blood and tears,
sun magnetized,
sebum unfurled kisses,
shea-butter ignited;
a menage-a-trois
forged in gold.

They were soft. Baby soft grey clouds. Curly. Not the tight breaker of combs, drawer of flinches and tears type, but petals opening to sun kisses. I remember my fingers guiding the ìlàrí from her widow’s peak, partitioning, creasing tendrils aside to stop at her nape. The separation into smaller sections and twistings to produce the perfect cornrow took many tries but drew no complaints from her. That day, I ran down the stairs carrying a tub of Dax pomade and the wooden comb to plant myself behind her as she reclined on the couch. She tugged off her head tie, and I froze. My cloud was gone, and in its place winked a curly grey carpet. I didn’t realize I was crying until she pulled me into her arms.

I can’t remember how my childhood hair felt against my skin, beyond my nostrils plunged with burning as it sizzled to the will of my Mother’s hot comb. I can’t remember how it felt around my fingers beyond the tortuous weaving by others on Sundays while I stretched to watch Donnie and Marie Osmond’s Show on TV. I remember sailing high when it came off in preparation for boarding school, the crash as it grew back, and the tugging and patting that never kept it in place.

Joy crashed through the gates when my Mother agreed to the blow-out relaxer for my fourteenth birthday. Joy became an unfettered kite as gleaming, lustrous waves danced around my shoulders, as the brat morphed into a halo. I lost count of the times I ran a brush from peak to nape, how many times I appreciated my reflection as I flipped it over my shoulder like the actresses did on TV. Short-lived joy became longer when I graduated to a perm, and when undergrowth sprouted, I adopted braids or weaves to keep the brat at bay.

The years piled on, as did my struggle to reach the elusive beauty destination defined as straight, lustrous, waves, unshrinkable, and shiny. Good hair. With the years came a ramping foreboding when retouching my roots crept closer, days I gave myself pep talks before going to the hairdresser. Before lathering lye, the motivational talk would graduate to why the brat needed to be tamed, why she needed to cower under pink oil, grin under spritz, and not shrink when confronted by water.

Sit still.
White knuckle.
Grind teeth as fire ants dance over your scalp.
It will be worth it.

In retrospect, I know my rejection was rooted in a lack of representation. The dolls I played with, pictures in magazines, and characters on TV had straight, at times lustrous waves, like my Mother’s and most women I was surrounded with. Natural to perm was a right of passage, an evolution, the ugly duckling becoming a swan. I wanted hair wind stirred with whispers, gliders through comb teeth, like satin drapes dancing in the wind.

On December 5th, 2013, as the hairdresser brushed shiny waves around my shoulder and my eyes watered beneath my stinging brow, I wondered, what would happen if I never retouched again? The brat will escape! What would happen if the brat was allowed to roam free—do what it willed, swell, and shrink beneath sebum and heat?

I read many articles and watched many YouTube videos to prepare for the transition.
It was curly. Loose at the crown, tight at the nape, and midway between loose and tight at the sides. A playful toddler in water, twirling round and round, cascading drops, and as it air dried, a slick-limbed trapeze artist twisting and turning in every direction. I grew to understand the pores breathing beneath the follicles, what they needed and didn’t need when it itched, flaked, or both. I grew to respect how it courted humidity with the wreckless abandonment of first love. How it broke ranks with pins and clips as sweat seeped beneath. How it shrunk under water and became standoffish when saturated with coconut oil.

When it was permed, I never retained length beyond my shoulders. In its natural state, it eventually grew to hang halfway down my back. It loved shea butter and olive oil. I experimented with different products, grew partial to organic ingredients, and avoided parabens. Slowly, the distance between myself and the unattainable standard—neon signs that crowded the landscape as far as my memory went—widened. At the same time, the same landscape was being shared with more women of my race and hair. Despite the thrills of gaining inches, the process was a continuous evolution, not a destination. A journey riddled with slow-growth potholes, finding suitable product boulders, and struggling with comparison speedbreakers.

I learned and unlearned routines that were not working; I learned to be patient as I recovered from unhealthy choices and more patience as I stopped comparing my journey with others.
I had careened through bends, tried to dodge potholes, and dashed over speedbreakers to hit milestones. Length came with conflict. Wash days had to be planned, with pre-pooing and detangling rituals going on for hours. On good days, it was inconvenient; on bad days, it was a nuisance. Burdened with the nostalgia of the short wash routine, the short shiny twists, and the quick and easy product saturation of the good old days, more bad days bled into good ones. Good ole days when I was only focused on gaining inches, on reaching the destination. Now, I was stuck in lengthy traffic of product build-up, held up in long hours weaving, braiding, twisting, or one big messy pile-up/bun.

The TED talk started again.
‘It’s just hair. It will grow back.’
First, a mohawk.

A month later, there were no contending voices on what was suitable; my preference rested on the most comfortable as I passed the clipper over my head several times till I was satisfied. The pool around my feet only held my attention for a few seconds before it was discarded for my image in the mirror. My strands don’t cower at my prodding but are lush and proud, kissing my fingers as they bounce light. I’m a child again, running my fingers through my grandmother’s hair. This time, I don’t cry.











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