On the Pleasure of Wash Days
First, I gather my tools. The big wide-toothed comb, the handful of ponytail holders, the tiny comb with the metal rat-tail, a bag full of small rubber bands that will either break overnight or be nearly impossible to remove in the morning. Just the thing I need in a rush, right? I can’t forget the towels, perm rods, and one of the softest T-shirts I can find. My mom asks me why I can’t just use a regular towel. I try not to roll my eyes. Again. As I arrange the supplies in my bathroom so I won’t have to reach for them later, my fingers somehow find their way into my hair. I feel the dryness, how it’s rough and almost scratchy to the touch. Why didn’t I just keep the perm?
I sigh and move to the next order of business. By now, I’ve learned to keep my shampoo and conditioner in the shower, because what’s the point of getting it in and out of my bathroom cabinet? I lay out the leave-in conditioner, jar of coconut oil, that bottle of DIY oil mix I made from a YouTube video, shea butter, gel, and shine mist. I look at it all and try not to think about how much it all cost to buy. Whoever said college was the best time to go natural clearly did not consider the budget of the average college student. Did perm maintenance ever cost this much?
My supplies assembled, it’s time to start washing. As I section my hair and start to shampoo, my fingers get caught in the tangles. Single-strand knots. Some people call them fairy knots but to me, there’s nothing fairy-like about them. I debate trying to save as much as my hair as possible by detangling, but that would mean spending another half hour in the shower, and I still have so much to do. I’ll just have to suck it up and ignore the shed hairs later on. Two shampoo cycles later I have a curl pattern again. The kind that all of my favorite YouTube curly stars have even after their hair is dry and styled. What I would give to wake up with soft, loose curls like that every day…
For now, it’s wet and easy to work with. I apply the deep conditioner and leave my shower, wrapping a towel around my neck to keep my robe from getting soaked. It’s this time, the forty minutes I spend waiting for my hair to come alive again, that I get weary. My arms are tired, my eyes sting from the shampoo, and try as I might, water won’t stop running down my face and neck. This is the one thing that hasn’t changed since I went natural, as girls with relaxers need to deep condition too. But it wasn’t this hard. Relaxed hair didn’t fight me. I didn’t struggle with it for hours and I could do whatever I wanted without much trouble. Plus, I didn’t spend hours researching how to take care of my hair because every Black woman I knew could teach me a thing or two. That took away the need to search for new styles on YouTube every week. What’s the point when I do the same style every time?
I can’t put it off any longer. Back in the shower, the curl pattern I like so much on other natural women is even more present as I rinse. I run my fingers through my hair and, to my surprise there are no more tangles and hardly any breakage. The T-shirt is finally put to good use on my head and I squeeze gently to avoid the frizz that will inevitably form later (I mean hey, it’s worth a shot). By the time I make it out to the mirror, my hair has shrunken by 25%. I pout a bit, but at least it’s not as limp and lifeless as my relaxed hair was. And at least I have a decent amount of hair to work with. There’s nothing like going out a week after going nearly bald, with makeup and jewelry on, only to have people still mistake you for a man. Why doesn’t that ever happen to women with short relaxed hair?
Now the fun part: styling. My arms still ache, but I carry on, massaging creams and oils from root to tip for what seems like hours. I shift my weight on my feet every few minutes, wishing I had a chair to sit on that would allow me to see myself in my mirror. I still haven’t gotten the hang of sectioning, so my twists are uneven and some of them just unravel, not even pretending to be decent. I lean against my wall, fighting the frustration.
This is what I wanted, hair that demanded something of me other than the bare minimum in time and effort. I remember the young women who stop me on the street to ask me how I do it, what product I use, and where I find my inspiration. I smile at the thought of the two girls I met not long after my Big Chop, who were inspired to stop relaxing their own hair and now rock beautiful little Afros. I think of my little cousins who will grow up to love what they have, even on the days when their curl patterns are more like zigzags than Shirley Temple curls. I start to twist again, this time with patience and real love. I wrap the white rods delicately around the ends of my twists, praying that they’ll stay this time. I give my hair a kiss of shine for good luck. And when I take my scarf off the next morning to find my thick black curls glowing back at me in the mirror, I think, why didn’t I do this sooner?