Marissa, Marisse, M, Ris, Rissa, Ressa, Maris or Mar are all names that I’ve been called. I answer to all of them. But, until I was about seven people who met me for the first time would call me ‘cateyes’.
You see, I’ve got green eyes. That’s not unusual I know. But because I’m a black girl it was always noted. Ever since childhood I’ve had people pick through my family tree, questioning me, trying to find out where I got these green eyes from. The answer is I don’t know.
What I do know is this; for the first time in 31 years I feel comfortable with the nickname. I think that’s because I’m getting to a place where I’m comfortable with myself.

The things that I didn’t like about myself from the age of seven upwards I’m beginning to accept.
Sooo, I think it’s cool that I was born and raised in London and spent some of my childhood going to school in New Jersey. I think it’s fab that I have family from Trinidad.
As a girl I hated it, because I felt that I didn’t fit in anywhere. I wasn’t English enough because my family weren’t born and raised in the Mother Country. They came from a part of the former British Empire. When I went to that part of the ‘former Empire’ – ie Trinidad – I wasn’t a Trini either. I was ‘British’. (I’m serious. That was my nickname.)
It was the same thing when I was in New Jersey. I’d kinda revert to my American accent to fit in during the six-week summer holidays but by the time I started school in England again in September my friends noted that the Yankee accent was lingering.

Then there was the fact that as a teen I was not like the other girls. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t like the female equivalent of the Incredible Hulk. (Although, trust me, you really DON’T want to see me when I’m angry.)
No, I wasn’t a green monster who did a striptease when anyone pissed her off. I was just – different. I was listening to Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline when I was 11, desperately trying to learn the words to ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ or ‘Don’t’. I thought Billie Holiday and Marilyn Monroe were fab and consumed biographies about them.
OK, I did go through a New Kids on the Block period but I also loved ‘borrowing’ my parents old vinyls. You know – Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Joe Cocker, Gladys Knight and the Pips – and have a little party in my room.

I wasn’t the prettiest kid in the world and I never had a boyfriend. I was always on a diet because I was 14 lbs heavier and a foot taller than the other girls my age.
I loved acting, dancing and singing. I actually was in a children’s theatre group for a while. Spending time alone creating was my thing, whether I was knitting a jumper, sketching or writing a song while strumming my guitar.
For some reason all these things made me feel ‘odd’, like I didn’t quite fit in anywhere. It didn’t help either that my mother, Miss Helena, decided that although I lived in Hackney I had to speak the ‘Queen’s English’ at all times.
For those of you not familiar with Hackney, it’s one of the poorest areas in Europe, let alone London. I grew up there and went to school in Stepney. In other words, in the heart of the east end. But like some unfortunate Eliza Doolittle I was chastised, stopped mid-conversation, if I dropped an ‘h’ or skipped a ‘t’. So, while all my classmates were going round sounding like the Artful Dodger in the musical ‘Oliver!’, I was skipping round the playground sounding like Prince Charles’s illegitimate daughter!

Ah, the good old days, all things that made me stick out like a sore thumb.
But you know what? All of the above is kind of cool now. Who would have thought that 30 years after his death and 20 years after I became a fan, Elvis Presley would be popular again even topping the pop charts in the UK? Now Amy Winehouse counts Billie Holiday as one of her heroines and everyone coos. Purrrleeese. I was listening to Billie when Miss Winehouse was still sucking lollipops!

I think the worst thing I ever did was go on a diet and I would kill to be 133 lbs again, which to me was fat at one time.
I nearly fell off my chair when I shared my book idea with a freelance writer who was giving a one-day course and she told me that I must seize upon my different cultures.
“I feel you could be the next Zadie Smith,” she said. “Yes, you must capitalize on your varied heritage I like that; Black-British, African-American and Caribbean. Try to get that in the title somehow.”

Speaking of which, I let my accent do what it wants now. When I’m in New Jersey I slip between my Trini, American and English accents. Sometimes I use all three in one sentence; a trick that not everyone can do.
If my Auntie Ella from Yorkshire (or Durham, somewhere up North) and my American grandmother can slip into a ‘but eh-eh’ (West Indian for ‘but, what?’) I can do what I like!
And the Queen’s English was quite useful when I was at Oxford University or in other places in England where people turn their noses up at you if you dare speak with a ‘Cockney/Welsh/Irish/Liverpudlian/Scottish accent’.

Most of all now, I can look in the mirror, into my eyes and say to myself: ‘Hmm, they are pretty aren’t they.’ It’s far better to think that rather than focusing on the intrusive questions: “Which one of your parents is white? Your grandparents? Come on, you have to have got those green eyes somehow. And you say they’re not contact lenses? You must be the milk man’s child for real then.”
No, my mother didn’t have me with some random man that delivered cows’ juice to her doorstep at 5am in the morning in May 1975 or whenever it was that she conceived me. I don’t know why I have green eyes but, for the first time in my life, rather than wishing they were brown just to see how people would react to me, I accept them.
To cut a long story short, that’s why I’m using the moniker ‘cateyes’. But you can call me Marissa if you like…

M x
Marissa

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