Allison struggles to accept what her mother tells her: that “different is good”
She combs my hair, carefully untangling each section. My hair is like a fluffy black cloud spreading away from my face. The pointed ends of the comb slide into my hair and out. Like a shovel in the dirt. My mom gives me some of my hair to work on myself. It’s thick, coarse, and kinky. I put all my concentration into untangling it, and my mom instructs me on it every single bit of the way.
Mom says, “Your hair is special and unique because it’s different from the hair of most people you know.”
She says, “Allison, your hair is a beautiful work of art. You know that, right? It makes you special and unique.
“Allison, different is good.”
* * *
I used to disagree with her. I used to wish my hair were like everyone else’s. I used to wish my hair would fall effortlessly down my back. I wished it were straighter and prettier. Besides, doing my hair isn’t always fun. I hate how long it takes, and detangling it is horrible! Sometimes we are up until eleven doing my hair.
I don’t wash it as often as everyone else because if I do it gets dry. But the worst part is no one seems to understand this! When I say this out loud, they go, “Ew, so you don’t shower?!” Which makes me want to say, “No, I shower—I just wear a cap!”
I always know what will happen: My mom with a comb in her hand telling me to come here. The soft pillow that I sit on every time we do my hair. The sweet peppermint-and-mango-smelling creams and moisturizers, My mom’s (sometimes) gentle touch. I dip my fingers in the container of hair cream; it feels like dipping my fingers in a cool stream.
* * *
“I know.” I say to my mom.
But doubt still crawls into my mind like a little ant. I quickly shoo it away, but it’s already done its job.
That night, as I lie in bed, more ants crawl in. Soon I have a whole ant hill in my brain. I think of every little thing anyone has ever said to me about my hair. It hurts like little cuts in my head, like little ant bites.
The next morning, Mom asks me how I like my hair. I swallow and say, “I love it!”
As we leave for school, she says her usual line: “Don’t let anyone touch your hair! Bye! Have a great day! Love you!”
* * *
“I love your hair!”
“How does it do that, like come out of your head all curly and fluffy and stuff?!”
Then they reach out to touch it like I’m in a petting zoo, like I’m on display.
I don’t say anything. I don’t do anything. I want to say, “Please don’t touch my hair,” or, “You’re invading my personal space bubble.” But I don’t. I never say, “My hair is curly because it is.”
I try to put it out of my mind, but when my mom picks me up from school, she asks me if anyone said anything about my hair.
“. . . Well, they did say some stuff.” I speak slowly, like I have all the time in the world.
“What did they say?”
“People tried to touch it.”
Mom takes a deep breath in and a deep breath out. I don’t see her face since her eyes are on the road, but I know she is frowning.
“Don’t ever let anybody touch your hair, no matter what. Okay? Your hair is beautiful, and I mean it.”
She says this as we stop in front of a bright red stoplight, and I can see the colors reflecting off her glasses like a light show.
I think about what she said until we get home. I go to my room and sit on my bed, twisting the blankets between my fingers. I know I understand what my mom said, so why can’t I accept it? I hug my stuffed bunny to my chest and snuggle under the covers. I decide to try to believe what she said, even when it’s hard.