In honor of Black History Month, the blog is featuring Black authors previously published in the Exponent II Magazine.
This piece is from Falencia Jean-Francois who is an educator and independent author living in Pittsburgh with her wife, two cats, and dog. She is a dual advocate for Literacy and STEM education. Her debut novel, Devil of the Deep, comes out in the Summer of 2023. Follow her on TikTok (@falenciatheestoryteller) where she documents her experience as a queer, black, indie author.
My mother was a gingerbread woman pulled from the oven too soon. Her gingerbread man already on the run, she stood alone, under-cooked, and ill-equipped to care for the cold little lump of gingerbread dough they had made together, but somehow fell to her to keep alive. This new, strange kitchen she found herself in was empty, but no matter. She set to work. Lacking the calm, even pressure of a rolling pin, she made do with what she had—her belt, her shoe, her brush, her open hand, her closed fist, her fingernails, her foot, shod and unshod—to beat me into a shape resembling her idea of a person. (I never could quite measure up.) When the instructions for carving out my femininity, written in the language of kindness, eluded her, she substituted cruelty and criticism. When the controls for the oven from which she came proved too complicated to operate, she toughened my dough with impossible expectations. BUT! What she lacked in baking skill she more than made up for with a steady piping hand. Barrettes, bows, and ribbons; braids, weaves, and ponytails; gold necklaces and gold bracelets; diamond and emerald earrings; silk, satin, and lace; designer, designer, designer! She coated us both in thick layers of the most royal of icing, lest anyone see her scars or my still bleeding wounds; lest anyone notice my burnt edges; lest anyone judge our misshapen parts; lest anyone feel the need to offer us help.
Seventeen years later, my mother is gone, consumed from the inside by an insatiable disease that gave no thought to her appearance, and I have begun the work of unlearning everything she taught me. As I chip away at the layers of hardened icing, I wonder if I’ll recognize the body I find underneath.