I prayed for it to all be over. I flinched every time the hair grease on my scalp would sizzle like a frying pan from the hot comb straightening my kinks and coils. “Be still and hold your ear,” my mother demanded. I would be shaking like a leaf, while my little finger-tips held onto my ear for dear life. I knew any sudden movement would lead me and my mother into the kitchen rubbing butter on the edges of my ear to lessen the burn. I hated hearing her infamous phrase, “Girl you got some nappy hair,” as she would pry through my cotton-like texture. I would sit watching her through one of those double-sided mirrors that flipped and flopped every time I danced my fingers around its edges. I could see the tightness in the seam of her lips, as well as the raise in her eyebrow. Every black child knew this look and what it meant. I knew my hair had drawn my mother’s patience down to a thread and that I better not fix my lips to complain about any pain. So, I sat in silence holding back the tears wishing I wasn’t born with nappy-hair.
The time shared between my mother and I had evolved into applying relaxers to my hair while chit-chatting about the birds and the bee’s. Then as time moved passed, in college our moments of hair combing became a request, since her duties as my personal hairstylist had grown with age. “Ma, when is the next time you can give me a touch-up?” I would ask impatiently. Her response would usually be mere laugh to herself knowing it was a damn shame that her daughter could not manage her own hair to save her life.
As I became a young adult, my hair became my total responsibility. I would stand in the mirror reliving my mother’s frustration as I pried through my own swelled roots. It was natural to me to pull, fry, and stress my hair until it fell lifeless. The scaly chemical burns, dead-ends, and thin edges didn’t matter because my goal was to achieve an image that wouldn’t classify me as nappy-headed. Straight-hair was what I wanted and it was what I got. I would wear my wispy hair right above my shoulders, blending layers of limp curls with frizzy ends. The temporary straightness made me appear polished; I felt good about how I looked. I could comb through down to the scalp without any wincing or rolling of the eyes. Finally, my hair was manageable, convenient, and most of all tamed – at least, so I thought.
My roots would grow faster than fresh cut grass, sprouting the ends of my hair in various directions. It had been a month since my last relaxer, which usually meant it was time for another one. The texture of my hair had took a turn for the worst, the dry, uneven, brittle hair I had left on my head was straight but damaged. For years, straight-hair was something I wanted but I could see it beginning to starve an essential part of who I was. I had grown this obsession of having to have straight-hair because it disguised the unloved parts of my blackness. It had been the band-aid to the humiliation I would feel in the care of my mother, which I thought would heal and never show itself again. It didn’t matter what lengths I would go to conceal the coiled curls, and knots, I had to face that I was black.