Let me take you back. The year was 2005 and I was 8 years old. My mother had been in California for the week at an orthodontic convention, so my dad had to fulfill the role of my hairdresser for those seven days.
I’ll admit, my mother was still figuring out how to handle my hair. It was nothing like her straight hair, and my dad is pretty bald. What did she have to learn from? But for all that my mom didn’t know about my hair, at least she knew how to detangle it. Every night, amidst the tears and screaming, my mom would tirelessly comb my hair. “It’ll be over soon,” she’d coo, “Only one section left.” Then she’d section it with a part down the middle and braid it into two pigtails.
(Pictured to the right are my two famous pig tails, and my father and mother. Just to help you visualize. You can click through it a bit)
My grandmother (who I would argue is my biggest supporter) even knew how to manage my mane. Recently, she regaled the story of the time me and my parents went to Jamaica, and somehow she managed to comb my hair. She explained, "Never tackle all of it at one time, but little by little in small sections from top to bottom and holding each portion at the root while combing through. Not a pain."
So for this one week in 2005, my dad got to take over for my mom. He didn’t know about the nightly routine of detangling. I distinctly remember him calling my mom and asking what to do with my hair because I had cried when he tried to touch it. My loving father could not stand to watch me wail and weep every night, so he asked my mom for an alternative option, to which she responded, “Just put it in a ponytail.”
Mistake # 1.
My dad took that information at face value. Despite the naps beginning to form in my hair, my dad took a hair tie, gathered my unruly mane into one fistful, and did the one-two twist.
He didn’t touch it for the rest of the week.
The Night of Tears
I knew it was bad. The way my mother looked at me when she got back, I knew it was going to hurt. It was 8 p.m. when the night forever dubbed “The Night of Tears” began. There was a Full House marathon on Nick at Nite. We sat down on the couch and my mom surveyed the damage.
This may not make sense to those of you who don’t have experience with black/mixed hair. Why is it bad that it was kept in a bun? Doesn’t that keep it from getting all tangled? Well, yes and no. Mostly no. Curly hair has a habit of locking up on itself. My mother used to maintain that my hair had a “mind of its own,” because she’d untangle a section, leave it alone, and when she came back to it, it would be all nappy again. So during that week with my hair in a bun, my hair spent the entire time rubbing against pillows, collecting dirt and dust at recess, and coiling around the hair tie. Now back to the story.
The hair tie my father used had gotten so matted into my hair that my mother prefaced the whole ordeal by cutting it out with scissors, bit by bit. Just from that alone the tears started to pour down my face. I was an extremely tender-headed child, where just parting alone would make me yelp. So it was then that my mother set about the task of detangling a week’s worth of dirt, grime, and knots. Of course my 8 year-old self just screamed and cried, making plea after plea.
“Please mommy, please just cut off all of my hair,” I’d beg. “No,” she’d sigh.
“I can wear a wig to school mommy,” I’d implore. “No you can’t,” she’d laugh.
“I don’t want my hair anymore,” I’d declare. “You will,” she’d assert.
The minutes turned into hours, the outright screaming turned into gentle sobs, Full House reached the series finale, and by the time we knew it, it was 4 o’clock in the morning. Both of us were fried from the sheer amount of time it took to do my hair. My eyes and throat were sore from crying, my head was throbbing like crazy, but my hair was nap-free and soft. Everything after that was a blur. I don’t know if we just collapsed from exhaustion right there on the couch, or if we somehow made it up the stairs and went to bed. One thing I do know is that we didn’t wake up for a while.
So, it’s time to fast forward. I was 13, in my freshman year of high school. 2011. I knew everything there was to know about life. The new craze was to get highlights or dye your hair, and I was completely caught up in it. So I’m begging my mom day and night for these highlights, and somehow, one day her answer was, “FINE!”
I already knew what I wanted. Caramel highlights to complement my brown hair. My mom took me to the hair salon to a hairdresser that maintained that she could perform both a relaxer and dye at the same time. I, not knowing the terrible effect that it would have on my hair, allowed her to do both. So she did.
The hair loss was not immediate.
It was slow and almost unnoticeable. I’d comb my hair and a little more hair would be left on the comb each time. My mom would flat iron my hair (oh to be young and think that pressing my hair once a week would have no effect on my hair…) and my now golden strands would break off at the touch of the straightener. I would shower and not see the clumps that went straight down the drain, out of sight, out of mind.
My mom noticed though. Now more knowledgeable of curly hair and what it should look like and act like, my mother saw that my curls were limp and lifeless, with straight and unflattering ends. She parted my hair a certain way and noticed that there was practically a bald spot on the crown of my hair. She was mortified.
Eventually she found Mrs. Rochelle- a.k.a. my hair salvation.
Mrs. Rochelle was real with us- she told me that my hair was a mess. She told me it was damaged and dry. She told me that she could help. That day she lopped off about 4 inches of my hair and explained to me that I could not keep putting heat on it. She showed me different styles I could wear it in and ways I could keep it moisturized. Theoretically, one could call that the day I went natural. In reality, it took a lot of trial and error to go natural, and I didn’t really get it down until the summer before my senior year of high school.
Currently I accept the label of "naturalista." One who wears their hair in its natural state. While it hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows, I can see my hair is much healthier than it's been in a while. I can see growth. In 2015 I dyed my hair again, but this time in a safer way. (I'll probably write a post on maintaining natural hair and different protective styles at a later time)
I am sharing this story for your comfort. Take solace in the fact that you aren’t alone- whether you’re the one with the curly hair or the one taking care of the curly hair. It gets better. Trust me. I have been there.
There are still days when I want to join the bald queens of the world, days where I want to don a short and well maintained afro. However, I usually think back to the Night of Tears and how long my mom struggled and fought with my wild locks, and know I should keep it.