I am 9.
I am hidden underneath the bathroom sink. Maybe if I hide, she’ll forget. Mami was downstairs, by her side a bowl filled with mayo, olive oil, and two eggs. Last time, I had to leave it in my hair for four hours. Trails of mayo leaked from my plastic wrapped head down my neck, shoulders, forehead. I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to.
Mami found me. You’ll be beautiful.
I am 11.
PLAP. PLAP. PLAP.
I am on the shower floor, eyes shut, fists clenched as mami used a handle brush to PLAP. PLAP. against the large matted knot on the back of my head. Loosening the knots, she continued the force adding Silicon every few minutes. Ay mija, no llores. She says as my tears mingle with the running water. You’ll be beautiful.
I am 12.
I am on Mama’s bed, listening to the tick tick tick tick of the rain on our tin roof. We are in the Dominican Republic, I am thinking about how life would be if my hair stayed down instead of up. I daydream of silky hair. Tomorrow Mami made an appointment for me to get my hair relaxed. I’m a little scared, but happy. I’m going to be beautiful.
I brush my hair into a bun– the last time I’ll smooth out these kinks. My sister comes with me, she drags her feet to the salon while I float. She hates it there. The noise, the heat, the smell of frying hair.
My sister and I wait an hour before they start. A lady in a tubee washes my hair over a sink. The weight of my head straining my neck, her fingers scrubbing my scalp raw, I hold in tears. I’m going to be beautiful.
I am in the salon chair now. Tia mixes what looks like a powder and a cream together. I stare into my reflection as Tia brushes the cool mixture into my hair starting from the back up towards the front. When she is done, I sit by the window. An open square in the cement wall with curved bars instead of glass. My eyes wander. I look at the women. Their hair. Their outfits. Tia starts to set another woman’s hairs in rollos. I wait.
The mixture isn’t cool anymore, it’s getting a bit warmer. I wait a little longer. My scalp begins to tingle. Tia is laughing, talking to someone else. I don’t want to interrupt. I wait. The tingling is getting worse, the heat is rising. Is it working? I think to myself. I wait. My entire head is in pain now. I can’t wait anymore. It stings, it stings, it stings. I hold back tears as I get up, and go to Tia. Tia, me duele.
Her eyes open wide, as if she saw a ghost. Ay mija! She yells. Ven, ven, ven. The pain is unbearable. I can’t speak anymore, it almost hurts to cry. A woman puts a towel around my neck, ties it with a butterfly clip, and she scrubs my head. As she touches my head, I feel like my skin is coming off.
Some did. My scalp, the top of my forehead, the back of my neck. It was bright red, almost purple. Little blisters were forming, some of my hair fell off. I don’t think it worked. Tia looked down, as I stare into my glassy eyes in the mirror. She left to call Mami.
I go back to Mama’s house.
I don’t have much memory of those next few days– I remember pain. Sadness, feeling ugly.
I am 25.
There are areas on my scalp that are extremely sensitive. Other areas, where I feel nothing at all.
The mix of numbness and intensity follow me.
I decided when I turned 18 to stop getting my hair treated at all.
I made the decision to feel beautiful without manipulation.