Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Glitter Hair Barbie.

Note: When I began writing about losing my hair as a child, I was surprised at how many detailed memories I had locked away in my brain. I think I got that ability from my mother (that, and my nose, apparently).

This is a new draft of an excerpt that I've shared online in the past. Writing is, after all, re-writing...right?


* * *

"That looks dangerous."

I watched as my sister climbed onto a small blue plastic chair and reached for a pair of scissors our mother kept on the kitchen counter.

Naomi didn't reply, but grabbed the scissors and jumped off the chair. Her feet landed softly on the linoleum floor and she motioned me. "Come on," she said.

I followed, as usual, and watched my 10-year-old idol swagger from the kitchen to the living room--scissors firmly in hand, confidence radiating from her small frame.

She bounced toward a bin filled with dolls and accessories. The only dolls we played with as children were Barbies (and her friends). I was fascinated by their delicate, plastic features, and the variety of shoes available for her oddly-shaped feet. It didn't bother me then that none of the dolls looked like real women, and there were certainly no dolls that looked like me. All I cared about when dressing the dolls were if their evening gowns matched their purses.

Na put the scissors on the living room end table and reached into the bin. She pulled out a brunette doll in a yellow skirt and orange shirt.

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"Cut her hair."

I frowned. It was technically my doll. My mother bought it for me after an enormous amount of pestering every time the commercial played. The doll was part of a trio of Glitter Hair Barbie dolls that each came with a special comb and a tube of glitter. The commercial for the dolls showed young girls combing glitter into the dolls' hair, and then into their own hair. I only used the glitter once before my mother realized how messy it was. She took the glitter away, but I didn't protest. The doll's neon red palm tree earrings and sleek yellow visor were enough for me.


I looked at Glitter Hair Barbie's long brown hair, and said to Na, "I don't think that's a good idea."

"I'm not gonna cut a lot of it," Na replied. She began setting up shop, turning the doll upside down and combing her fingers through the synthetic hair.

"Give her to me."

Na ignored me.

"Give her to me!" I shouted. I reached over and grabbed the doll away. I could feel myself beginning to cry and turned away so Na wouldn't see. Na never cried, and I didn't want her to make fun of me.

"You're such a baby," she said, rolling her eyes, and left the room.

I grabbed a Barbie-sized brush from the bin of dolls and sat down on the floor alone. I ran the brush slowly and gently through the doll's hair, the same way my mother brushed my own hair. "You have to be gentle," she would say, "or you'll pull more hair out."

There were no more tears threatening to burst from my eyes. Instead, I felt proud of myself for saving the doll. Poor Glitter Hair Barbie, I thought. There was no reason she should lose any of her hair. She didn't do anything to deserve it.

"What are you doing?"

I looked up. My mother walked into the living room and sat down on the sofa. Still clutching the doll, I went to sit next to her as she turned on the television to resume the videotaped Chinese drama she was watching.

"Mommy?" I asked after a few minutes of the tape. "Can you braid my hair?" I had seen her braid Na's hair so many times. She used to braid my hair too--and curl it and style it and pin it up--but she stopped once my hair started to fall out. Now, she only touched my hair to cover the bald spots.

She looked at me and smiled that familiar, warm smile she put me to bed with every night. "Here," she said in Cantonese, and motioned to the floor in front of her. "Sit."

I sat down on the plush maroon carpet while my mother reached for the plastic comb on the end table where Na had left the scissors. My mother was always careful when it came to my hair because she was afraid that any tension would pull more strands out. She didn't want to cause any more damage. She took her role as a mother seriously: whatever she could do to shield me from pain, she did it.

She ran the comb slowly and gently through my hair. I knew that was all she would do. We sat quietly as the television played. I bent Glitter Hair Barbie into a sitting position, put her on the carpet in front of me, and began to braid her hair.

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