A week and a half ago, I participated in Yeah Write’s first ever Super Challenge! The piece below was written for that competition, and I was one of sixteen selected to move on to Round 2. 🙂
I had to write a maximum 1000-word personal essay with the topic provided. I was in group three, so my topic was Hair.
Shampoo & Dirty Jeans
“Oh my god!”
“Did you see that?”
Girlish whispers and gasps echoed behind me.
My long hair was moving, but there was no wind in the music room. I had not shaken or swished my head either. It was stirring of its own accord.
I stared straight ahead. For all they knew, I was completely oblivious to them, but I wasn’t deaf either. I knew the mutters and the accusations. I knew what would come next.
I sat on the edge of the seat in the nurse’s office and pushed my hands between my thighs. My eyes focused on my faded blue jeans. The holes in the knees and frayed edges at the hem reminded me how I got here in the first place.
Schoolyard bullies tested boundaries on those less fortunate. The social class system of junior high ensured it was the way of the world. For as long as I could remember, I was a target.
“You know Helen, the librarian’s student assistant?” the nurse asked me.
“She had a similar problem about a week and a half ago. Big as yours too.”
“I know,” I said into my hands. I shifted my weight and inched closer to the edge.
My hair lay across my shoulders and back in a sea of brown. It was thick, unkempt, and long enough to touch the bottom of the seat. It frequently caught on the nails on the chair back.
It was as much a physical reminder of my wealth and means as my clothing was.
Tears welled in my eyes. I wanted to run my fingers through my hair or lay back far enough to massage my scalp on the edge of the chair, but I also had no desire to draw further attention to myself. Instead, I lifted my flute to my lips and released an unsteady vibrato with the rest of the woodwind section. I could hardly see the notes on the sheet of music and could barely play through my sniffling.
At least while we played, the relentless gossips ceased.
A tear rolled down my cheek, and I sniffled.
“It’s okay, sweetie,” the nurse said. “They’re not hard to get rid of. There’s some special shampoo even.”
I moved my head a bit and gave her a half-smile. I know, I thought, but we can’t afford it. We’ve tried all the home remedies – vinegar, Vaseline, sitting really close to the heater with a hot towel on our heads. Nothing works.
I said nothing, though. I couldn’t say it, because as soon as I called myself poor, then I would be accepting that as truth.
As soon as the bell sounded, I ran out of the music room, down the stairs, through the gym, and straight for the lonely bathroom stall outside the cafeteria. Even though no one followed me directly, I could still hear their disgust.
I made sure the room was locked and turned my hair upside down over the toilet.
I ran my fingernails through my scalp and watched in horror as the infestation fell into the toilet bowl below. Every nail caught one of the little beasties. I tried in abject failure to swallow back my sobs while I flicked them each into the water.
“Filthy bitch!” I heard outside.
Girls were knocking on the bathroom door and screaming at me. The anonymity spurred them to say things they normally would not.
“White trash!” others screamed. “Stupid ho!”
I looked in the john and saw fifteen of those tiny insects there – bulbous and lifeless. Yet I still itched. The bastards were multiplying at an alarming rate.
“You need to pick her up,” the nurse said through the hand piece. “She won’t be allowed back at school until after the lice have been treated.”
Her tone sounded accusatory to me.
It hadn’t been my fault, but then the nurse didn’t know that, and I certainly couldn’t tell her.
My brain went into overdrive thinking about how it all happened. The boundaries had been crossed last week. Instead of insults and hair pulls, the girls took a new approach to bullying. While two held me to my desk, another plucked a single louse from Helen’s hair and planted it straight into mine. It burrowed deep before I could get to it.
It would be eight hours before Mom got home and started her “home treatment” that day. Ten days later, and we still hadn’t gotten rid of it.
Even though we couldn’t afford it, we bought the foul-smelling stuff from Wal-Mart.
The next week we went without gas.