THE DRESSING GAME

MARISSA HOUSTON

You play the dressing game with your mother like this: every item of clothing in your closet and dresser drawers ends up on your bedroom floor. You mix and match, mix and match, mix and match until both of you stare each other down; parallel stances, hands on hips, and eyebrows knitted in defiance. She tells you that she doesn’t know where you come from sometimes, such a small body for so much attitude. Such a tiny girl for so much chutzpah. You refuse to give in and can’t see what the issue with your latest fashion choice (your polka dot bathing suit top and bright pink skirt) is. This is the outfit you picked out for yourself! She’s always telling you to stand your ground and to find your voice and this is how. 

Plus, it’s a hot summer’s day. What else did she expect you to wear, a winter coat? Her lip juts out and she sighs. The frustration in her voice is strong, but so is your will. 

“Sweet Pea, if you’d just…” mom starts, but you’ve already stopped listening. Arms folded across your chest. You refuse to back down and the showdown heightens. 

“Ma…” 

But Mom’s stubbornness outmatches yours. Her jaw tightens and her lips thin. “Jasmine.” 

“I don’t understand!” You huff. Anger and frustration threatens to collapse your chest. 

“You don’t know who is outside, who’s watching you dressed like that. You don’t want to draw the wrong attention.” 

 You look down at your twiggy legs and narrow hips. You run your fingers over the elastic of your skirt and the spandex of your top that clings tightly to your flat chest before smoothing over your bony shoulders. 

What would they be staring at? 

Did you suddenly grow a second head at the age of eleven? What was wrong with your top and skirt? Sure, you were wearing part of your bathing suit, but it was hot! 

“Just take it off, Jaz.” 

“But, Ma.” 

“Off,” she orders, squared shoulders and stern face. “We don’t dangle steak in a wolf’s face.”

You stomp as loud as you can as you storm away, back to the drawing board to restart the game.

Later that night as you stand on your porch, sirens wail and dogs howl. The sky above is a hazy shade of deep orange. You’re now dressed in horrible plaid stirrup pants and a t-shirt two sizes too big. 

The screen door bangs off its hinges as mom comes out and grabs your arm. She drags you off the porch and into the house. “You know when the street lights come on, Jaz, you come in.” 

She plops you on the couch and turns on the TV. 

The screen is bright as your eyes work to adjust to the unnaturalness of the light it gives off.  The news is playing and the top story of the hour reads: 

TWELVE YEAR OLD GIRL RAPED AND MURDERED, BODY LEFT IN A FIELD. 

The news flashes to the girl’s photo. She’s in a pink polka dot bathing suit, much like the one your mom made you change out of earlier, her hair a golden halo of curls. 

The news shows her assailants; you expect to see wolves, but instead you find men. 

A Detroit girl at heart, MARISSA HOUSTON is a midwest native who now calls Oakland, CA home. She uses her writing to explore the Black Midwestern Identity, the thin line between progress and gentrification in “inner-cities,” and how you can both love and hate your origins  When she is not overthinking life, you can usually find her over rewatching Living Single or Malcolm in the Middle.

TINY SPILLS
  • If you had to brag about yourself:
    I’d brag about how much of a hustler I am. I know, weird word choice, but I’m a Detroit girl. You have to hustle hard to get what you want. 

  • Your sign:

    Pisces sun w/ an Aquarius Moon + rising.

  • Your rituals (writing or not):
    My mom passed away three years ago, every day I get up and write her a letter telling her everything that i’ve done since she’s been gone. 

  • Best book nobody talks about:

    I have two. “What We Lose” by ZInizi Clemons and “The Women of Brewster’s Place” by Gloria Naylor.

  • What should we know:

    That Breonna Taylor’s murderers are still out there. That she was killed on my birthday and she could have easily been me. That she deserves to be here right now and that I won’t stop saying her name until justice is served.

  • Character (TV, book, movie) you most identify with:

    I had a friend once tell me that I was what you’d get if you crossed Dana Scully with Denise Huxtable. I think that’s pretty accurate. Outside of that? Issa Dee from Insecure with a dash of book Hermione Granger.

  • Question you secretly want to be asked:
    If I could work with any Black creative in any industry who would it be and why? 

  • The answer: 

    Kerry freaking Washington. I am always spellbound by her level of thinking, operating, and awareness of the world as a whole. She’s such a breath of fresh air and my dream is to write something for her one day.