Eventually, my Mom allowed me to get a relaxer in my hair. Oh happy day! At least that’s what I thought back then. No more hot combing, no more burnt ears and singed forehead, no more fear that water would leave a shrunken mess on my head. I went to the salon to get my first relaxer because I had virgin hair and my Mom wanted to make sure that my hair wasn’t damaged. I remember the excitement as I walked into the salon. Whirring hairdryers, well-coifed women, beautiful pictures of beautiful people on the walls. I felt like I was entering a new phase of my life. I was entering womanhood. Hmm, almost like a Black mini-version of a Bat Mitzvah.
I sat in the barber chair. My stylist (Ms. Joanne?) said hello and put paper towels around my collar and then me draped in a salon cape. She then took out my pony tail holders and began to run her fingers through my hair. Gently pulling it up and out, looking at the condition of my hair. She parted my hair into four sections and then used a wooden spatula contraption to apply a protective cream to my scalp / hair. She then mixed the relaxer and it sounded like my Mom mixing cake batter. Only it didn’t smell as good. Actually, it stunk. But, I didn’t care a bit. I wanted that creamy, albeit funky-smelling, concoction on my hair because I wanted to walk out of there with Charlie’s Angels hair.
She applied the relaxer to the exposed sections, then parted, applied, parted, until my entire head of hair was covered in the relaxer (she applied it from the roots to the tips because it was my first relaxer). She then worked it in, smoothing and patting, then smoothing again. Every now and then she’d ask if it was burning, “No.” When she first put the relaxer in, it felt cool to my scalp. However, as the timer ticked, my scalp became lukewarm, then warm, then medium hot, then hot, then “IT’S BURNING!”. She then rinsed, washed and conditioned my hair. When I sat up, I had butterflies. I wanted to see my hair. It was wet and I could feel hair on the back of my neck. This was it! Water was no longer my enemy!
When I first gazed in the mirror, I couldn’t stop smiling. Actually, I could have cried. I was so ecstatic that instead of a shriveled mass of hair on top of my head, I saw long, straight tresses. She blow-dryed and styled my hair and my love affair with my “new” hair began. When I walked out of the salon, I stood a little taller because, in my young mind, my straight hair had transformed me.