything comes with a price.

At 16, Kassidy decided to move out of our parents house. I was a senior in high school and just focused on graduation. I honestly didn't think she was serious until I came home early on senior day, I went to her room to re-borrow my sweater and her lipstick, and I noticed all of her drawers were empty. A month later, Kassidy found out she was pregnant. Her so-called boyfriend kicked her out when he found out. She was doing so bad in school that year that she stopped going about 4 months before. Instantly, she became a single, pregnant, 16 year old, high school dropout and the price of freedom went sky high.

It was the summer before my freshman year in college when Kassidy told me she was pregnant. Deciding if I should go far way for college was my biggest decision and worry until Kassidy dropped that bomb. I am now glad I stayed close to home and went to school in the city. I don't think I would've been able to focus miles away, not being able to see that Kassidy was okay with my own eyes. I begged and pleaded with my parents to let Kassidy move back in that day. As soon as my mother was about to budge, my father added one of his famous conditions.

"Ok, Kassidy can come back IF she apologizes to your mother and I, agrees to abide by our rules, and goes to rehab."

"Rehab?! Kass isn't on drugs! She's..." I remember vividly stopping mid sentence. I was about to spill the pregnancy beans. She begged me not to tell our parents until she had a plan. "Kassidy is stubborn, like you Dad. She is not going to agree to a punishment nonequivalent to what she did."

"Well she must be on something because she has surely lost her mind!" My father contorted vehemently in his chair. "Since you have all the answers Keisha and you know what's best for Kassidy, tell us, what's wrong with her then?!"

My mom often played referee and she felt it necessary to throw a flag on the play before one of us ran in for the touchdown. "Keisha, your father and I have already discussed that this is the best decision for Kassidy. Even if she's not addicted to any substances -"

"She's not!" I interrupted my mother's doubt to defend my best friend. But my mom continued and my father glared on in rage.

"Even if she's not, at least we can find out why she would do this."

I literally couldn't take it anymore. "You two have held us hostage to your dreams for our future since we were younger. We couldn't have friends outside of church. Our only aspiration had to be to go to college, study business administration, and work for Smith's Construction as secretaries. The will and bylaws are so outdated that I, as a woman, can't even be president of my family's own business."

"That business is the reason you are even able to have the privilege to attend any school you want and not worry about tuition. Your great great grandfather wanted to make sure all of his kids and their kids had an education and a job! Something that he couldn't attain and had to end up creating for himself, his family, us, and you little miss smart mouth." My Dad and I were also just alike. He knew every button to push and he had just pressed all of them at once.

"My life is covered in caveats. If I make one false move, you are going to disown me like you are doing to Kass! We've seen it our whole lives throughout the family. If your dreams, or even your personality, is outside of what is mandated to be a Smith, you won't get any support. Nothing we do is good enough for you. At least Kass was brave enough to take some risks. She didn't do it the best way but at least she did it. I hate business administration. I don't want to be an employee to my idiotic male cousins who barely graduated from college themselves. I hate my life and I am miserable. We have been miserable for years. We only got to be kids at grandma's house. You basically pushed Kass out of the house with all of these crazy rules. If I would've got accepted to SGU, I would've gladly gone 12 hours away just to get away from you, your impossible expectations, and that stupid church!" I had just snapped on my parents. It felt great.

"Watch your mouth, little Girl." For some reason, my father felt talking down to you solidified his power and authority.

"Keisha, calm down." My mom really didn't like arguments. I realized instantly that was one the problems. I snapped some more.

"I am tired of being told to calm down every time I show an emotion other than reverent fear and passivity! Madison is the only good thing that has come out of that church and the only friend we were able to make. But instead of vouching for us, you let her parents tell you that we are bad influences on Madison and can't be her friends anymore! You won't even fight those people for us!"

"Those people are the girl's parents and the Pastor and First Lady of our church home and family. Have some respect." My father finally stood, just to say that.

"Oh so I am supposed to be scared of them, too now!" I said sarcastically.

Trying to deflect the energy of the conversation, my mother quickly inserted herself back into conversation."Keisha, your upbringing has nothing to do with Kassidy not following the rules of this house."

"Mom, the rigid rules of this house have everything to do with why Kass acted out. It's also the reason why your only daughters will never move back in this house."

As soon as the words rolled off my tongue, I knew I couldn't accept any money from the family to go to school. And now I was up the creek holding the paddle while Kassidy was still far away in the boat. I didn't know what I was going to do. I just knew that I wanted to taste freedom, too.

Kassidy spent that entire day at my grandma's house after she got kicked out. My grandma was never the type to bombard us with questions but she always had this way of knowing when she knew something was up. As soon as I finished snapping on my parents, I went straight over to my grandma's to tell Kassidy what happened.

As I we sat on the front step and I began to tell her everything that just happened, her face lit up with shock and amazement.

"Did you really say that to them?" Kassidy asked me in disbelief. All I could do is nod my head to signal a yes in the middle of my own disbelief of all that was transpiring.

"I can't believe they think I would be doing drugs. That sounds like some Holy Cross Covenant mess." As Kassidy said this, all I could do was shake my head. While it hadn't occurred to me, I just realized the possibility of our parents consulting the Pastor about Kassidy was our constant reality. Every time these family issues occurred, I would give my parents the benefit of the doubt. I would hope that them telling the pastor about our home life is not the case. That our business would not become the church's. But it always did.

"Keesh, what are you going to do? You haven't been offered any scholarship money and you weren't accepted to SGU. You've worked hard you're whole life just to go there and double major in creative writing and business administration." As Kassidy grew concerned, all I could do was smile. She never lost her compassion.

"Kass, don't worry about me. Let's focus on you and your major problems. Like number 1: Where are you going to sleep tonight? " We both let out a deep sigh simultaneously. As we sat on the steps in silence for about an hour, all I could think was how grandma's house was always a safe haven. And then, I had an idea.

"Kassidy! I got it, I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner!"

"What are you talking about, Keesh?" Kassidy responded in confusion.

"Ask Grandma if you can live with her." Kassidy looked up to me and stared me in my eyes, as if it would help her process what I just said better.

After our staring turned into shrugs and winces of why-nots, Kassidy stood up and proceeded to walk into our Grandma's house. When I saw her open the door, I hopped up and followed behind her. She was walking really slow through the porch and living room towards the kitchen. I had to nudge her forward so I wouldn't step on her heels. Before Kassidy could even tip-toe into the kitchen out of the living room, Grandma knew we were there.

"So are y'all ready to tell me what's going on now. You two don't stay at my house this long unless you all are upset with your parents." We followed Grandma's voice into the kitchen. She was standing over the kitchen sink, cutting collard greens for her church's weekly dinner. Grandma turned around, looked at us standing back-to-chest, and motioned for us to sit down at the kitchen table.

 We couldn't hold anything back any longer. We let it all go hoping that grandma could magically solve all of our problems. We cried and whimpered as we told Grandma everything. When we finally got through our tearful story, Kassidy simply asked Grandma: "Can I live with you, please?" The weight of her little plea encompassed more pain than she could speak. Gratefully, my grandmother didn't need the whole story to understand.

"Kassidy, you remind so much of your mother when she was your age. She was a risk taker just like you. She never did as many of the foolish things you did but that's because I gave her the freedom to make some of her own decisions. Girls, your mother and father somehow forgot how it feels to be your age because they are so worried about protecting you. They don't realize that their smothering is causing you all not to experience the 'make some stupid decisions' phase. Trying to stop you all from making any bad choices is only making those choices appealing to you. Girls, you are going to have to forgive your parents one day. I know they love you too."

Grandma leaned in and embraced us in a group hug. Then she continued. "Kassidy, you can live here but there are some conditions." We glanced at each other, wondering if these conditions will mirror those of mom and dad. "You have to earn income legally to cover your expenses. You have to pursue an education and a career in something, anything. But you have to do so actively. No men in my house. You shouldn't have any over here with your condition and all anyway. And you have to go to every service my church has unless you are in school, working, or giving birth. Do we have a deal?"

"Deal."

Kassidy spent the rest of the summer getting her GED and saving money for the baby by doing hair in my grandma's kitchen. I ended up going to a local university, one of the best in the nation. I didn't find out until a few weeks before classes were to start that I qualified for a full scholarship because someone backed out to go to another university. I was just grateful I didn't have to use my parents money to fund school and I could study what I want. That's the first time as a semi-adult that I felt the Lord may actually be working things out for me.

As September rolled around, Kassidy tried her hand at nursing school for about a week and she just couldn't do it. One day after I took her to an ultrasound appointment to learn the sex of the baby, she decided to vent during the drive back home.

"I am just not good at nursing school. I hate drawing blood and I suck at science. I always have. I just feel like I can't do anything right, Keesh. I can't believe I am having a baby, a little boy. What am I going to do? I can't mess his life up too."

"Kass, you're doing many things right. You make mistakes but you are good at things. And my nephew will be fine. He's got two aunties and an awesome mom. Everything takes hard work. If nursing fails, you can just keep doing hair."

"You're right. I don't need to be in nursing school."

"Umm that's not what I said..." I wanted Kassidy to keep trying, not quit.

"I'm going to go to beauty school." I let go a sigh a relief.

My freshman year was pretty predictable and normal on the school front. I partied, made good grades, and tried my best not gain 15 pounds even though I ate like a linebacker. My personal life on the other hand was filled with drama. I didn't speak to my mom and dad the whole first semester. My grandmother told them how I was doing. I spent some of winter break in Mexico with a friend from college and Madison. When they went home for Christmas, I decided to stay back until the holiday passed. The day after Christmas, I came back and spent the rest of the break between my grandmother's and the dorm.

Kassidy decided to fast track her hours and attended beauty school practically 18 hours a day. By Christmas, Kassidy was halfway done with beauty school. On January 19, we welcomed the newest member of our family, Harry Smith, Jr.

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Artwork: Digital Designs

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