“Life turns on a dime” — Stephen King
I hopped off a huge yellow bus after a long day of seventh grade to find out my mother had passed away in her sleep. My life shattered like a glass platter crashing into the unforgiving tile floor. As if seventh grade wasn’t hard enough, I had to walk through the bland school halls with a new vulnerability. My mother was my best friend. We watched TV together, played board games, tried to beat each other’s high score in Bejeweled, and went shopping together. It took her a while, but she grew comfortable with letting my whole wardrobe consist of boy’s clothes. She’d even stick up for me if another adult mentioned it. She’d watch me play video games while she played solitaire and tease me if I was losing. Music would fill the house and she’d sing and dance as if no one was watching. However, the only thing she absolutely refused to do was let me get my hair cut.
She loved my hair; everyone did. Everyone loved to tell me I had beautiful hair. Nobody mentioned how I had to endure whole afternoons in the beauty salon. The older women were nice. They gave me peppermints and asked about my grades. I still hated it there. It felt like I was pretending. When the hair stylist was done, she’d ask “Do you like it?” I’d lie and say yes. My hair was long, silky, and black — as long as it had been permed. One time my mom and I found a single strand of blonde in it. People would stop me in the hallway, in church, and in stores to compliment my hair. Meanwhile I was wishing for a fade with a cool design in it that the barbers do. I was in the beauty salon wishing I was in the barbershop.
After my mother passed, nobody had custody of me for a while but I lived with my grandmother. She gained custody eventually. After a rocky transition full of grieving, we became pretty close. Then in the eighth grade, my kidney failed. The life I had just began to piece back together fell apart once again. By the time summer before ninth grade was halfway over, I was on Peritoneal Dialysis for ten hours a night every night. The school year started and I hid my catheter under my shirt. It was a long tube taped to my belly. Half of the tube sat in my peritoneal cavity, and the other half dangled out of my stomach if it wasn’t taped. I caught the school bus in the morning and again in the afternoon. I hopped off the yellow gas guzzler around the time 3pm turned into 4pm. Three hours were mine to do whatever I needed or wanted. Then I had to be hooked up to the machine again in order to be done in time to get ready in the morning.
Every morning, my grandmother would assault my hair with combs, brushes, and hair products for at least fifteen minutes. It may have not been that long, but it felt like hours. I longed for a hair cut. The leaves fell and soon winter was upon us. We patiently waited on the call for a kidney transplant. There’s no warning. There’s no set day. They call and say they have a kidney and you race to the hospital. My grandmother was still assaulting my head every morning.
“If we just get it cut off, we wouldn’t have to do this” my words sliced through her grumbling like a knife in butter.
She paused. Silence filled the small space between us.
“No.” She returned to torturing me with her collection of hair toys.
Almost every day after that, I would mention getting my hair cut while sitting on the edge of her giant bed. My fingers ran across the smooth bedspread. Tension bulged in my throat. She’d shoot it down, and I would just bring it up again the next day. One day she began to ask questions.
Don’t you like your hair?
Why would I let you get your hair cut?
Your mother would turn over in her grave if I let you get your hair cut!
What would you do with it short like that?
Would you take care of it?
That’s when I knew I was making progress.
Christmas break arrived and all of the kids tried to put as much distance between them and school as possible. Christmas was just around the corner. My birthday was also just around the corner. Unfortunately, I was born a mere three days before Christmas.
“So I’ve been thinking ..” My grandmother started with parts of my hair in both of her hands, “For your birthday I’m going to let you get your hair cut”.
As fast as the smile spread across my face, I could have beat a world record. A couple of days later, she drove me to the beauty salon. However, this time I beat her into the building. I grabbed a seat in one of the chairs and stared at the checkered floor. A wave of nerves punched me in the gut as if it wanted my lunch money. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Soon she was sitting beside me.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” she asked even though she already knew the answer. I nodded; anxiety rested in my belly like a fruitcake during the holidays.
“What are you getting done today?” the nice lady that always does my hair asked.
“Tell her” my grandmother coaxed.
“I’m — I’m getting my hair cut”
Surprise spread through her eyes quicker than a wildfire, but she gave me a smile that helped to ease my nerves. “Alright. How much are we getting cut?”
I handed the conversation off to my grandmother and climbed into the stylist’s chair. My nerves were jumpy. It felt like I had swallowed too much caffeine. She took the ponytail band off of my hair; that was the last time I’d ever use one.
I sat as still as I could as she began to cut, starting with the ponytail. She reached her hand around to show it to me. My eyes locked onto what used to be my ponytail, dangling from her hand. It finally began to feel real; I was actually getting my hair cut. Happiness flooded through my body, but I was scared to look at my grandmother. She kept up a conversation with the stylist while I stayed silent. Little did I know, she knew me better than I knew myself. She knew who I was before I was even ready to admit it to myself.
We walked out of the beauty salon, and for the first time I was smiling about it.
“It looks great” she smiled at me before backing out of the parking lot. I felt a little bit more like myself. However, in the back of my mind, I was terrified of what I’d face when I returned to school after the break.
I hope you enjoyed this piece. Any feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope you have a great day! 😊💞