I’m half and half. But not the kind you put in morning coffee. I can’t be poured into a green ceramic mug and be expected to swirl in with one rotation of the spoon.
My dad is the perfect medium-dark roast, deepened for years under the relentless heat of the Philippines. A sincere smile framed by caramel cheeks that I squished together with my little five-year-old palms while bursting with giggles. Black hair fell onto his shoulders in tousled waves. A scratchy mustache tickled my forehead and made me scrunch up my eyes whenever he leaned over to kiss me.
A kiss for me, followed by a kiss for my mama, lighter than the lightest roast served at the crowded local coffee shop. Her fair skin so often unblemished, her cheeks naturally tinted pink whenever she laughed until she couldn’t breathe, a pink that I tried time and again to recreate when I stole her powdered blush from her yellow makeup bag in the medicine cabinet. Her eyes mirrored the blue sky on an August day and the waves of the ocean, whose seaward air tangled and disheveled her blond curls. Curls that I ached would replace my stick-straight brunette hair that stubbornly refused to curl even after hours on a heated iron and coated in stiff layers of hairspray.
While my friends were complimented for being a spitting image of their parents, I became accustomed to strangers’ apologetic surprise when they found out I was really my mama’s daughter. When my siblings or I wailed or cried out in public, Mama chastised us under her breath. Each time my sister threw a tantrum and dragged her heels on the ground to try and get her way, Mama would whisper angrily for her to be quiet, followed by the painful admission that people could think we weren’t hers, that we could be taken away from her. We didn’t match up, and everyone could tell.
Hand in hand with my friend Sadie, we toddered aimlessly behind my mama down the baking aisle of the grocery store. We spotted an older lady from church standing by the frosting. She greeted my mom and then turned to Sadie, whose golden hair was even brighter and curlier than my mother’s, spritely springing up with the slightest shift in her shoulders.
“Oh! This must be your daughter!”
She didn’t turn to me.
Standing next to some, I was too light. Next to others, too dark. My first best friend Allie had a face just like warm apple cider and hair as dark as spilled ink, which shone like the night sky on a clear starry evening. Mine reflected the muddy ground on a rainy Tuesday morning, complete with freckles splattered carelessly across my face like dirt. As much as my caramel complexion resembled hers, her hair next to mine was a dead ringer that even with a shared Filipino identity, I didn’t really belong.
I didn’t look like either of them. I didn’t look like anyone. In my overcrowded first grade classroom there wasn’t a single person I looked like. I was separate, excluded.
I was a spoonful of honey in a cup of cold coffee that’s sat on the kitchen counter all morning. While the milk swirled in effortlessly I was heavily clinging to the spoon, slowly sinking straight to the bottom.
But no one takes their coffee with honey.
I never learned how to praise my beauty. Spilled coffee scalded my skin any time someone commented on my “exotic” look, or when they asked, “So what are you?” as they tried to figure me out like some sort of unsolvable problem. My middle school self yanked at my straight hair with frustration when it refused to form ringlets and hoped the tears would wash the brown from my eyes.
No one takes their coffee with honey.
With each instance of misidentification with my parents, my stomach knotted tighter and my throat closed up further as my eyes flooded once more. I knew I was my mama’s daughter but everyone around me told me otherwise. There was no beauty found in honey skin and freckles. There was no beauty in the ambiguity of my indistinguishable race.
There was no beauty in what I was, and I couldn’t make myself into who I thought I was supposed to be.
No one takes their coffee with honey.
Helena Ducusin (she/her) is a fourth-year undergraduate student at George Fox University in Newberg, OR studying English and Writing. Her writing has been published with CoFoundersTown and The Startup, Medium’s largest active publication. She has been a lifelong reader and writer with a passion for writing gritty, emotional prose. More of her writing can be found on Medium.