chocolate is a verb

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Tag Archives: naturally curly

found poem: the curly

being 11…

jik at 11In my most awkward adolescence, my mother took me to a barber to have my hair cut. Granted, a very fine barber, but a barber nonetheless, who cropped my hair to an inch-long boyish cut and threatened that I would never be able to grow it long because it was so curly.

The barber was housed at Bullock’s Wilshire, the Art Deco flagship of the Bullock’s department stores in Los Angeles. It was perhaps 15 miles from our house and even then, when the full impact of L.A. traffic was still in the future, the drive was an outing.

Dorothy would deposit me in the barber’s chair and vanish into the fragrant elegance of women’s wear. Sometime later, when I was clipped and combed, she would reappear with a Bullock’s bag on her arm and that would be that.

I was 11 and I didn’t question any of it — not the barber or his wisdom, not the haircut or the lengthy drive. It was simply my reality.

About a mile from our house was a sister store, Bullock’s Westwood. I could walk to Westwood, and often did, escaping my mother, meeting girlfriends and searching, somewhat aimlessly, for something I could not yet identify. Inevitably, I would find myself wandering through Bullock’s, a place that was safe and familiar but also a sort of treasure chest to fuel adolescent fantasies.

Behind cosmetics, not far from the elevators, was the Notions department, which housed sewing supplies — thread and ribbon and rickrack — along with a wealth of other temptations that didn’t fit neatly into any other department.

One day, approaching Notions, I discovered a new display: a woman was standing at a special counter making hairpieces. Clamped to her counter she had yard-long hanks of hair in every hue from white-blond to purple-black. To match a customer’s hair, she would start with a color that was close, then pull a few strands from a dozen or more other colors, slowly combing them together until she had an exact blend.

This was fascinating to me. I was startled to learn that brown hair wasn’t just brown, that what was called black hair wasn’t true black and, not least, I was envious of the long, straight plaits and chignons and the customers who were able to wear them.

I revisited the counter and watched the process any number of times. It wasn’t much later that I protested the barber and began my futile but long-lasting effort to turn my curls into ‘regular’ hair and, more significantly, to express the girl caught within my adolescent changeling self.

being an ordinary girl…

jik at 2 jik at 3It must have been hard for my mother, looking at me and seeing herself, a little curly-headed, snaggle-toothed animal. Realizing with a shock that everything in her life was different, and would always be different. That she was not, could not be, the laughing, carefree ingénue. That she had new names now: Mrs., mother. That there, on the reverse side of glamour and romance waited diapers and dishes and dust.

Confronted with all this, with a child who embodied her disappointment, she wanted only that I should be the perfect girl, the neat, quiet girl without needs: an accessory that might be admired like a new coat, sent to the cleaners, traded up for a new model now and then. But I was never that child, not from the beginning, when, she told me, I was “always hungry,” not when my silky wisps of hair turned into snarling curls like her own, not later, changeling, changing, uncertain.

Yet for a little while, a year, surely not by any doing of her own, or mine, I was able, almost, to look like that girl, my curls unfurling, hair comb-able and straight.

But of course her wounds were deeper and had nothing to do with my hair. Her mother’s friends accused her of doing something diabolical to my curls and her unhappiness grew larger in front of her eyes until she became truly ill and the doctor sent her away, to rest, to heal.

My curls came back, with a vengeance. What happened to me, I wonder, in that lost year of being an ordinary girl?