Friday, June 21, 2013


I was sixteen or seventeen when I fell for Grizzly Adams. Not the one on TV, the one who worked construction a hundred yards from my house one summer.  Grizzly had a massive mane of chestnut gone bronze in the sun hair and a great bush of a beard that spanned shoulder to broad shoulder. I was pretty sure his eyes were blue, imagined I could see the depth of them from across the distance of my back yard plus the Catholic church’s parking lot.
            What time did I wake each morning that summer? Eight maybe? I’d slip from my bed to the lime-green shag carpet, crawl over to my window, and raise the roller blind an inch or two. There! He was always there watching, waiting. The brightness of his smile, a chasm of white, would split his tan face. I’d feel my cheeks go hot, reach down to adjust my baby doll pajamas to make sure everything was covered, in case he had bionic vision or something similar. He’d wave and turn back to his work—hammering, heaving. I always felt sad when his back was to me, like he was altogether gone. A flick of my wrist and the blind would rest on the cool of the marble window sill once more.
            In the kitchen I’d gobble Cheerios with a spoonful of sugar and a pour of gosh-awful-powder-plus-water-milk, my father’s punishment for our family’s dairy addiction. After breakfast I’d brusha-brusha-brusha with Colgate or Crest, whichever toothpaste Mom had bought on sale at the Big Bear. I’d count to thirty as I addressed each quadrant of my mouth.
            Returning to my bedroom with its barely pink walls and French Provincial furniture, I'd don jean shorts and a tank top or boob tube.  For lipgloss and mascara application, I’d revisit the bathroom with its superior lighting. I often soaked the front of my shorts as I leaned toward the mirror to apply aqua eyeliner at the corners of my eyes to make them seem feline, like Scarlett Meador’s. During the school year, she rode the same bus as me and her eye makeup expertise fascinated me and the majority of the boys on the bus it seemed. She had this way of blinking  real slow and I was determined to master that as well.
            To do my hair, I’d perch on the end of my bed and study myself in the mirror. One braid or two? All of it in a pony tail or clenched to the back of my head with a barrette? Or maybe a bun, like a prima ballerina.  
Once coiffed, I’d hover next to the window and hold my breath, my fingers on the ring on the string beneath the blind. Yank! The plastic sheath would hiss up, wrapping itself around the roller at the top if I didn’t stop it halfway. There! He was there, waiting, watching, for the moment my blue eyes found his.
“How much older than me do you think he is?” I asked this question of Karen Dandelet one morning. She was my neighbor and best friend forever. She’d spent the night with me, both of us pressed into my twin bed like no-passing lines on a road.
Karen touched her nose to the glass, breathed a Cheerio-scented cloud onto it. “I bet he’s 24 or 26, don’t you think?”
I nudged her away from the window, concerned her dark hair and eyes and much fuller boob tube might be competition.
“Do you think my dad would mind,” I said, “Grizzly being that much older than me when he asks for my hand in marriage?”
One of Karen’s eyes pinched shut as she pondered my question. A hundred yards away Grizzly waved and smiled, turned back to his work.


Friday, June 14, 2013

*What Have I Done?*

At sixteen, I’m a pro at resisting the flow. Every other girl in my school boasts almost butt-length, straightened hair. As they slink through the halls, I inhale the scent of their tresses—crispy, burned, sort of like a campfire but not really. Campfires smell good.
            For the longest time, I embraced my curls. My mom made sure I never ran out of Herbal Essence Tousle Me Softly shampoo and conditioner. Bad hair day? No prob. I’d gather my bra strap-length jumble into a messy, hair-banded bun, tweak out strategic tendrils to frame my face and accent my Kraft Caramel eyes.
            I remember the time some preppy girl got nauseous in biology lab. We had to open windows to let the Formaldehyde fumes escape. Icy, Appalachian air rushed the room. To warm my neck and shoulders, I liberated my hair.
            “What is that smell?
            “Is it flowers?”
            “Nah, I think it’s apples.”
            I surveyed the guys around me—hotties, creepers, athletes. They all had their noses in the air. The lot of them closed in on me, sniffing. A blonde wrestler boy pointed at me.
            “It’s her,” he said. He hovered his face near my curls and sucked in their fragrance. “It’s her hair. Holy crap!  It smells amazing!”
            I shoved him, pretended offense, but really? That’s my favorite high school moment to date.

“What have I done?” 
            On my daybed my mother cringed, avoided my eyes, steepled her fingers.
            “It’s darling, sweetheart. Really, it is.”
            She reached out to stroke a random long piece. It looked like an accident, a hairdresser’s lack of expertise. I dragged my hands over the choppy darkness. Moaned.
            “Did you see this coming? Did you?”
            Mom stood and fluffed my pillows. She glanced in the mirror above my dresser, pinky-fingered lipstick out of the corners of her mouth.
            “Tami and I both told you there was no telling what your hair would do short. She said you’d have to blow dry, straighten, and use product to make your hair like that picture.”
            I hurled my comb at the mirror. “When? When did she say that?”
            Mom started to count on her fingers. I crumpled to the floor.
            “What am I going to do? Tomorrow’s school. They’ll call me skate rat and boy. If I wear my leather jacket, they’ll say I'm a dyke on a bike. Dyke!  I hate that word.”
            Mom joined me on the rug, tossed my Converse high tops toward the closet. On either side of me her legs were parentheses of love, no, protection. Well, both.
            “Oh, sweet pea,” she said, “you’re gorgeous. No one would ever think you’re a boy.”
            She tugged at a cluster of wild, stick out hairs, wet her fingers and tried to smooth the strands. Epic failed. I collapsed against her, my hands fists between us.
            “I lied, Mama,” I whispered against her neck. She smelled familiar—fruity, flowery. “I told myself I didn’t care what anyone thought, but that’s not true.”
            Her breath warmed my left ear, made it moist.
            “I want to be beautiful,” I said, “more than anything. I said I wanted to be different but I thought I’d look classy, elegant, like Audrey Hepburn.”
            Mom’s breathing stuttered. Is she crying too? She nudged my face toward the mirror beside my bed, pointed to us.
            “Baby, consider who you’re talking to. I’m addicted to my eyelash curler. I won’t go to the grocery store without makeup on. For crying out loud, I’m a Sephora Very Important Buyer. I know. I know what it’s like to want to be pretty, sweetie. Me of all people? I know.”
            I laid my cheek against hers and our tears swam together. I played with her rings, made them all face up.
            “I kept thinking, even if I’m ugly, some little bald girl can be beautiful with a wig made from my hair. But now? That’s not enough.” I twisted to look Mom in the eye. “Does that make me a bad person?”
            She clasped her hands under my ribs and rocked me, shushed and there-thered me.
            “I never thought I’d be ugly, Mama, never.” My never sounded as if I’d inhaled helium.
            I sagged forward and poked my fingers into my hair. I felt stinging as my face started to implode. Mom reached around me to cup my cheek.
            “But you’re not, sweetheart. There’s no—”  
            The girl in the mirror snorted snot. “I know, I mean— My face is still pretty but you don’t know high-schoolers, Mama. They’re mean. So, so mean. Flesh caught in zippers mean.”
            Mom rested her chin on my shoulder. “I’ll pray for you tomorrow, I promise. I won’t stop, not for a second.”
            I nodded and smiled, tried to anyway. “I know you will. Thanks.”
            I heaved myself up, trudged over to my dresser and plucked an aqua eyeliner out of the mug I made in eighth-grade art class. I stepped in front of the full-length mirror on my closet door and wrote in cursive on the glass: I am beautiful.” My breath fogged the mirror as I underlined the sentence, over and over.


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