The Big Embrace

One of my biggest pet peeves in life has always been my hair. There are many days that I wish I had a magic wand so it would act the way I want it to. Maybe it’s because I have a touch of impatience, but I’ve always wanted results with my strands right away. It’s hard to sit there and let my strands act how they want. I can’t allow them to go with the flow too often. Even when I want to be free, I have a hard time allowing my hair to be.

In its natural state, free of perms, heat, and any other type of manipulation, my hair is a mass of tight, silky, springy curls that can easily get tangled if I don’t comb it out before it gets too dry. My hair has a time limit; it’s only manageable when it’s soaking wet. I would say my hair is an all-the-time problem, even an all-the-time asshole, but you can’t disrespect the strands.

I can admit that I’ve had a real challenge coming to terms with the constant curveballs my hair throws me. Some days, it wants to be straight as an arrow, while others I might spend hours trying to straighten it, and it wants to be curly or frizzy. There may have been times I didn’t care, and the frizz added much needed volume to some flat conditions. Over the years, I’ve had to learn what my hair expects of me. I can’t just go and flat iron my hair and expect everything to be okay. I have to listen to what my hair wants, and if I don’t, then guess who’s getting punished? Moi. I’m the one who gets frustrated trying to bend it where it doesn’t want to go. I’m the one who gets to act like a nut in front of the mirror. The one who gets burned trying to straighten my roots with four-hundred degrees of heat. If the wind happens to blow my catwalk hair, I have to let it do its damage and let my hair become a big tumbleweed. That’s just what’s in the plans.

One would think it would be easier to just go with the flow. Wash me, condition me, comb me, leave me the hell alone, rinse, and repeat aren’t hard directions at all. But I’ve had it in my mind that I’m the ruler of my hair, and my hair does what I want it to. This is what I believed to be true. One night, though, I tied up my luxurious Afro into a ponytail, figuring it would look the same way in the morning. But once I started getting ready for work the next day, I untied it and discovered a hot mess of tangles. I was set on getting it into a chignon or any type of bun. Something more presentable. I oiled it up something serious to try and make it lay down, but that wasn’t happening. I tightened the holder. My hair was in so many times. My eyes hurt from the elastic pulling the skin of my face back, but that made no difference. I tried so hard to make it look pretty, but I only became more frustrated, throwing my comb and brush at the counter and storming out of the bathroom to sit on my bed in a crying heap. I didn’t understand why my hair wouldn’t behave. It was my hair, mine to do with as I wished. I felt like a big baby: who cries over hair? It’s nothing but dead cells, anyway. In my quest to control my hair, my hair ended up controlling me.

I got up and went back to the bathroom like a big girl, picked up the brush, and shaped my Afro into ponytail (or a big puffball of curls). It was at that moment I said “whatever,” got in the car, and left for work. I was surprised when my sister told me my hair was cute. Then a few coworkers told me the same, and then a friend who was also a boy. I hadn’t expected compliments; I had expected people to tell me to go fix it or to ask me what was wrong with it.

My hair and I are one in the same, because to have any peace, we have to work together. This companionship lets me know that embracing what’s mine is most important. Those days when I can just wear my wild Afro are the days that I cherish the most. Zero to no worries, basically. I wash it, I condition, and I just might style it, but that’s never a constant. On those days, it’s more like I think who cares, this is me embracing my curl, and you can suck my toe if you don’t like it. I wish I had more days when I could allow myself to let this happen. And one might question why I don’t, but all I will give is excuses.

Janine Davenport

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Filed under Essays, Winter 2013

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