Yesterday evening, I was chatting with a neighbor, Veronica, for the first time. She’s an adorable little 20 year old who rooms with her older sister and a couple of her college friends. As we gabbed on about our apartment building and her amazement that I’m 31 when, in her opinion, I look 23 (which seriously, made my day… no, my week), the topic landed on hair. She relaxes hers. I clearly do not. She, like so many other relaxed girls I meet, claims she could never go natural. Her hair shrinks up. I pulled one of my strands to reveal, that yes, me, too. She says it’s… just different with her hair. “You look like you have that type of hair, that you can just wash, and wet and gel, and go.” Well, kind of. That actually was what I did yesterday, but I put some Shea Moisture coconut cream stuff on, then, EcoStyler gel. Oh, and I didn’t go anywhere.
I told her I didn’t even know how to do my own hair until a couple years ago, and that if I could learn… Finally, she just cut me off and said, “I don’t have good hair.”
Interestingly, to quite a few members of my family, neither do I.
I’ve done a few posts about my mom. Not so much with my dad, and that’s something I plan to do. The reason is, unlike my mom, who was adopted, I know a whole lot about my dad’s side. I had the pleasure of spending time with his grandfather who lived to the ripe old age of 108. Some Alex Haleys of his family traced our line back 200 years to Savannah Georgia, to a Scot-Irishman and his African slavewoman. When people talk of their American ancestry, I know mine runs really deep.
Sadly, so does the self-hatred. Mixed up in the African, European and Native American blood is a whole lot of ugly, the type which let me know as a little girl, I hadn’t inherited my mother’s looser hair texture (or even her light skin), and that was a shame. But thank the good Lord Jesus, my nappy hair grew, so all was not lost. At the age of nine, Dad having decided Mom’s hair styling techniques were not up to par, began taking me and Jos to the salon to have our tresses tamed by way of the hotcomb. Years later, in college, I’d capture the experience in poem:
A Trip to Ms. Julia’s Beauty Shop,
Any Given Saturday, 1991
My soft kinky, thick hair
is unbraided and washed
under a hood of
will also come from the hand-held
as it fights to
make it flow like Barbie’s
for the thick, green grease
spread from my roots
to the end of my ponytail
i smile, gazing into the mirror
then at my mom
“Do i look pretty? Do i look
And so I was set on a path to fear my hair. Just writing that now seems ludicrous. Scared of my own hair. Sweet Jesus, that is some mess.
Let’s fast forward to the present. I’ve been totally natural for almost two years now. I’ve managed to not leave myself with a Sinead O’Connor, so yeah, I’m happy. Yet, certain family members are not. My mom, bless her heart, loves my hair. She loved doing it when I was a girl, and she loved it straightened, and cornrolled and curled. Bless her heart, she has always been happy with my hair, far more than me.
Dad is a whole other story.
It’s so funny, not in a laughing way, but funny, that my hair looks so much like his. Actually, I look like him. Not as much as Joscelyne did, but very much like him. The full lips, teeth, cheeks. When he looks at my hair now, it’s almost as if he looking into a wispy cloud or something. Not sure what he’s seeing, or on what he should focus. Funny, this from a guy who proudly wore an afro throughout the 70s.
My stepmother, Kathy, she actually did laugh at my hair once. Patted my head like I was a little puppy wanting a treat, and then let out a huge guffaw.
The worse of it, though, comes directly out my grandmother’s 82 year old mouth. On Easter, upon giving me the once over, “You use to have such nice hair. It was so nice, and long. Well, I guess your baby just took it from you, huh?” Zoe has taken many things from me- hours of sleep, vitamins and nutrients from breastmilk, and over the past week, my patience and sanity. My hair? Eh, not so much.
Not to be outdone, my dad kept asking how is it that Zoe’s hair is so nice. I responded, “Genetics.”
Zoe has been blessed it seems, in my Grandmother’s terminology, with a “good grade” of hair. It’s soft and fine, and her curls are bigger and looser than mine. She passes the family hair test.
Why hair had to be front and center at an Easter Sunday lunch, I will never know. All it resurrected in me was a whole lot of anger and animosity.
Do I look “right”? Nope.
Then, neither do they.
I look like me.
Me at three.