I sit between my mother’s knees every Saturday from the time my hair was long enough to braid until I turned twelve. We begin the morning in her restroom, with me seated in a plastic, yellow chair, head tilted back, as she lovingly lathers, rinses, and repeats until her arms are tired. I am a balancing act as I trail her downstairs to the living room, my hands filled with towels, brushes, hair bows, clips, and oil. The television plays in the background and she spends hours combing, parting, and plaiting my hair, then my sister’s.
For years following my mother’s consistent hair care regimen, I straighten my hair religiously in efforts to achieve what I think of as beauty. As my bathroom fills with the stench of burned hair, I realise that I don’t quite know why I attribute beauty to bone-straight hair, but I do know it is all I see when I turn on the television or open a magazine. No longer do I have to sit still as my mother braids my hair, instead I go with her to bi-weekly hair appointments at a now-defunct salon near my childhood home. Together, we sit at wash sinks and dryers and stylists’ chairs, and I see how graceful and funny and kind my mother is with women her own age. When my hair is straightened before hers is curled, she sends me next door to the grocery store with a crisp twenty dollar bill for sub sandwiches, chips, and sodas. At the checkout line, I peruse through fashion magazines and Archie comics and enjoy what little independence comes with being thirteen.
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