And no one bothered to tell her.
As Jessica stumbled across the too-hot asphalt, heels scraping like talons, she wondered who decided that only some of the population could look raggedy. Dolly Parton was never described as raggedy, but Whitney Houston was fair game. Jessica was neither of those women, but she could easily be put down just for being even a little out of place. She hated the word “tired” too, when she forgot concealer or foundation, but she hated the idea that someone at her place of work could call her “raggedy”.
But does the description fit?
Maybe it was the wine stains on her Calvin Klein dress, or the wig glue still not fully dried, glistening under the hot sun like Aunt Jemimah’s forehead on a two-year old pancake mix. Or maybe it was her steely resting bitch face, which was actively bitching at the moment, furious at herself for being hungover right before an important meeting. But that word was a bit strong.
What was she doing this all for?
A promotion that would never happen? Respect among her colleagues?
She almost laughed as she tugged open the front door. Her blazer was already looked skewed and wrinkled. All she had to do, though, was make it to her office. Smile and wave at her colleagues.
But there was some strangeness to her thoughts. They weren’t working today. Today, she didn’t want to just make it to her office, she just didn’t want to adjust her appearance for someone else’s comfort.
Yet, she still tapped the glue down, praying it would dry faster. Why didn’t she use the clear kind? Or at least put her hair into twists the night before?
She was in hair limbo, and no one could save her.
Do you feel complacent now? Her inner-demon taunted her. The angry, militant one, who didn’t actually mind if a little wig-glue was showing. The one who knew when she looked raggedy, but knew she looked sexy too.
No, what Jessica felt was rage. Something she was only allowed to feel inside the comfort of her own home. And she would tame this raging anger inside her. At least until she got to her tucked-away in the corner desk and found the materials she needed. Her get out of ghetto go-to box: a brush, Ecco gel, back up pantyhose, sensible loafers in case the European clients thought her hair was a little too big, and a big box of dark-chocolate covered almonds to wolf down before anyone saw her true form.
Everything would be fine.
She swiped her I.D. card, rolling her eyes at the security guard who quietly snickered at her hairline. She was sure his momma looked raggedy at some point, and he should have known better than to laugh.
But it just made her walk faster, even if her stomach was gurgling like a jukebox. The last time she drank this much was at Senior week at Yale. I was 21? 22? She was 29 now, and those back-to-back tequila shots sure weren’t sitting right. But only one word crossed her mind as she stepped off the elevator.
The one-syllable word that would doom her to an eternity in retched raggedness. She had to make it past Paul, before he saw her like this. She didn’t even care if her jealous coworker saw her. Paul. Paul, with the beautiful, almost untraceable accent and kind brown eyes. She wanted to ask him where he was from, but she hated that question herself, and didn’t know how to phrase it right — she just wanted to know more about him.
But not now. Now, he could not see her like this, or she feared she would spontaneously combust on the spot.
Luckily, she spotted him first. He leaned against a cooler, meticulously filling his Hydroflask, which was covered in faded stickers. He blinked at the water, not even looking up when she passed.
She hoped she looked moderately put together. Perhaps, even, the wig glue had dried.
Unluckily, however, he spotted her right as her stomach finally cried that it had had enough tequila, and emptied itself right between Paul’s shoes.
Between the lime juice and tequila, the contents of the two-year old Aunt Jemimah pancake mix finally spilled out, her dirty black secret out in the open.
That Jessica, a development innovator and wonder child, was raggedy.
The Codeswitching Diaries are an intimate collection of short fiction, vignettes and micro-memoirs that explore the humor and discomfort that comes with being a black woman in elite spaces. Stay tuned for more.