On this beautiful 4th of July and my 16th birthday, father walks me through the busy streets of Bucharest, in front of a hair salon he stops and tells me to wait, moments later a woman steps outside they exchange a few words and then she turns to me, grabs my hand drags me inside the parlor plopping me onto a discolored, old swirling chair loomed by a fuzzy mirror.
-La multi ani, frumoaso, (happy birthday, beautiful) she goes all cream and honey, your father paid for your hair to be done, how would you like it?
-I don't know, I utter.
Snap and all business she hands me a stack of beat up tired pictures of women sporting perfect hair dues in black and white. With her breathing down my face I settle for a luscious wavy due. Minutes later I act as if strapped to an electric chair, I yelp in pain and wrestle the hairstylist hands off my scalp, my hair, my shadow. All eyes are on me, glances and smirks fly across blow dryers and fans combs and hair brushes bouncing off all mirrors. I care not about the spectacle, I am in pain! I can't tolerate anyone touching my hair not even for the great cause of grooming me glamorous!
Old memories resurface as the most painful phase unfolds; the removal of torture metallic rollers; captive on a shaky backless chair with mother's hands in my hair, the early morning agony of untangling long stubborn hair with a fine tooth bone comb. I’d scream in pain and she’d hit me and continue scraping and stretching my scalp stopping only to roll round clumps into hair balls to be tossed outside in the yard. Her superstitious beliefs about hair growing healthier if chucked against the wind. The painful stretching of my scalp the braids that made my eyes stretch half closed in pain and childhood scars run hold on my senses while increasingly hyper I eye a way out of this perfumed torture chamber. Pain for glamour does not suit me!
Later on the sidewalk while waiting for father, I run my hands through stiff sausage like curls lining my head in resemblance of the national sheepskin hat of Moldova. I totally dislike the due yet pretend to be delighted with it when father tops my birthday surprise with dinner at a neighborhood eatery. The persisting theme of my bittersweet 16 is that even gifts of love at times can shape tormented encounters.