I have been cursed with curly hair, and I know that few people feel sorry for me. I bear this cross now without struggle—but I didn’t until I nearly lost my luxurious mane.
For as long as I can remember, my hair has been the coveted treasure of women who long for perfect ringlets that fall around the shoulders and who yearn to look like a goddess who has spent hours and countless dollars at the salon—where her hairdresser wields a magic wand instead of a blow dryer.
I know the truth about what it takes to have curly hair, though. I’ve spent endless time with my head upside-down, my hair draped over a clawed diffuser, only to come out looking like Horton, Dr. Seuss’s erratically tufted elephant.
Even when I blow-dry my hair to command my curls to obey—and burn their souls with my top-of-the-line ceramic straightener—my sleek hair is as defiant as a teenager who knows that parental law is only as good as Mom or Dad’s willingness to bend. As soon as I step out of the house, my curls bounce back into shape, and I revert to being the woman I was an hour ago, only more tired from having tried to tame them.
So when a friend of mine with beautiful silky straight black hair told me she had a hack for a Brazilian keratin hair-straightening at a fraction of the cost, I was all in. A Latinx like me, she had strands you could use your fingers to comb through with ease, and I wanted the same. A friend of a friend, she told me, did treatments at home. Instead of $300 to $500, she charged $80 to $100 at most, including tip.
Not in a million years would I have been able to afford such an expensive treatment. My single-mom budget was real. And this sounded so simple. I got the number of the gal, texted her, and literally an hour later, after stopping for cash at an ATM, I was sitting in a stranger’s living room getting my hair washed in a bucket. I know it makes no sense, but the promise of straight-hair freedom seemed worth the sacrifice. I was going to win this battle of the frizz once and for all, finally getting back hours of my morning—plus maybe a little dignity and self-respect—for pennies on the dollar.
The lady who straightened my hair kept the windows and front door open, and my soul remained hopeful and open as well. She put the solution on my locks, and within an hour turned my chair around and handed me a mirror to reveal a person I’d never seen before. My hair looked shiny and gorgeous. All I had to do was not wash it for three days, and all this beauty would be mine for months to come. The best part: I could come back whenever those curls dared to show themselves. I had won the war—affordably! Or so I thought.
“In this world,” Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “you get what you pay for,” and a few months later I discovered he was right. The full effect of my cheaper treatment didn’t show up for almost a year. I thought it was old age, maybe stress. Little by little, though, clumps of my straight hair started finding their way to the shower drain and the bathroom floor. What was once a thick ponytail became a tiny little strand. I realized I was in trouble, and maybe the keratin was to blame. I decided to visit a professional stylist. Her grim face and subdued tone made me realize something bad had happened, and that I might have made a costly mistake.
She combed over my shoulders what was left of a few long, straight strands that reached down to my waistline. “Well,” she said, “the only way you’re going to fix this problem is to cut it super-short.”
“Honestly?” I asked.
She squinted and peered at vulnerable me through her glasses. “To your ears, and you’ll need a deep conditioning and some other products. But it will be good for your hair.”
I felt like the floor swallowed me whole, depositing me in a shallow grave of regret. An angel peered down at me, in the form of a framed photo of Marilyn Monroe with a spectacular blonde bob, smiling playfully as she tried to control her dress amid the subway-grate updraft . I think that was where I found the courage to accept defeat.
Looking at Marilyn, I asked, “Will my curls come back?”
“Yes,” the stylist said, “but at least your hair will be healthy.”
I nodded in agreement and watched my latest life lesson tumble gently to the ground. This time my hair obeyed, but so did I. I watched as my new style took shape around my face, one little curl popping up on the side of my head. I laughed to see that these little defiant warriors had returned. The cost of the service was the best $200 I’d ever spent.
Aria Gmitter is a writer, editor, and literary agent with a focus on spirituality, health, love, and relationships She earned her Masters in Health Law from Nova Southeastern University, and an MFA in Creative Writing at Full Sail University. Her works have been published by Bethany House Publishers, MSN, Yahoo, Fox News, Cosmo, Prevention, and Psych Central.