By DORBOR TARLEY
It was not love at first sight.
How could it have been?
I grew up being told to be ashamed of you.
They called you “coarse,” sometimes “kinky” or “nappy,” and considered you to be bad. Convinced me you needed to be straightened. It was the hot comb my mother placed on the high flame kitchen stove that made you straight. You were straight now, no longer “bad”, “kinky,” or “nappy.” I was supposed to be happier with you this way. It was beautiful. It was beautiful.
When I was 12, I decided to cover you with a relaxer. “Just for Me Soft & Beautiful No-Lye Regular Relaxer Kit.” I was tired of our family kitchen smelling of smoke, burned hair, and softsheen jam hair gel every other week in hopes to tame you. I was angry at my mother for spending every other Saturday in our family kitchen straightening out your kinks and coils, investing into the American dream that the straight version of you was better than the natural you. A relaxer, this solution seemed more permanent.
The creamy crack. It became an addiction. My mother would apply the creamy white relaxer to my roots every six weeks. The sodium hydroxide would straighten my roots. The relaxer was never intended to make me relax, instead, it left me tense. I was told to wait until I felt my head on fire before calling my mother to wash it out. I probably have chemical burns.
You refused to relax. It was intended for you to stay straight from six to twelve weeks. That’s what it said on the box. You rebelled. You wanted to be shown. You were the kind of hair that resisted and boycotted every relaxer application my mother applied.
We played tug of war for two more years. What I wanted you did not and vice versa. I got tired of fighting with you at 14. I waited until my mother was at work. Alone for the first time in our downstairs bathroom I stared at myself in the mirror. I decided I no longer was going to fight with you. That evening I wet you under the bathroom sink. Watching you grow before my eyes. I started cutting. I was not cutting you, just the parts of you I had killed years ago. With every cut, you came alive.
You are high maintenance. Difficult. A learning process.
The first year together I had to learn everything about you. As I started to talk to you in the mirror, I began to understand your ways, wants, and needs. My days were filled with consuming content that could better you and help you thrive. You were low porosity, meaning you did not absorb the water and treatments I gave to you. I had to be extra careful with you. Your four favorite things were deep conditioners, liquids, oils, and cream. You were not a fan of cold weather. I needed to protect you from the snow and rain. Your favorite protective style was braids. I reminded you of Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice in the winter. In the summers you liked to be shown off. In the summers you were free from braids, no longer needing protection from the weather. I reminded you of Diana Ross. I had to be kind to you. Speak to you softly. Never harsh. You sense fear. If I spoke to you harshly or was in a rush, you would break off or fight against the style. This would cause us to have to start over again. And when we returned you preferred a mediator, outside reinforcement of the “Denman brush” and wide tooth comb had to be called in.
It is our 7th year together. My time with you has been filled with tears, admiration, joy, and appreciation. I know what to say and do to make you twist, mold, loc, and curl. You have taught me patience, unconditional love, and how to go with the ‘fro. It was not love at first sight, but when I look into the mirror every wash day, I say “I love you.”
Dorbor Tarley is a senior Human Development and Family Science major on the pre-health track from Rhode Island. During her free time she likes to read, travel, workout, try new food spots and hairstyles.