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Get Out: A Hair Horror Story

 photo getout.jpg
by Valencia Clement

I saw women walk in and out
Of the doors of Felicia’s house for years.
Her house was older than ours
& there were vines that lined the wooden panels
on top of the walkway to the backyard,
It was quite an odd sight for Jamaica Ave
I swore that place had magic,
Women would walk in one way
And come out a little different, with a pep in their step

My mom finally let me come inside with her
One day in elementary school
“but you have to be quiet” she said
When I stepped inside Felicia’s house
Her kitchen was unlike any kitchen I’d ever seen

The sinks weren’t for dishes or food.
They were for Mizani and Just For Me.
Most of the time I played outside with the boys
Skating, racing and wrestling on the concrete.
I wanted to have a little taste of the women’s world
The moment this crossed my mind, I heard an inaudible whisper.
The next day was most dreaded day, wash day.
It’s not that I didn’t want to be clean,
There just had to be a better way, I thought
As my mom poured another bowl of water over my head

I covered my mouth and nose when I felt the
Soapy water stream down my temples, into my ears
My mom began combing through my coils
& She broke a comb in my coils
But that wasn’t all… something broke inside of her
She was done.

By Friday, I was at Felicia’s house
& The small indistinguishable whisper had grown quite annoying.
Felicia cloaked me in a black cape
Smeared petroleum jelly on my edges and scalp
And began coating my hair in opaque whiteness
It was cool at first then I felt a light stinging

Light stinging transformed
into intense agony in moments
But I did everything in my power to keep
my pain from escaping my body
but I failed and a whisper escaped like a small scream
I smiled as a tear fell from my eye.
Get Out!

The most painful infliction was the silence…
From Felicia,
From the other women in the salon,
From my mother.

I let out a silent “help” seep from my eyes
And my mother jumped to my rescue
Thank God, I thought.
“Felicia, it’s time,” she said
but Felicia said, “no, her hair is thick”
She couldn’t save me.

I got up and paced in pain
And felt a cool breeze coming from the open door
I looked outside and saw the boys playing outside
What did I do? I thought as I burst into tears

Felicia rushed me to the sink
And washed my coils, kinks and chemicals down the drain
When she was finished
She sat me in front of the mirror
I saw my mother’s confused eyes in the mirror
I studied the room and saw unbothered women
Waiting under dryers for their turn at the chair.
I looked outside
The sun had gone down
& novelas were playing from Felicia’s living room.
I finally glanced at the stranger in front of me
& Ay Dios Mio shrilled at the top of the tv actress’ lungs

My hair lay limp, dead and wet
On my shoulders
“Do you like your hair?” Felicia said
No, No, N-No, No, No, No, No, I thought
But I breathed in, exhaled and smiled
“It’s lovely, thank you”

Valencia is a Haitian-American poet from Jamaica, New York. She graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2016, and is currently pursing her Masters in education policy. She believes art is the intermediary to finding truth. She hopes to empower other people to express their collective histories through creative expression.

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