When Shanelle first learned of her pregnancy, she prayed so hard for a little girl. None of us are sure that she knew exactly what she was asking the Good Lord for, but he granted her wish anyway. Nola. Like New Orleans, Louisiana, her favorite city. NOLA was her favorite place long before she had even boarded a plane. She would always say that for some reason she felt a connection to the city. So much so that gumbo and beignets were a tradition, even in our tiny apartment hundreds of miles away from Bourbon Street. As if her love for the essence of New Orleans wasn’t enough, Spike Lee’s 1986 Joint, She’s Gotta Have It, confirmed the name 5 years before baby Big Easy would make her debut. Unlike most, Shanelle didn’t leave the theater thinking Nola Darling was a sex crazed deviant who would never satisfy her inhibitions. She saw a woman fully aware of herself, and her right to agency. A woman who, in fact, would not settle for anything that did not completely satisfy her. And as fate would have it, my mother managed to raise a woman just as bold as her namesake.
It should go without saying that I am completely enamored by the strength and beauty of my mother. She is bold, forthcoming, fearless, and all of the qualities synonymous with dangerous women. I have spent my entire life trying to emulate my mother’s sensuality and want so desperately to possess the black magic that is her sway. She claims that she lost her looks to my sisters and I but no, her ability to bring about feelings of admiration and insecurity in even the strongest of women is further proof that she still has it despite having held it for 45 years. The great Shanelle, as effortlessly beautiful as she is a slave to her afflictions. My superwoman who met her kryptonite in the form of illicit substances and men she was not strong enough to save herself from. I was laying in bed when I got the call from Ashley and from the poorly hidden cracks in her voice I knew, the Great Shanelle had lost another battle and was looking less and less like a contender for the war. The last 10 years have, unfortunately, included watching her life unfold in a haze of addiction and resentment. First it was my daddy’s fault. He ruined her life…or so she says. My daddy, much like many of the other daddies around here, left the Great Shanelle wide-eyed and without a name for “father” signed on her eldest daughter’s birth certificate. I look so much like him that I question whether or not she expects me to wear his sins like cashmere adorning the shoulders of the wealthy. Maybe that’s why she yelled, “don’t tell her ass nothing” when Ashley tried to explain what had happened…
On the eve of the Shanelle’s funeral, my youngest sister Jazmin handed me a note covered in Mademoiselle, a scent I had become familiar with after having my ass whooped for tapping into a grown woman’s “stuff.” One I’d never forget.
Everything that I’ve ever done has been in preparation for the moment that you question yourself and look to me for guidance. Maybe it’ll happen when you’re 14, like it did me, and your little heart gets broken when high school is a bit more advanced than a strong reading ability. Even if it happens then, please remember that this is only the first of many so try not to allow it to completely rattle your core.
You are the most beautiful thing many will ever see in their lives. You are graceful. You are challenging. You are proud to walk in your own image. You are a wonder of the world and anytime that you allow yourself to be treated as anything else, it will be a grave injustice to all of the superwomen who came before you.
You are not quiet and probably never will be, which is fine. Speak life with your tongue and be mindful of the ways in which you share yourself with others. This is important, as the devil has never been what we were told to believe. There are no fiery horns or acts to provoke fear. Hell is enticing and comes in the form of all things hoped for. Always remember that those who are marveled must approach life with a certain level of caution. What the mundane call apprehensive is simply a means of survival for us. I pray that you always make your choices wisely and operate with the maturity to accept even the strangest of truths.
The Great One