Black Femme Collective calls for creative nonfiction submissions from Black Queer Femme Storytellers engaging in the theme REST.

On Rest and Restraint

Jasmine Holmes
Visual Art: Jasmine Holmes

“Girl, you betta sitcho ass down before you fall down!” 

        I’m on the phone with my sister, annoyed that she is once again complaining about her job: how hard she has to work because that triflin’ ass lead tech is always whining about what he can’t do, leaving the two Black women in the unit to pick up his slack. I pick at my raggedy black toenail polish, wondering if it will be warm enough to wear sandals, or if I can leave them be and wear socks or tights. I need to give myself a pedicure, but exhaustion has set in. 

        “If I don’t do it, who will? You know I can’t let my patients just sit there,” my sister replies.

        “The person they hire to replace you when you drop dead from a heart attack,” I snap. “You know what Daddy said, those folks will have your job on the internet before they post your obituary. Stop killing yourself for them people.”

        “Whatever, Steph. I’m not going to drop dead, but I’ll see if I can get some time off.”

        We end the call and I’m more certain than ever that she will not take time off. She lives for her job, and no matter how much she complains, she can’t bear to be away from the frantic pace of the hospital where she’s worked for fifteen years, even with the added peril of the pandemic. I get it, I love my job too, but since Mama died last year, I’ve started to think more about rest. 

        I push myself up and off the bed, hips creaking and knees screaming. I’ve been getting more exercise, but I still feel tired all the time, like my body is trying to tell me something. Yeah, girl, you’re fifty-two. I head down to the kitchen to get myself a snack: tonight I’ll settle on one of those new fancy fruit cups with pink grapefruit and orange slices in pomegranate juice. I enjoy the tickle of tart fruit and sweet juice on my tongue, just what I need to make me feel like I’m eating healthier. I’d really love a piece of cream cheese poundcake and a cup of strong coffee, but I’m trying to do better. Must do better. 

        My phone trills, but I ignore it until I get back to my bedroom. I return my daughter’s call and she tells me that her grandpa is coming to visit. Since Mama died, he’s been taking little road trips every Monday to build his driving stamina up, and he’s planning to come help Baby Girl out for a medical procedure she’s having later in the year. I can’t go because it’s the same week our semester starts. He’s also planning to bring my sister with him.

        “Now you know she ain’t gone take off work for a whole week to come down there!” I say. 

        Christine hasn’t taken a vacation since her last wedding anniversary cruise. She and her husband had docked in Miami just in time; most of the country had gone into lockdown soon after they returned from whatever island it was that they’d traveled to.  She’d only driven to Atlanta for a weekend at Chateau Elan since then. 

        “Papa said she was coming.”

        “Mmmm hmmm. I’ll believe it when I see it. And I just talked to her, she didn’t say anything about a trip.” 

        “I don’t think she knows she’s going yet,” Baby Girl starts giggling and I join in. 

        We share a good long laugh and I end the call, trying to decide what book I want to read tonight. 

        “Bae, put the book down and turn off the light.”

        “What? I’m not sleep!” I yawn and stretch, pulling my bonnet a little tighter since it seems to be slipping off my freshly washed and twisted hair. 

        J gives me a look that lets me know that I was, indeed, asleep, and about to concuss myself with the iPad I was reading. Marking my place, I put the device on the nightstand, ignoring J’s request to turn out the light. I’m like a petulant child: tired as hell but not ready to go to bed. It’s Friday night, and I want to stay up late, need to stay up late. I’ve worked like a dog all week and all I want to do is relax for a bit, rest, while reading or watching a little television. It’s about as much as I can do these days, with the pandemic and all. But it’s getting harder and harder to hold the book or device up at night. Audiobooks have become my new best friend, but I always end up dozing off after a few minutes of listening, which means that I’m always trying to figure out where I was last. I hardly ever remember to set the sleep timer, because I never think I’m going to drop off while listening. But I do, nearly every time. There was a time when I could stay up all night reading, although my sister likes to remind me that I used to fall asleep with a book on my face then, too. 

        I love to read. For most of my life, reading for pleasure has been my respite, a way to escape the demands of work and home. My form of rest. But now, because my very livelihood depends on reading and writing, (publish or perish really is a thing), what does it mean that the very thing I need to help me rest is the very thing that keeps me busier than I’ve ever been in my life? I promised myself when I went to graduate school that I would not let academia ruin my love of reading, that critical analysis and literary theory would not steal my joy. And truth be told, it hasn’t. I still love to lose myself in a good book more than anything else in the world, and I “gift” myself time to read for fun on holiday breaks, over the summer, and for thirty minutes most nights. It’s my way of never losing sight of what brought me to my work in the first place: the power of Black women’s storytelling. 

        But now, exhaustion is trying to take my love from me. Sure, I’m getting my work done, including reading for my research and for the classes I teach. But my me time, the portion of the day that I reserve for myself has become elusive. Even when I have time, I don’t have the wherewithal to do anything but match colored candies on a screen. Is that how I’ve come to define rest? Twenty or thirty minutes of Candy Crush or Words with Friends before dozing off with the lights on? On some days, it works. I find a teensy bit of joy in passing a new level or playing a word that scores more points than my opponent. There’s something to be said for the way my mind lets go of the day’s worries and becomes singularly focused on one or two rote actions. Isn’t that what rest is?  

        I’m in the kitchen, setting out the double boiler and making sure that my bowls are clean and dry and that my oils are pure and fragrant. Can’t let water come into contact with the shea butter or essential oils, they would be ruined. It’s Saturday, my day of rest, and I’m whipping up shea butter to share with my close friends and family. Rose, vanilla, and mint for Baby Girl. Sandalwood, cedar wood, lavender, and a touch of vanilla for J. Bergamot and chamomile for Christine (lavender makes her itch). Whipping shea is time consuming, but worth every minute. First, I melt down the shea and coconut oils; next, I cool them in the fridge until they reach a semi-solid state; and finally, I whip them up smooth and light with my stand mixer, infusing the butter with my essential oil blends. It’s a labor of love—one I picked up when I realized that I needed to stop baking so much. 

        Like everyone else it seems, I revived my baking habit during the summer of 2020. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to cook, and southern sweets are my specialty. I’ve even won awards for my caramel and red velvet cakes. But I soon realized that working from home and baking bread and cakes every week weren’t the best idea for my middle-aged figure, so I needed to find another way to expend some of my creative energy. I focused on two things: learning how to care for my now natural hair and whipping shea butter. Learning how to do both things brought me immense joy. Trying to figure out how to care for my natural hair, hair that had been relaxed since I was eleven years old was work, and I threw myself into it like a new writing project. Once I got the hang of it, I was surprised at how much fun it was, how much I looked forward to wash day. To be sure, there were (and still are) days when I get frustrated with it. (Indiana humidity ain’t no joke). But for the most part, I’ve enjoyed figuring out what works (heavier creams and butters for my high porosity hair) and what doesn’t (watery gels or anything with glycerin). 

        What I also learned is that rest takes many forms. It might be spending an hour watching the girls on YouTube, (the natural hair V-loggers that I follow), or spending a Saturday afternoon whipping shea butter for my family. Sometimes, it means falling asleep while reading or listening to a book. Rest means that I can unplug, that I can disengage from work, even if only for forty-eight hours a week. Rest means that my schedule is arranged in such a way that I can attend to my professional obligations by maintaining a strict calendar and accounting for every minute, every hour of time during the week. That I am judicious and deliberate. It might seem too rigid, like it’s more work, but I assure you, it is not. What carefully parsing out the hours of my workdays means is that I get to do whatever the cuss I want on my days off. Because now I actually get days off.  And I can’t get no better rest than that.

        I look down and see that my phone is ringing, it’s been on silent for most of the afternoon because I was reading for an essay I’m working on. It’s Christine, and while I know she probably doesn’t want anything but to complain about her job, I answer anyway. 

        “What’s up, gal?” For some reason, the country in me always comes out when I’m talking to my family or friends from back home. 

        “Guess what?” She asks, excitement bubbling up in her voice.

        “Chicken butt.”

        “No, fool! I’m going to Arkansas with Daddy!”

        “WHAT! I can’t believe it! You’re staying the whole week?” I really can’t believe it. I can’t remember the last time she was off work for more than a week. Oh, wait. Yes, I do. When Mama died.

        “Yep!”

        “Well, I’ll be doggone! I didn’t think you were going to do it.”

        “Girl, I’m sick of these folks, this job ‘bout to drive me crazy and I need some time off,” she says.

        “Well, I’m glad you decided to go. You need some rest girl,” I say genuinely glad that she’s taking some time away from work. “We all do.”

Jasmine Holmes
Jasmine Holmes, BFA, MFA, is an artist who creates drawings through a variety of media. With subtle line work and minimalistic approach to color theory, she creates work that invokes feelings of uneasiness within the viewer. These works are inspired by consumerist culture and its appetite for devouring the colored body. With an emphasis on the Black figure she draws from social constructs, such as race, class, and creed, in order to bring forth an image that both disturbs the viewer and procures contemplation. Her artworks are often about personal contact with Eurocentrism and its effects on the marginalized psyche. The human figure is the centerpiece, taking up space and showcasing a performance of multilayered hyper-visibility within spaces that often marginalize them.

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