I used to hate you.
I think I spent all of 2006 in a grocery store aisle, looking for the next product that promised to smooth you out. The next brightly-colored bottle of goop that promised to slick you down. The next electrical metal contraption that promised to iron you flat.
I used to hate the little tendrils that framed my face like grapevines. I used to hate the ends that curled up and out instead of down and under. I used to hate how you stubbornly held your shape, even when all the other girls’ hair could bounce from hairstyle to hairstyle with barely a ripple, fanning out thick and glossy like a yard of silk.
You were too poofy, too voluminous, too Victorian for a time when sleek, slender hair was all the rage. Funny thing is, I don’t think I would have minded you, if it were up to me. But it was middle school. It was 2006. And so it wasn’t up to me.
I wanted to blend in, to be cool, to be like the others. And you refused me every time. You forced me to stand out, to be unusual, to be myself. And I hated it. I was awkward as it was. I didn’t need any help from you.
“Your hair is gorgeous. Trust me,” my mother would say. “I used to pay good money for hair like that.”
I didn’t trust her, because most preteens don’t. Especially when it comes to hair. And the fact that she paid good money in the 90s to look like me wasn’t comforting. The 90s weren’t cool then like they are now.
When I was seventeen, I finally learned how to use a straightener. I ironed you out every day. You were finally glossy and shiny and slippery, like everyone else’s hair. You were hell to keep in a ponytail, and I had to use twice the amount of bobby pins, but I didn’t care. I blended in. I was cool. I was like the others.
(Until it got humid. Or rained. Or I went swimming.)
I snagged my first boyfriend the year I started ironing you out. One day I went to his house and we took a walk through the woods. It started to rain, heavy sheets of water over the trees. I was aghast. You were returning to yourself with each heavy drop.
“Can I borrow your sister’s hair straightener?” I asked him.
“But why? Your hair’s so pretty,” he said.
And then I got braver and let you out. I let the tendrils frame my face, the ringlets twist tighter and tighter, the waves squiggle up and down. I let you fall down my back, fanning out like a cut of heavy brocade. I let you play with the wind.
And slowly I realized I loved you. On days I ironed you out, I missed you. I didn’t recognize myself until I let you come back.
(I married the man you helped me snag.)
We have a lot in common, you and I. We’re moody. We’re whimsical. We’re hopelessly old-fashioned.
And sometimes, you still have a mind of your own. Sometimes you’re belligerent. Sometimes you frizz over yourself like mist on a lake, or you feel coarse as wool and you scratch my hands.
Sometimes, usually on days I’m most frustrated with you, my best friend will tell me, “Your hair is so happy today.”
And I realize she’s right.
So every day I try to notice how happy you are, now that you’re not always smoothed out, slicked down, or ironed flat. I start to notice how lovely it is that you’re happy. How lovely you are because you’re happy.
And it makes me happy too.