I’ll always remember the day I realized the effect I had on men. My mother warned me, but like most young women, I didn’t believe a word she said unless I found out myself.
I was on my way to Congo Square. Already I could hear the drums booming from within the trees. As usual, the music quickened my blood and quickened my pace. That night, I planned to dance for hours. Maybe even until dawn.
I wore my new guinea-blue calico dress with the full skirt, as much gold-beaded jewelry as I could fit on my neck and ears, and a multi-colored tingon wrapped around my head. I felt like a million dollars and walked like I owned the whole city.
Pretty soon I noticed people making way for me in the street. They whispered to themselves as I passed. The police who guarded the gates to Congo Square (in case the “drunken negro orgies” got out of control) stared at me with their jaws blatantly open. They jumped out of my way and let me in without any trouble.
I didn’t know at the time how far that power could take me, but I was eager to find out.
My great-grandma understood the effect she had on men when she should have been too young to know such things. Catherine was the prettiest slave in Louisiana. She was also the most expensive. When Henry Roche first laid eyes on her – she was shackled but standing proud as if she could never be owned by anyone – he decided she had to be his no matter the cost. If he had known how she would someday break his heart, he never would have gone to the slave house that day.
My grandma Marguerite didn’t find out the effect she had on men until she was eighteen. Henry, who would never admit to having a mulatto child, was nevertheless protective of her. That didn’t change even in death. He willed his slave daughter to a legitimate heir, but she ended up in the hands of Francois all the same. Poor man. Francois was so besotted that he freed my grandma, only to lose her to the love of her life.
This was long before my grandfather became so obsessed with Marguerite that he could hardly sleep at night thinking about her.
As for my mother – the famous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, the one hailed in the newspapers as a saint, cursed as a devil in church, and whispered in stories to give you nightmares – she didn’t understand any of her powers until much later.