My friend’s middle son was shot in the head in a McDonald’s parking lot here in Jacksonville, Florida six weeks ago.
His mother and I became friends years ago because she was my hairstylist. When we met, she had two sons. He was the youngest at the time.
I remember picking him up and taking him with the girls and me to wherever we were hanging out that summer’s day, his lanky body shifting in the backseat, his dull eyes peering out of the window. I wonder if he saw his future. Because his mother worked twelve-hour shifts, standing on her feet, making other people beautiful, I thought I’d help by keeping him with me.
I remember how quiet he was. Sometimes he’d speak up and say, “Ms. Kathy, can I have some more” whatever it was we ate. But most times, he was silent.
Years do more than age us; they change us. And he was no different. His mother lamented about the crowd he’d been hanging with. She’d told me recent stories about him being in and out of jail for this or that. He was twenty-one. His life had become less than either of them expected. When the plain-clothes policemen came to her home, at four in the morning, showing a picture, and asking if this was her son, she never expected them to say we found him…dead.
We found him drunk in the back of a building.
We found him sleep outside of a convenience store.
We found him belligerent behind a restaurant.
That’s what she thought they were going to report.
She didn’t expect for someone to post a picture of her son’s freshly murdered body in the middle of the McDonald’s parking lot, blood spilling out of his head on social media. But since they did, she thought it would be evidence of an apparent crime, from a crime scene, from someone who knew what happened.
She thought they’d be able to find something from the restaurant’s surveillance camera. But the car was too dark, with Florida tinted windows beyond traditional codes. This too is evidence but not enough to convict anyone for the murder of her child.
Instead, she’s waiting. Waiting by her blinds because she’s paranoid. Waiting for sleep because his recent memory haunts her. Waiting with stapled flyers posted to lamppost where he used to loiter. Waiting for her youngest son, who is barely six to grow up and become a different version of his older brother, proving that she wasn’t bad at single parenting.
This, my friends, is how we mother violence in America.
*Written for my friend, but shared for National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
I’m sitting in a nail salon.
Every time I go I feel guilty. Sitting here while Vietnamese women rub my feet and pamper my body seems wrong. Couldn’t I do this myself? I used to. I used to cut my own toe nails and paint them too, with vibrant reds, oranges, and purples. But now? I act as if I don’t know how to reach my toes. They do it better. I’m convinced.
As I sit, I listen.
I want it round, not square. She has to help her because only she knows reflexology. I don’t like this color; can I choose something more nude? This last one comes from a six-foot woman, with a thick accent whose feet were already submerged to her lower calf in the tub of bubbly water. She expected the nail technician to stop working, walk to the front of the salon, and get a new polish for her.
Every so often, I ignore my book’s pages. The overweight woman in front of me eats her Taco Bell bowl and slurps her over-sized drink as someone scrapes the bottom of her heels. The middle-aged woman two seats down mmmhmmms and ahas her way through a conversation. She must be going on vacation because she speaks of taking her suitcases down from wherever they’ve been hibernating, while someone massages the tops of her feet with hot stones, turning them cherry red. Another woman lies flat on the black massage chair. An employee shuffles over to slather thick, yellow wax on her eyebrows, eventually ripping it and her tiny hairs off one strip at a time.
I just messed up a toe, another woman whines as she walks towards the front of the salon, with her black terrier leashed beside her. All of the patrons exchange glances. No one knew a dog was there until that moment. Her nail tech says something in what I assume to be Viet-Muong and briskly moves ahead without her.
I wonder why we do it.
Why do we get caught up in consumerism that somehow turns to a perceived necessary part of life…mine and yours? Today it’s pedicures and eyebrows. Tomorrow it’s something else society will have convinced us we need, something women need. It’ll always be something because we women are always in need of improvement. Right?