Relax & Unkink
As a little girl I would twirl around in circles with my arms spread wide and face tiled to the sun. Duck tape shoes danced on hot pavement as my sundress rippled through the sunlight. With closed eyes and a subtle smile I pretended to be a Disney princess who had hair long enough to create trails in the wind like a kite tail.
“I want the longest hair in all the land,” I would say.
Every time my hair was relaxed and I felt the kinky texture transform to silk, I knew I was that much closer.
Mama started straightening my hair when I was three. Aware of its dangers, she would tell me to alert her as soon as it was burning. Even though the pain was unbearable I would tell mama that it wasn’t hurting so my hair would be as straight as possible. The tingle of sodium chloride seeping through my scalp sent chills of excitement down my spine, it was working. After all of the chemicals were rinsed out I would whip my newly straightened hair back and forth like I saw in the music videos. I felt beautiful, invincible, I felt normal. To me straight hair was power. I didn’t mind picking scalp scabs until it was time for fresh ones to be made.
Pearls & Peril
Oil on Canvas
Pearls & Peril
Watercolor on Paper
Water Balloons & Afro Puffs
Mama had three rules that we were to abide by at school:
Don’t get your hair wet
Being respectful was easy but difficult at times due to my sharp tongue, but getting A’s was easier. Every year at the top of spring my school Pacific Coast Christian Academy hosted a water day that replaced normal physical education activities. What was a joyous time for most was an event of stress as the pressure of the third rule loomed over me. Mama worked all day and didn’t have time to spend hours getting my hair right in the week. At night we wore do-rags to preserve our perfectly tamed twisted locks. When water day came around I knew the importance of staying dry and out of the fun. This form of regulation worked well until one year we got a new P.E. teacher who threatened to lower my grade if I didn’t participate. Getting A’s was rule number two, so if getting A’s is more important than not getting my hair wet then I had to get my hair wet to get the A, right? I thought. With a pit in my stomach, I picked up a pink Super Soakers and placed its nozzle in a red bucket. My eyes grew wide as I felt it engorge with stale water while I pulled back the handle. Ammo in place, I cocked the water the gun, closed one eye, and aimed it at the head of a blonde girl named Lauren, I hated her. Before I could shoot, hot bullets hit me in the cheek sending jolts of adrenaline through my body. It was Mark, the new boy from Tennessee that I had a crush on. Instinctually I whipped around and fired back hitting him square in the chest. It was war. Arching streams of water filled the atmosphere like fireworks on the Fourth and water balloons exploded on the ground like grenades. Caught up in the moment, the rules mama gave me were far from my mind. I was disrespectful as hell shooting kids in the face and getting my hair wet but I didn’t care. Eventually, the teachers stopped filling up the buckets and it was time for us to pick up the water balloon pieces off the playground lawn. The hot California sun dried our bodies in the process. My ashy ankles carried me to the trash bin to discard the balloon bits. When I turned around to rejoin the rest of the third-grade class many of them stood in front of me laughing. Perplexed I tried to move past them but they formed a wall blocking my exit. Lauren, my target from before yelled:
“Eww look at your hair!”
I couldn’t see it, but I could feel the dry crunchy frizzy poufs on top of my head. I could hear them as they crunched between my fingertips. Another girl said that I had bushes on top of my head. Then Mark started shouting:
“Bush head, bush head, bush head”
soon all of the kids joined in.