In the first grade, my mother took me to the hairdresser’s and had Monique cut my hair short, like a boy’s. Now, while she preferred to wear her own hair that short, she apparently didn’t comprehend that doing it to me was nothing short of elementary school social manslaughter. Sitting in Monique’s chair, drowning in the over-sized plastic bib, I was powerless against her chit-chat with my mother, and the snip-snip-snipping away of my hair. All I could do was sit and watch it fall to the floor in sad little, light-brown tufts. I walked out of the salon feeling like a freak, like everyone was staring at me, as if they knew I had walked in with longer hair and now look more like a boy
There is nothing more that you want as a first-grader than to be like all of your friends and fit in. While all of the other, pretty girls who were always asked to play Kiss-N-Tag, had long, wavy hair that they kept back with thin, plastic, head-bands, mine now had to be tamed with water and spit each morning. Even after it dried, it would bob up and down on top of my head as I ran around the school yard. No long beautiful waves swaying back and forth against my back in the wind as the boys chased me in hot pursuit. No, I was now a walking cow-lick.
The first day at school with my new, short hair, was one of the worst days of my primary school life. Upon getting to my class, unloading my back pack, hanging my jacket on my hook and settling into my desk at the back of the room, Ronald Boudreau hollered from the front of the classroom and pointed back at me:
“Look at the new boy in our class!!! It’s Michael!!!”. In sync, the entire class turned around in their desks to look and snicker at the “new boy” in our classroom. A thousand judgmental eyes sneering at me and my brown, mousey, boy-like hair. Ronald kept chanting “Michael! Michael! Michael!” and laughing until my teacher, Mrs. Bangs, told him to stop. My face instantly became warm, and I could feel hot tears threatening to spill over at any moment. While some of my classmates simply turned back around, uninterested (mostly boys), some of the girls dramatically flicked their long hair back over their shoulders with their hands, resuming their finger painting. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Bangs, looked at me sympathetically (her long hair in a head band) and then returned to the work on her desk. I heard some muffled giggles come from somewhere, but I don’t know exactly where or who it was that was laughing, because I’d already put my head down on my desk, fighting with all my might to keep my tears in my eyes, as my chin quivered.
I hated my mother. Hated her!!! She had thrown me into a pond of ruthless 8-year-old piranhas and simply driven off with a, “have a good day honey!”.
Now, I can’t be too sure, but it only serves to reason that my mother’s decision to cut my hair like a boy’s also played a hand in the fact that my friendships began dwindling that same day. I mean, in all reality, what first-grade girl wants to have a friend who looks like a boy? No one, because you can’t braid short hair while sitting under the big oak tree playing cat’s cradle; because boys have cooties and are gross and if you’re a girl who looks like a boy, well, you may as well just be a boy because no boys will ask you to play Kiss and Tag, that’s why.
After the humiliating start to my morning, I was initially relieved when recess came around so that I could get out. My new, short hair had been the most interesting thing to have happened all morning, and I was eager for everyone to think about something else. Mrs. Bangs set out the pile of multi-colored wrist bands on the table near the door. Red, green and yellow bands. Green and yellow wrist bands were “structured activities” with teachers in charge. If you got a Green or yellow band, you were instructed to go outside for recess, find the teacher with the correlating color and engage in whatever activity she was in charge of. Red wrist bands were “free play”. You could do whatever you wanted.
I absolutely hated the organized events with teachers. It was usually some kind of glorified P.E. activity that involved racing or a competition of some sort, which always stressed me out. Everyone wanted the red bands, and whenever Mrs. Bangs set out those bands, my anxiety would start to surge rendering it almost impossible to concentrate on my math. Who in their right mind would make a set-up like that? Every single day before recess, I would stare at the pile of wrist-bands on the table near the window and frantically try to finish my work so that I wasn’t stuck in one of the organized play times. I would hurry as fast as I possibly could through my addition, keeping a close eye on which bands the other kids were grabbing until I eventually handed in my paper and grabbed the last, lone red wrist band left and bolted out the door. I almost always had to correct my papers later in the day because of my hurrying. However, this day had been bad enough, I desperately needed some Free Time to decompress from all of the taunting.
With my red wrist band on, I was standing with my friend Amelia K. (who also luckily snatched a red wrist-band), near the open corridor lined with poles, that bordered the black-top portion of our playground. The two of us just stood there in the sunlight, talking and watching the other kids run around and squeal. I had just met Amelia K. this year and she seemed quiet, like me, although she was in another first-grade classroom. I liked her because she wasn’t loud, or pushy, like some of the other girls who tended to stress me out.
We were watching some of the other girls playing hopscotch on the black-top in front of us, when I noticed Jeanette Adams approaching us. I didn’t know Jeanette very well, but she looked determined, her shoulder-length bleach-blonde hair blowing in the breeze and her blue eyes and pink lips making a bee line for Amelia. She came up to the two of us and spoke to her, ignoring me completely.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” she asked Amelia, pulling her gently away from me. Amelia, looked at me apprehensively and followed Jeanette, who lead her over to a corner not far from where I stood. I watched, as Jeanette leaned in and whispered in Amelia’s ear, “If you stop being friends with Michelle, I’ll give you a candy bar”. Amelia K. looked over at me sheepishly, as I stood awaiting my fate, my arms wrapped tightly around one of the cold, metal poles. After a few seconds of some kind of internal moral debate, she and Jeanette turned back around and walked past me as Amelia K shamefully, almost imperceptibly mouthed, ‘I’m sorry’.
There I was with my boy haircut, standing alone under the roof of the corridor, my arms hugging the brown, metal pole, watching Amelia and Jeanette run hand-in-hand over to the teeter-totters. The girls in front of me were hopping on one foot, retrieving their rocks, their long hair falling down around their faces as they bent over. A few other girls were doing cartwheels, their hair splaying out, rising and falling, and Amelia K. and Jeanette were laughing so loud on the teeter-totters, giving each other Cherry Bumps on purpose. Could this day get any worse? Is there anything else that could happen to make me feel more ostracized? Did I lose a friend because of my hair, or was it just because of me?
I hated my mother with the fire of a thousand suns.
And I could only hope and pray that Amelia would choke on her candy bar.
The remainder of my day was a blur, but in all honesty, who cares? I was already ruined. I walked all the way home that afternoon, totally depressed. We lived about one block from the school, but the walk felt a hundred miles long. I wanted to disappear and never go back to school. Or, at least disappear until my hair grew back. I could just tell that the kids on the bus were staring at me as they drove by, talking about my hair. It would take months for my hair to grow out and for me to win back my friends. Even then, my mom would probably never let my hair get past my chin. I never had long hair past my chin.
Once at home, I could thoroughly wallow in my self-pity. I sat up in my room for a few minutes, sulking on my bed, the image of Ronald Boudreau chanting “Michael! Michael!” fresh in my mind, as well as the image of Amelia K. and Jeanette, who were probably now, at this very moment, savoring a 3 Musketeers or something. I let our cat Bootsy come over and slide her grey body around my legs, hop up onto my bed and give me little kisses on my face. I always got a shock the first time she would put her nose to my lips, but I didn’t mind. Bootsy loved me no matter what.
Then, I moped around the house for a little while, not speaking to my mother. She didn’t seem to notice me not talking to her. Eventually, I had to pee. I made my way back upstairs to the bathroom and started to un-do my pants when I noticed what was possibly the largest, longest, thickest turd I had ever seen in all of my life, just sitting there, floating in the bowl.
“Who forgot to flush the toilet!?!”, I screamed (It was a great excuse to scream) as I reached out to flush the handle.
“No Ichelle!!!! No don’t flush my poop!!!!”. Erin, my three-year-old sister, was sprinting up the stairs in a frenzy, begging me not to flush down her poop. My mother was not far behind her. “Honey, don’t flush Erin’s poop!!!”.
I turned from the toilet and looked over my shoulder to see both my mother and sister scrambling to the top of the stairs, pleading with me not to flush the offensive log that had probably been there for hours. Breathless, they came into the bathroom, my mom wielding a dust rag and some Pledge, and Erin and her rat’s nest hair inserting herself in between me and the toilet bowl, her arms outstretched in protest.
“I wanna show daddy when he gets home from work!!!” she explained. The scariest thing about this entire scenario was the fact that the black banana was as long and almost as thick as one of Erin’s legs. How could this have possibly come out of her??
My mother chimed in, “Yes honey, your sister wants him to see it before she flushes it down. She’s really proud of it”. She gave me a knowing look, but my mother obviously understood something about this obscene request that I did not.
I know Erin had been potty training for quite some time and still sought out praise for her accomplishments, but this seemed to be taking it too far. Were we the only family who saved poops to showcase to others? When had she pooped, exactly? This morning? How long had it been sitting in there? But more importantly, when would dad be home?
But, I hated my mother at the moment and wasn’t speaking to her, so I left the bowel movement alone and dramatically rolled my eyes as I turned on my heel and left.
An episode of Little House on the Prairie was on in the living room and half-way through. I parked myself on the plaid couch. It was the episode where Mary goes completely blind. Earlier, Pa had spoken to the eye doctor alone and was informed that she would soon lose her sight. Distraught, Pa didn’t have the heart to tell Mary himself. Then, one morning, poor Mary woke up in her loft upstairs and couldn’t see at all, and she screamed and screamed and begged Pa to hold her because she was so scared. “I’m scared Pa!!! I’m scared!! Hold me!”, she hollered, and Pa went running up the ladder to her bed and held her and rocked her and told her he was there.
My poor, pitiful anger quickly turned to sadness as I sat there on the couch crying for poor Mary. She had long, gorgeous blonde hair that went all the way down to her waist, and swayed when she ran down her dirt road. But she would never be able to see it again.
An hour or so before dinner, the stove hissing and bubbling with something that smelled good, we heard my father come home. You always knew when someone came home because they came through the back porch door and whenever it shut, the entire house would give a little shake. Today though, before he could even fully get himself through the kitchen door, Erin was at his feet, pulling his hand to “Come look daddy! Come see!”. She wouldn’t tell him what it was, but dragged him by the coat-sleeve through the kitchen, through the living room, up the stairs and into the bathroom. My mother didn’t budge from the stove, the novelty of the prize-winning stool having worn off for her by then.
I saw the entire scene unfold from my bedroom. In the upstairs bathroom, there my father stood, still in his trench coat, his brief case in his right hand, bent over our toilet exclaiming, “Wow!!! That sure is a big one honey!!! Look! At! That!”. He chuckled, and gasped as Erin and her rat’s nest proudly stood next to the toilet bowl looking down at her over-sized Tootsie Roll and then back up at dad with a gleam in her eye.
“It’s a Champion Poop Dad!!!”
“That it is honey, A Champion Poop it is! By Golly!”. He shook his head in mock-disbelief as his youngest of four daughters, splattered with freckles looked on proudly. After she felt she’d received enough accolades for her masterpiece, she quietly flushed the loaf down, as they both looked on, my dad patting her back on the way out.
It was just my luck: I’m essentially exiled for my boy-ish haircut and willingly passed up for a Twix bar, while my sister gets practically coronated for taking a dump.
Later that night, after watching The Cosby Show in the living room and gently pulling some of my hairs in the hopes that I might stretch them along, I crawled up onto the couch with my mom who was lying down, resting. I was still really, really mad at her, but I was also feeling sad, and a little bit guilty, and still a bit disgusted and confused by the Champion Poop. I was a mish-mash of feelings and even though she was the one who cut my hair and temporarily ruined my life, I still wanted to lie on her chest, I’m not sure why. She shimmied herself over a bit so I could lay with her and she proceeded to run her hand over my head, like she always did when I laid on her. I could feel my hair be tamped down by her hand and then pop back up over and over. It made me even sadder and I buried my head deeper into her. I guess even though I hated her, I still loved her and was glad that she didn’t mind me cuddling with her, whether I had long hair or short hair.
Families are like that I guess. Kind of a mess. They save poops for hours, praise poops like they are trophies, sometimes ruin your hair (and your social life) often make mistakes, and sometimes hate each other and love each other at the very same time.
Well, at least mine does.