“Be still or I’m going to burn you,” my grandmother often said while she sat me on a stool, tilted my head to the right, and ran a hot comb through my shampooed hair. Getting my hair done, on a Saturday night for Sunday morning was the norm around the house. The sizzling sound of petroleum jelly cooking my scalp, as the comb glided through the thicket of hair was all too familiar. The scabs on the back of ears and neck began to blend in with my chocolate colored skin. Yes, I was a victim of the horrible hot comb.
The first time I saw the white box, I was completely puzzled. It had two cocoa colored girls who resembled me but at the same time didn’t. Then I asked a two part question: What was this stuff in this box and how in the world was the white substance in this little jar going to straighten my wooly head?
I was answered as my mother combined a no lye perm and activator. The first part of my question was answered when the concoction was applied to my virgin hair. The second answer came through loud and clear as the chemicals made my scalp tingle, sting and ultimately burn.
Painful was the lesson I learned that day about the almighty perm, but that never stopped me from slapping one in my head as soon as the edges of my head became a “kitchen”. After that incident, I figured out just how long I could leave the mixture on before it would leave chemical burns.
I rocked braids, a style must during the hot summer months. I even rocked the 1980s finger wave look for a couple of months in the 11th grade. But after a while hot combing, relaxing, and cutting of my hair began to wear on my hair’s spirit.
It took a while for the relaxer to grow out but with the help of two-strand twists, my new growth sprouted wildly. The natural curl of my hair was so unruly that a large toothed comb broke at the mere sight of it.
As soon as I presumed the roots of my braids were long enough that is when the real fun began. I shampooed, conditioned, twisted and pinned, dried and let them hang free. I have repeated this process for more than three years and I haven’t looked back.
My decision to go natural was one that was scary but ultimately freeing. It was scary because of what I thought people would say about the transition but it was also freeing because I was able to express who I am truly through my hair.