Perm Time


As I step off the school bus, I touch my short hair and hear mom’s voice-“When you get home from school today you WILL be getting that hair permed.”  After looking at my hair for a few minutes this morning, she said, “Look how straight your hair is.  It is straight just like mine.”  She touched her tightly permed short bleach blonde hair as if she were reminding me my hair is like her hair, I am like her.  There is no me.  I am NOT, letting her perm my hair I decide.  It is just starting to grow out of the tight painful curls.  I try to put a pony tail holder in my hair.  For the first time I can gather up enough hair to put it in a pony tail holder before it slips out. I stick out my chin and open the screen door.

“Stop slamming that door!”  I hear before the door even shuts.  She has the mad voice, the one that screams and argues and cries and tells me how bad I am until I become bad.  Become what she wants me to become-a problem child.

“I’m not slamming the door,” I repeat as the screen clicks shut behind me, and I bend down to untie my shoes.

She appears at the top of the steps, one hand on her hip, and the other hand pointing at me.  “GET OUT of this house with those shoes!  I just cleaned!”  The house smelled like lemon floor cleaner.  A bucket of water and a sponge is on the floor beside her.  I could see her cleaning -on her hands and knees a sponge in one hand as she scrubs the laminate flooring over and over again until it shines.  I glare at her with sharp, defiant eyes.  I’ve had enough.  Kids laughed at me all day.  I sat by myself, desk facing the chalkboard as kids threw crayons at my back.

“Leave me ALONE!”  I shout, slamming the screen door and walking outside.  I finish taking off the shoe and throw it against the vinyl siding.  The anger runs through my veins, yet as the shoe hits the wall, I feel a bit of the anger go away.  My head hurts.  Pound.  Pound.  POUND. My shoulders are up to my ears when I hear her cry, a deep wailing sound.  She pounds through the kitchen with angry child-like feet.

“And you ARE getting your hair permed today.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes you are.  STOP mouthing me!”

She grabs my backpack from me.  The rule is that I am not allowed to take my backpack upstairs.  She must check it first.  She continues to yell as I climb the steps, shut the door, and throw myself face first onto my bed.  I put a pillow on top of my head to block out her voice.  I wrap my arms tightly around the pillow.  I can barely breathe.  I can barely hear her.

She is yelling just below the stairs.  The loud sound gets closer and closer and closer.  Inside, I’m screaming with little-girl-balled-up fear.  All I hear is my heart pounding in my ears.  The door opens.  She yanks the pillow off my head.  With shaking hands, I hold onto the pillow.  She yanks me to the floor.  The pillow slips between my shaking hands that feel as if they are not my own, but somebody else’s.  The belt comes down on my back.  Over and over and over again, I feel the slap of the leather.  My skin grows hot, so hot that I feel as if my back is on fire.  She aims toward my butt, but misses instead hitting my sacrum, just below, until I scream out with sharp pain.  Her face is bright red from screaming and anger.  She is crying again, crying and yelling and swinging a belt.  I cover my head and try to peer between my arms when I no longer hear the belt.  Tears run down my face, my face scrunches up with emotion, but no sound escapes my small mouth.  I brave it and start to sit up.  My back throbs, but mostly it feels hot and I can feel the red lines from the metal belt buckle and the welts crossing my gangly ten-year old frame.

She stands with her hands firmly on her hips and cries, telling me, “Look what you made me do.”  I watch her out-of-control face and I feel bad, confused.  After a few minutes she walks toward the door, stops, and points a finger at me.  “Get up and wipe your eyes off or I’ll give you something to cry about.  Then get down here for the perm.”  I don’t know what came over me, but I locked eyes with her and snarled, “You will NOT touch my hair.”

“Now you are in trouble.”

Time seems to stand still as this short conversation finishes.  I feel reckless.  I knew that I was going to get beat so why not fight her, fight letting her hurt me?
I wanted her to hurt me more, leave a better mark, proof to show people that she is not what she seems.  As she bangs down the stairs, I stare into the perfectly clear mirror and examine the welts and red spots.  The longer I look at the marks, I feel defeat.  They will fade in a few days so it won’t be a big deal.  All kids get whippings, I hear.  If there are no marks, then nothing can be done.  As I continue to glare back into my angry flickering green eyes, something shifts inside me.  I hate myself.  I despise myself.  I’m so stupid.  Always in trouble.  Always not doing what I’m supposed to be.  Always too hyper.  Always too something.  I stare at my welts and run sharp dirty fingernails over one until more blood appears on my arm.  I feel oddly calm as I walk down the steps, ready for war.  Mom cries and sobs as she leans over the sink, washing dishes with narrowed eyes.  I soften a little, feel bad for her; crying and screaming, snot and tears mix, drip into the steamy sink.

5 thoughts on “Perm Time

  1. Alaina says:

    I felt so many strong emotions as I read this. But overriding everything is the admiration I feel for the courageous little girl who told her witch of a mother: “You will NOT touch my hair.”

    • bdlheart says:

      My mom loved to bitch about my “smart mouth.” It is laughable because what she calls my smart mouth in childhood was really a voice of reason while her bullying antics were those of a child. I think if I hadn’t been feisty in some way I wouldn’t have made it.

      • Alaina says:

        What you said: ” I think if I hadn’t been feisty in some way I wouldn’t have made it.” I agree 100%.

        I don’t like anger. Don’t like being around an angry person, don’t like feeling angry, and I really hate when I react in an angry way toward anyone. However, I have no doubt that my appropriate anger has saved my life and my sanity, at times.

        Anger is a lot like physical pain, in my opinion. Pain is something unpleasant that no one in their right mind wants to experience, but without the ability to ever feel physical pain, we would be in big trouble. Physical pain lets us know when something is wrong in our body that needs to be corrected. Ditto for anger.

        Learning how to manage anger in a healthy way can be a huge challenge for people who grew up like you and I did. When is anger appropriate? When is it inappropriate? Where is the line between being too passive, too much of a pushover, and being too assertive or even too agressive? Even at my age, I’m still learning!

      • bdlheart says:

        I tend to be too much of a pushover at times. I avoid hostile people and situations as muchh as possible. I don’t recall a time in adulthood when I’ve felt as angry as I did as a child. Thank God for that

  2. bdlheart says:

    Little girl says thank you!

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