I love you and I loved you
How I learned to accept the evolution of friendships
The first time I fell in love, I was five.
She had strawberry blond hair and hazel eyes. Her hands were small and chubby and they reached for the same hula hoop that mine did on that fateful day of kindergarten — the day we instantly decided to become best friends. She lived seven houses down, but we practically lived together. We were young and creative and everything was as sweet as the cotton candy jelly beans we’d steal from her cupboard in the dead of night. We lived in a world of our own.
The second time I fell in love, I was thirteen.
She was thin and tall, the figure of a stretched-out china doll. She had long black hair that later turned brown and expressions that always made me laugh. She taught me new languages and brought me into foreign worlds, watching shows with subtitles and singing songs I didn’t understand but danced my heart out to anyways. Our bony arms intertwined as we skipped around the gym, laughing as we breathed in the sticky air of two hundred eighth graders. We were structured the same, both our bodies and our brains; we were twins, two halves of the same. We spoke in a language of our own.
The third time I fell in love, I was fifteen.
Glasses covered big brown eyes with eyelashes that must have been five feet long. She was smart and witty, ready with a comeback for any comment I made. We found our hands drifting towards the same door handle, seeking comfort in a room that never closed. Long nights and the sugar-spiked food of adolescence created moments that had us banging desks and crying on the floor, laughing. We belonged to a family of our own.
The fourth time I fell in love, I was seventeen.
A curtain of bangs framed eyes borrowed from her father and a smile shared with her mother. Her laugh could be heard across the room, with a voice confident and unwavering, just like herself. Hands clasped tightly around each other, we found the solidarity we longed for. She pushed me to be strong, to say no, to stand up for myself. And when I couldn’t, she was there to do it for me. She fought my battles when my will was too weak and carried me on her shoulders when my heart was too sensitive. We stood united in a team of our own.
The first time I fell out of love, I was fourteen.
Her blond hair was now covered with a black scarf. She wore skull rings and black nail polish and t-shirts with bands I hadn’t heard of. Music played in her ears every second of every day. I never said anything, because talking to someone doesn’t feel so good when half of their head is filled with something else. She was no longer the child whose imagination ran wild to create games and stories that would immerse us for hours. Now her imagination ran in a different direction — one that I, so eager to play another game, blindly followed, but one that bruised and beat our friendship more than anything.
The second time I fell out of love, I was sixteen.
Time and distance kept us apart, though we only lived maybe ten minutes away. Our paths weren’t meant to cross — she was a ballerina, off to dance and twirl in stages and shows and music boxes. I didn’t think it would happen, but slowly I saw it unravel. The opening screen to Google Chat would take ever so slightly longer to load every time we had to open our phones instead of opening our mouths. Texting once everyday became texting once every week became texting once every month and eventually, there were no texts at all.
I haven’t fallen out of love a third or fourth time yet. But I might. As I prepare to go off to college, I fear my best friends will just become another faded picture, a memory of someone who I used to love. Maybe we won’t drift apart completely — but then again, the times I drifted apart before weren’t complete either and yet the process still broke me. But I’ve learned to be a glowstick. The more you break it, the brighter it glows. A child can crack and snap and bend it beyond repair, but the glowstick only looks prettier, the color inside running free and lighting up the silly little piece of plastic.
And so I’ve learned to accept the fluidity of friendship. I’ve learned that sometimes, the girl you used to tell all your hopes and dreams to can become just another face in the hallway, and that the girl who was once just a Facebook friend can become a beacon of support. Friends, just like so many things in our lives, change. And while change can hurt, it has made me stronger, taught me invaluable lessons and given me moments that have made me love life more than I thought possible. So I’ll take each of my friend’s hands — bony, strong, nearby or unknown — and place a glow stick in each. I’ll tell them: Break me so I can become brighter. Befriend me so I can say, I love you and I loved you.
Getting out of the zone
How this former sports section editor got out of her comfort zone
She told me I was fine, that I just needed to work out more. She happened to have an open slot for the echocardiogram room though, and would it be ok if she just checked that nothing was wrong, just to be sure?
“Yup, there’s a hole” was not supposed to be a part of this hospital visit. I didn’t wake up at 6:30 a.m. on a late start Wednesday in the middle of my sophomore year to be told that I had a congenital heart defect. I was supposed to be in Spanish class in half an hour, not seated next to my sobbing mother as the doctor drew a diagram of the four chambers of the heart on a whiteboard conveniently located in the exam room.
But while my mother may have been completely shocked, I felt, initially at least, relief. All those years of being the last one to finish the mile now made sense. Of never being passed the ball in PE. Of trying ballet, karate, soccer, basketball, swimming, tennis and squash and never really doing well in any of them. On some level I knew somehow that I was different.
Instead, I focused on other, non-athletic pursuits. That was why I joined El Estoque. It started off like all the other hobbies I had tried, not exactly fun, but something to do to pass the time. Then I joined the sports section.
Due to my forced disinterest in athletics, covering a girls water polo game was my first time attending a school sports game. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to it.
But the atmosphere was magnetic. This is what I had been missing out on all those years — the urgency of the players, the excitement of the crowd, the joy of the victory. I finally understood why people refer to their favorite team as “their team.” I was so invested in the game that I felt as though their victory was my own. Although that was the last water polo game of the season, its impact on me was pivotal. I realized that I didn’t have to stop liking sports. In fact, now that I thought about it, I liked basketball. And their games started next week.
I always thought athletics were something I could never be a part of. I thought I just wasn’t meant to be a sports person. But as a sports writer, I learned that there are many more ways to get involved with sports for the less athletically inclined. I got to share the excitement I felt about the games through my stories. I was able to bond with people and make new friends through sports, even though I wasn’t playing. And I learned perhaps the most important lesson that I’ve learned in high school: getting out of your comfort zone can lead to incredibly valuable experiences. It sounds cliché, I know, but only because it’s true. If I had never joined the sports section of El Estoque, I could have spent the rest of my life assuming that I didn’t like sports. I could have cut myself off from such an enriching human experience.
So go ahead. Get out of your comfort zone. Talk to somebody you don’t know, join a club or go to a water polo game. It might just change your life.
Not “bready” for change
Learning to overcome my fear of change
It was two years ago, the memory vivid in my mind to this day. I walk across the street with my friends, laughing and joking about school, as any sophomore girl without a license and a car would do. My friend opens the door to Panera for me and I sit inside. I’m immediately embraced by the smell of baked goods, a mix of cinnamon and chicken noodle soup hits my nose — it’s a feeling of home. I walk up to the counter, to a cashier whose face I can no longer remember, and ask her for the one thing that truly made Panera a wholesome place: the tomato mozzarella panini.
“We don’t have that here anymore,” she states.
I must’ve misheard her.
“It’s been changed,” she says again with a more agitated tone.
The tomato mozzarella panini had become the tomato mozzarella flatbread. Still in shock, I proceeded to order what I always order, but after one more objection from the cashier, I finally ordered the flatbread. How different could it be?
Not even ten minutes later, my name was called, and I made my way to the front, taking the tray from another cashier. I sat down at my table and I took a cautious bite. With my first taste, I had gotten a mouthful of spinach, which used to be non-existent. And the filling was made up of entirely too much tomato and not enough cheese. It was different, wrong.
Now, I know what you’re thinking - that I’m being a bit over the top, or that it couldn’t have been that extreme. After all, it was just a different bread. But it was traumatic enough that I still talk about it today, much to the annoyance of my friends. I complain about the fact that two and a half years later, they still haven’t changed the menu back, despite my numerous complaints. But the panini itself disappearing struck me with more terror then I realized. It was a staple of what made Panera such a big part of my existence It was one of the first eye-opening experiences where I realized that, wow, change sucks. Big time.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve wanted to scream or cry my eyes out when something decides to change without my permission. Like when I first entered Monta Vista, alone and afraid in a school full of Kennedy and Lawson kids, and I had to leave my friends to the mercy of Fremont High School. Or the ever internal struggle of wondering if I’ll make friends in college, or even get along with my roommate. Or even the smallest of things, like Monster Boba closing down, despite having constantly cursed the service and overpriced boba while the store was open.
All of these incidents culminate, making miniscule holes in my heart, like stabbing a knife into me, again and again. And with more changes comes the creation of bigger holes in my heart, until they’re too big to fix. I cower inside of myself, hoping someone will help patch up the fear I feel with change.
But in reality, I know it’s up to me to adjust to whatever I’m worried about. It’s as though I’m a child again, hiding under the covers from the monsters in my closet. Except this time, I’m hiding from the monstrous feelings inside me, telling me that I’m not going to be alright, and that I’ll always be stuck in that pit of despair and anxiety.
But despite this, I like to think that when you first think of Emma Lam, you think of someone with confidence and compassion. You think of someone who’s always ready to pick you up and tell you that everything is going to be okay. Someone who has you feeling like you’re on the top of the world even when something goes wrong. Someone who accepts all of you, even the parts you yourself wish you could get rid of.
But who am I, as someone who has almost cried over a panini, to tell you about the acceptance of change?
As much as I hope to outwardly express this persona, I think it’s time for me to take off the mask and actually step up to that ideal. No more screaming at my father about not wanting to talk about the future because I’m scared. No more feeling insecure when my friends have plans that don’t include me. And as my sister says, “No more thinking about the panini.”
Change is always going to happen whether I like it or not, and it isn’t going to wait for me.
Of course, we all have moments where we feel that the slightest bit of change could destroy the very essence of who we are, or what we’re aspiring to be or do. But at some point, we all have to realize that the people around us aren’t going to put their plans aside and stop to console you. My mother’s patience will run out eventually. My friends are eventually going to give up helping a “lost” cause, and I’ll be forced to accept that I, Emma Lam, am just a being in the ever expanding universe. Time will go on, even if I don’t.
But as I leave behind what some may call my legacy in journalism — being the reliable rock — I’m hoping to take the leap of faith. With small steps, maybe I’ll start to confront this irrational fear of change.
So I revert back to my never ending conundrum of the panini and the flatbread, the perfect combination of tomato and mozzarella and the monstrosity that overtook it ruined it. Maybe I’ll start with accepting the fact that it won’t ever come back. Maybe I’ll accept the fact that Panera isn’t truly my study haven anymore and my go-to hangout.
And soon, I’ll take a deep breath and take that second bite of the tomato mozzarella flatbread.
Finding a way for my thoughts to come to life
I’ve been in love with movies for as long as I can remember.
It all started with a random, 30-minute video I made with my three best friends. Named “The Perfect Crime,” we filmed the entire movie at our houses and even held a “screening” for our parents to watch. Keep in mind, we were in 6th grade. From that point, I decided to make videos more regularly. Soon, I started to upload them onto YouTube. I even started a channel.
Almost every week, I made a new video and sent out a mass email (it never occurred to me to just make my videos public) for my whole family to watch. No, I didn’t become a child sensation or anything but I continued to enjoy myself editing videos and thinking of new ideas. This is when I was only in 6th grade. Now, six years later, my iMovie skills remain as good as ever. This brings me to the next part of the story.
Well, recently, I heard about a psychological term called “personal fable.” According to Einstein, it is defined as a point during adolescence when teens “spend so much time thinking about their own thoughts and feelings that they become convinced they are special” (David Elkind).
The way I interpreted this quote was a bit differently than it may have been intended. I take the “special” part to mean that we are the center of our own universes, as are characters in a movie. We are surrounded by late night drives listening to music, first dates, dances, best friends, fast food at every other meal… so how could we not feel like the main character of any cheesy high school movie?
It sounds very egotistical when I say it, but really, it’s not. It’s actually quite similar to daydreaming, something everyone does. But another part of it comes from a form of my thinking. I feel that people, who are often too wound up in their own worries, stress so much about mediocre concerns that they forget to step back and look at the big, encapsulating picture.
When I’m worrying or overthinking, I notice that I often start to think, “What if we are being watched by someone else?” Because, we wouldn’t even know. They could be watching us as if we are just a movie to them. They, whoever they are, would be laughing at us running around, trying to get into college and find a job as they sit back and relax, enjoying the movie that is our lives.
I realize now that this funny way of thinking could be seen in the types of videos I made. Whether it was singing covers of famous songs or small action movies, my thoughts could come to life. Seeing myself in a universe that I had created for two or three minutes became something I could easily do with my friends. Soon, we all started making videos together.
From sixth grade to now, my video content has obviously changed, but it nevertheless persists. Whether it’s making vlogs with my friends or montages of camping trips, my love for making movies remains. Any time I want to remember a moment, I just hit record. It’s as simple as that.
Both this hobby and the way I think, I believe, have shaped me in an interesting way. I’ve never been one to just go with things. I’ve never wanted a desk job or anything 9 to 5. For most of my childhood, I spent time pretending to be a spy or a pilot or a chef at a famous restaurant. Though I’m not entirely sure what I would like to do at this point, I know I won’t be sitting at a desk for my entire life. Who knows, if things don’t pan out the way I think they will, maybe I’ll become a director.
Taking it to the next level
What I’ve learned from high school — caring is overrated
The things I'll keep
My childhood struggle with the concept of memories materialized in a form that almost all children can relate to — stuffed animals. I’d leave the house with my mom for a walk, stuffed animal in hand. And often, I’d return without it, bursting into tears upon realizing that it was gone far too late. I could only remember it being there and being gone — never anything in between.
Teary-eyed, I kept losing things for another five years or so — jackets, toys, pencils. My mom always reassured me that they were replaceable, but what frustrated me was the way my mind faltered when I tried to retrace my steps. I wasn’t terrified of losing those items — I forgetting about them altogether.
And the terror of forgetting spawned a series of collections, some more ridiculous than others. A binder full of National Park brochures, a row of bags filled with every dance costume I’ve ever worn, a plastic cup from the Hilton hotel we stayed at in Hawaii. This was my way of preserving the details. I wanted the ability to put myself back in that place, to hide in the past. I’d never want to go back to high school. But I know that next year, I’ll try to remember this place again and again, craving the comfort of nostalgia.
I remember the room filling with incessant shouting during APUSH group quizzes and then a sudden silence as we hoped we’d gotten the answers right. I remember leaning my elbows on the stage to take a picture during a drama production’s dress rehearsal. I remember decorating the whiteboard in room A111 with green and red markers, even though Christmas was three months ago.
Most of high school feels like a blur of stereotypes — muted whispers of stress, faint memories of exams, quiet chirps of birds reminding me I should probably be asleep by now. Yet these are some of the moments that stand out boldly against the monotonous backdrop of school. They would be impossible to forget. But that doesn’t stop me from hanging name tags from my lamp, leaving hotel room keys on my bedside table and listing the events of my life in a journal.
Other things are harder to remember — the feel of my worn polyester-silk blanket, the taste of my favorite Earl Grey milk tea from TeaTop, the melody of my mom’s favorite Taiwanese songs. I’ll try to remember that one time in fourth grade when the air smelled like peppermint after one of California’s rare rains. I’ll try to picture the green filter of trees curving overhead to form a tunnel along my favorite path. I’m clinging onto these feelings, somehow fearful that the memories will dissolve when I leave this city.
It’s only now that I realize that I do remember some of the things I left behind. I remember an olive-green knit jacket sitting on a table next to the door of my elementary school music room. I remember leaving a bunny patterned with glow-in-the-dark stars behind in the dirt lining the sidewalk on one of those walks with my mom.
If I can remember those moments, surely I will remember these places and the people who occupy them. Surely it’s impossible to forget the laughter surrounding our family’s mahjong table, the time my sister came to the airport just so she could hand me my new stuffed animal the instant I got into the car, or the conversations I’ve had at 2 a.m. about French homework and friend drama.
I’m scared that somehow the future will find a way to replace these memories because I need them — they give me familiarity in a world where every day is a series of unanswered questions. In June, I’ll leave MVHS. Two months after that, I’ll find myself alone on the other side of the country. I know I can’t take all the little trinkets I’ve stashed in my room with me, and I’m scared that without them, I won’t be able to remember what it felt like to be home.
I will always stay in the compulsive habit of dividing my life into collections and journals, but next year will be different. Next year, the collections themselves will be divided — my treasured pile of mementos will stay here as another pile builds in my dorm room. Maybe I’ll become so preoccupied with remembering those new moments that this life in Cupertino will seem like it’s fading away.
In those moments when I feel too close to forgetting, I’ll comfort myself with the knowledge that these collections will never be more than a flight away. These memories will never be more than a daydream away. Besides, I still remember the little bunny patterned with glow-in-the-dark stars, and I think that perhaps I’ve broken my childhood habit of forgetting.
The right words
I don’t remember much except the shaking of my pigtails as I tried to spell out the word in my head. I froze, but inside my brain was a maelstrom of Greek and Latin roots, suffixes and prefixes I had memorized with due diligence. I tested the word out internally a few times, tentatively whispering it when I had to say it aloud.
“That is correct.” The entire fourth grade section of the auditorium went wild. It was the annual spelling bee at the school I had attended from preschool and would until my eighth grade graduation. As the youngest eligible competitor, I ended up getting second place — I proceeded to misspell “ecclesiastical” in the next round.
My love affair with words started long before I competed in the fourth to eighth grade spelling bee at my school; it started with a book. And as seemingly cliché as it is to admit now, my six-year-old self was enamored by the glory that was “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
My mom or dad would sit next to me and read one chapter every night — no more, no less — despite my desperate pleas to read just one more page. Naturally, after the first two nights, my impatience got the best of me, so I snuck a flashlight into my room and read until about midnight to finish it.
My infatuation was likely due to the mysterious allure of words, the way 26 letters rearranged to form all the English words in existence. I loved the feeling of being sucked into the whirlwind of a good book or article. My blue diaries were full of scrawled stories about sisters and faithful dogs. I became best friends with my dictionary and thesaurus — maybe it was pretentious of me, but I would find the most gargantuan words to say the simplest things (a habit that has stuck).
Although I consider words to be a constant in my life, my words are never constant. They come across as volatile or impassioned and at other times rude or platitudinous. I sometimes speak the pressing things on my mind, while at other times, or even simultaneously, I swallow my words under constant apologies. I am a paradox of words, a deluge of contradictory ideas and feelings that end up confusing and consuming me.
My high school experience has been defined by the confusion that results from not knowing which words to use. I beg my friends or anyone else who happens to be around me to proofread emails and messages before I send them. I fixate on every utterance, so every conversation results in me stammering and backtracking.
In a book I read in sixth grade, the main character describes her thoughts as stars that cannot be fathomed into constellations. I wouldn’t classify my own words at such a stellar level. Sometimes, I ramble on and on until my words begin to resemble the style of the tedious and never-ending “War and Peace.” But other times, my sentences are like the broken chords I create when my fingers slip on the piano — dissonant and cacophonous. Even here, I’ve lost track of where my words are taking me.
I like to consider myself a girl of many interests; I’m an academic, an athlete, an artist. But my first love was for words, and I’ve continued to shape my world around my need to be surrounded and enveloped by the comfort of these combinations of letters — both being on the El Estoque staff and the hours I’ve spent volunteering at a local independent bookstore.
And of all the words I hold dear, I have always tried to pinpoint my favorite, but it’s difficult to pick from the hundreds of thousands of words in the English dictionary. But if I had to right now, I think I’d pick “quintessential.”
I use it for everything. My memories of junior prom include the vast number of Polaroid pictures I took and the possibly deleterious amounts of chocolate I consumed, but it would not be complete without saying it was a quintessential part of my hardest year at MVHS. The sky at senior sunrise may have been disappointingly grey, and I may have complained about waking up at 5 a.m., but that too was quintessential. Admittedly, the word has reached a point of overuse and may have lost its meaning, but that’s because of how excited I am by the novelty of these experiences.
When I make memories, I safely tuck them away in a soft cocoon of words. I record all my experiences — through pictures, videos and journal entries — so that I can have the same rush of emotion when I go back to the momentous (and not-so-momentous) events of my life as the first time.
Definition: of or relating to the most perfect embodiment of something.
Quintessential to me: words.
Hear me out
Quiet. If anyone had asked me to describe myself a couple years ago, my answer would have been automatic: quiet. That was my identity. The one who never talks in class. The one who never acts silly in front of others. The one who never argues. The quiet girl.
For a long time, I despised how shy I was. How my face would ripen like a tomato when someone I barely knew greeted me across the hallways. How my tongue would get caught between my teeth as I attempted public speaking. How my legs would shake when I was called on during class.
I used to blame my upbringing. As an only child with two introverted parents, I never stood a chance. My parents never yelled at me and I didn’t have any siblings to argue with, so silence was normal for me, maybe even comfortable. It wasn’t my fault that I never had the opportunity to become loud and outgoing.
When high school came around and teachers began to grade based on participation, I blamed society. No one advocates for the quiet people, I thought. Everyone always wants you to be outspoken and loud. They don’t understand how your throat seems to close up. They don’t understand how as much as you want to speak, anxiety tugs your words back down and churns them in your stomach.
With every shbowl discussion, the familiar shaking of my legs and pain in my lungs would appear. But along with that, there was that voice in my head that said it was okay to be quiet. It was society’s fault for pushing these standards. There was nothing wrong with being quiet.
Until that point, my reserved personality had never hurt anyone. Teachers didn’t seem to mind my introversion, I wouldn’t get into arguments easily and I was known as a good student. I thought I could just continue through life being known as the quiet girl. The one who always listens respectfully. The one who doesn’t argue. The quiet one.
But all of that changed within the first few weeks of joining journalism. I had forgotten to add another staff member’s name to the byline for helping me report on a story. It wouldn’t have mattered if my editor hadn’t praised me in front of the entire staff for my reporting, the reporting that someone else had done. My eyes widened and I searched for her amidst the sound of applause that was making my heart beat even louder. Her eyes met mine and for a second I thought, she would speak up. She would tell them that she did that part of the reporting, not me. But she just looked back down, a tinge of sadness on her face. My hand left my lap and I opened my mouth to speak, but I hesitated. I tried again, but it was too late — we were already moving on.
The second there was a break in class, I rushed to her and apologized, the familiar redness of my cheeks engulfing me as my tongue tripped on every word. She smiled and told me it was fine, but the look of disappointment was still on her face as I walked away. I messaged my editor the truth and added her name to the article, but I knew my moment to make things right had passed. In that moment, I couldn’t blame my upbringing. I couldn’t blame society. I could only blame myself.
Ironically, I joined journalism with the notion that there was no need for me to learn to speak up since I could just convey myself through written words. With words, I had power. I could give a voice to the voiceless, those who couldn’t speak up just like me. But then I thought, how could I do that if I didn’t even have a voice?
It was in that moment that I decided I couldn’t stay hidden in my familiar identity any longer. Whether it was asking a question during class or raising my volume a little higher during a speech, I worked to talk more.
Little by little, the trudge to the front of the room seemed less like a hike up Mount Everest and more like walking on a trail. And with that feeling came another one that I had never felt before. It was only a faint whisper, but it was still there: con dence. Up until then, I had never felt the freedom to speak without fear.
Before I leave high school, I want to ful ll the mission that drove me into journalism in the first place: to give a voice to the voiceless. So to those who struggle with public speaking, to those who fear group discussions, to the quiet ones: there will come a day when you cannot ignore the words that are piling up in your throat just waiting to come out. When you know that if you don’t say something, no one will. And I know it’s hard. But the only thing worse than feeling the fear in your chest is knowing that you could have made a difference if you had just decided to speak. And all you can do is blame yourself for not trying hard enough, for not being strong enough. So I urge you not to let this fear consume you any longer. Don’t be the quiet one. Let your words come out. The world will thank you for it.
Curly hair, slightly care
The first thing you might notice about me is my big, at times puffy and unmanageable curly hair. The second thing you might notice is that I don’t straighten it. Yet for three years in a row, at least one of my friends has bought me a hair straightener for my birthday. I still don’t know why they gave them to me, but at one point I had a drawer in my bathroom stacked with three unopened hair straighteners.
A year ago, I finally opened one of those straighteners to do my hair for junior prom. For two hours, my sister pressed my frizzy, curly hair into submission with the flat iron and slowly silenced my loud curls with brutal heat.
“Your hair looks so much better!”
In the hour that my friends and their dates arrived at my house, I received more compliments on my hair than ever before. But I felt horrible. My natural hair is frizzy, unpredictable and not all that conventionally “pretty.” And yet, it’s really grown on me.
But it wasn’t always this easy to love my hair.
If I had one word to describe having curly hair, it would be “difficult.” Going to school five minutes after I wake up has never been an option for me, as I spend at least 15 minutes in the bathroom trying to calm down the frizz and forcing it into different hairstyles until it’s slightly tamed and presentable.
And getting my haircut is always embarrassing, having to constantly help the hairdresser when her comb gets entangled in my curls.
But worst of all is having to deal with people’s comments. Throughout my life, I can’t tell you how many people think they are doing me a favor by suggesting that I straighten my hair or tie it into a bun so it doesn’t look as “big.” And then there are the people who pet my hair, like it’s some kind of animal, saying, “It’s so soft!”
Every broken rubber band, every bent bobby pin and every bad hair day have made it hard to love my curly hair.
When I was young, I believed that the straight-haired people won. I didn’t see anyone with straight hair getting their hair petted or getting advice to curl their hair. So naturally, I became obsessed — I would point to images of straight hair when the barber asked what I wanted. I begged my parents, crying, asking them to let me permanently straighten my hair so that I’d fit in. I took longer showers so that the hot water flattened my hair just a little more.
I had nobody to relate to and came dangerously close to pulling a Brittany and shaving it all off. I was obsessed with an elementary school myth that when curly-haired people shave their heads, it becomes straight when it grows back.
As I was growing up, I never saw any characters on Disney Channel with curly hair like me. I never saw shampoo ads assuring curly-haired kids of frizz-free hair. Even in my family, nobody has curly hair. My parents told me I was special, but I just felt unlucky.
This feeling followed me until the beginning of junior year. I remember walking into journalism one day when someone asked me what hair product I use. That’s when I noticed that she shared my curly hair curse. For the first time, it started to feel less like a curse and more like a bond with a new friend.
As the year went on, I began to notice more people with the same hair as me. I realized that I had never been alone — I just wasn’t looking at the right places. I chose to ignore what I didn’t want to see so that I could continue to hate my hair. But slowly, as I met more people who (and whose hair) I could connect with, my embarrassment of curly hair turned to admiration of its uniqueness.
It felt good not to rely on long showers and be consumed with others’ unpredictable and unwanted opinions of my hair. By no means was it a smooth transition; it was a journey filled with every curl condenser and frizz reliever out there. But everything became simpler once I embraced my quirks and found people to connect with.
I do still feel extremely insecure about my hair, and most days, I leave it up in a tight ponytail. But it’s when people like my parents, my sister, my best friends and my journalism teacher encourage me to let my hair down that I begin to love it.
Those curls have become a part of who I am. My hair is crazy. But it works out, because so am I.
The morning after prom, I came home and showed my dad all the photos, but he didn’t seem that excited.
“You look horrible with that hair.”
After that entire weekend and after all these years, my dad’s insult to my straight hair was the biggest compliment I ever could have wished for.