Prissy isn’t pretty

I was always obsessed with being pretty, even more than most little girls, I think. My great grandma knew. From the time I was a toddler, she would put her long aprons on me, tying it around me like a long gown, and put pretty bows in my curls, and rub her sweet smelling lotion on my arms and face. Being with her was like magic. Like the way the sun feels on my face when the ocean has misted it over. That’s how I felt with her.  I remember dancing all over the house in those apron gowns, and she would laugh and clap and tell me I was a beautiful dancer. One day, I couldn’t have been more that 2 1/2, my mother caught me in grandma’s room  trying to reach her lotion, and slapped me hard across the face, telling me to stay out of people’s things, then tore the apron off of me. I sat on the floor crying and my sweet, gentle great grandma came in and picked me up, smoothed my hair and kissed my tears, and I remember how utterly safe I felt when I put my tiny arms around her neck and melted into her, shaking, while she held me until my shaking stopped.

She put the gown back on me, and took me by the hand and led me into the living room. My mother said to everyone that I was the prissiest child she had ever seen, and looked at me with what felt like hate. Grandma said something like “Geraldine, she is the prettiest child I have ever seen,” and looked at me with what I knew to be love, and she was the only one in my world who ever looked at me like that.  But, I was still ashamed of being in the apron gown then, and always took it off in a panic when my mother was pulling into the driveway to pick me up from there.

When I was about 4, my mother stopped taking me to Grandma’s house. She said it was because Uncle Willy (her uncle who lived with Grandma) taught me how to roll cigarettes. He didn’t buy them in packs, and so when I sat watching t.v. with him, he let me help him roll them. He was nice to me, and I liked rolling the cigarettes with him. He never did things to me when I sat on his lap like Bruce.  We got a maid and I stayed home with her. I missed my great grandma like crazy, and I still do.

One day, when I was 6,  Mom walked in while I was watching t.v. and posing like a beautiful woman I saw on a commercial, and flipping my long hair back, which was something I did a lot. I loved my hair.  It was summer and I was wearing my bathing suit. She jerked me by the arm, hit me hard on my butt and told me to go get some clothes on and stop flaunting myself. She came into my room and stared at me for a long time while I did my best to hide my face from her so she wouldn’t see I had tears.  “You will never look like those women, so stop trying to make people look at you.” I didn’t know what she meant, just maybe that I wasn’t pretty like the women on t.v.

One morning not long after, she came in to my room and caught me wearing a lace curtain I’d taken from the laundry and wrapped around me like a ballgown, dancing around, and watching myself in the mirror. She took the curtain and left my room. When she got home from work, she told me she was taking me to get my hair done with her. I was soooo excited! I had never had my hair cut, and it was long, thick and curly, and the thing people noticed most about me. I wanted bangs like my friend. and long ringlets. When we got there, the women in the shop gathered around me to touch my hair and talk about how beautiful my long auburn hair was. Then one of them took me by the hand and went to wash my hair. It was just so lovely. I thought she was going to make me look beautiful. And that is the last thought I can bring to mind about being in the salon.

I cannot remember anything about sitting in that chair getting my hair cut, or the ride home, dinner, nothing.  I only remember standing in my room looking in my mirror and seeing my head, with my hair cut so so short, like a little boy’s, up and over the ears and none on the neck. I got my long blue coat, and put it over my head, even though it was summer. I wore that coat on my head all day and night, every day, the entire summer.  Yeah, I was still prissy.

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