My hair is flaming. Not gay-flaming–actually on fire flaming.
The flames savor my Aqua Net-coated curls, and aren’t even slightly blunted by Laura’s eight-year-old hands turned ad hoc snuffers. And while our parents are running full-tilt across the field–their mouths agape and faces contorted by fear and shock– everything slows down.
But before the flames lick my scalp, my parents reach us and extinguish my head with a mixture of dirt and water. Now reduced to smelly, singed puff balls, my sizable blond fro won’t be garnering any attention from passersby for a while. And Laura’s fingers will resemble Lil’ Smokies for the next few weeks.
Long after my parents realized that Laura and I could get ourselves into trouble in approximately four seconds, I’d passed through my early years with plenty of nicknames based on my curly hair.
From Cheese Curls and Curly Sue, to Goldilocks and Mop Top, I’d had plenty of little monikers, and responded to each with a knowing smile. Like most kids, I soon tired of the repeated name-calling, and wished for my hair to be straight like everyone else’s. But the most the curls ever did was change from bleach blond to dark brown. And tighten.
And while high school came with non-hair affiliated nicknames–like Pip and Faggot–I still got more hair-raising commentary from the peanut gallery: “I bet the girls love running their hands through those curls!” And they did–completely unsolicited no less. Not to mention students sitting behind me in class thought it was fun to hide pencils in my hair, so that when I bent to get something out of my book bag, I’d shed a forest’s worth of No. 2’s. But I figured that sort of thing would taper off once I graduated. I mean, out in the real world I’d heard of something called personal space. It sounded amazing.
Nicknames didn’t really follow me to college. But I came to resent my curls because, like most late-bloomers, I didn’t want to look like the baby-faced, naive “Boy Next Door” or a Boy Meets World doppelganger. So I used my misunderstood goth years to add a bit of flair–black hair dye–and style–a mohawk–to my so called life.
Soon enough, I realized I looked exceptionally dumb and gave my hair time to rebound. Plus, I assumed people would be less inclined to offer hair critiques if I didn’t draw attention to it.
Years after the mohawk incident, and following several unfortunate cases of head-shavings gone bad interspersed with “accidental dreadlocks” and a stylist intervention, I’ve come to realize how much work curly hair can be. And how good it can look when treated well.
Now, I’m not saying that people with straight hair have an easier time.
I am. Because my morning routine involves approximately 612 steps. Or 10.
One: Assess rat nest; Two: Convince myself it’s worth the effort (have a cup of coffee if necessary); Three: Turn on the shower tap and dunk my head repeatedly; Four: Keep head under faucet until fro resembles a saturated sponge; Five: Run fingers through fro to break up massive snarls (scream if necessary); Six: Pump out palm-full of high-quality, non-alcohol based conditioner and run through hair; Seven: Use plastic, wide-toothed comb and brush through curls (whimper through remaining snarls); Eight: Rinse thoroughly and clean comb of dead Cousin It hair clumps; Nine: Towel blot dripping hair; Ten: Add Moroccan oil with keratin.
Now, this sounds easy and all, but it takes a good ten to fifteen minutes from start to finish. And that’s if I don’t want to do anything else to it. Sure, I don’t have to condition it whenever I go out. But the fact that Facebook’s tagging function can’t recognize me with untamed hair is telling enough for me.
But there’s a significant drawback to taming my hair: public crazies who feel it’s their duty to run their hands through it before informing me that my hair is, in fact, curly.
“You don’t say?!”
My sarcastic incredulity often falls on deaf ears, being lost amid profuse head nods and smiles–as if they’re affirming their toddler that, yes, they did just use the potty correctly!
And you wouldn’t believe the repulsive looks I’ve gotten when I’ve had a bad day and respond with something like “What in the hell do you think you’re doing? This is my fucking head!” As if it’s my fault for reminding them that my body isn’t the public’s domain. Plus, I can only wash my hair once a week, so I certainly don’t want someone’s hand funk mixed in until the next washing.
Still, the curls have gotten me out of jams before. Like the time a cashier made everyone else wait in line while I ran to get my wallet–all because she was certain I was Josh Groban. (Because Josh Groban shops for spatulas at the Dollar General in Sanford, North Carolina.) So I signed the receipt with a little extra flourish.
And even though I have to assure plenty of people that it’s not a goddamn perm, when all is rinsed and combed, I’m pretty glad my curls have lasted.
Because they’ve been a fitting metaphor for my life: frizzed and burned out, matted and kinked. But repeatedly conditioned and revitalized along the way.