The best $294 I ever spent: Getting my hair braided

“Have you ever grown your hair?” Michael, my boyfriend, hummed as he combed through the curls on my head.

Usually, this question came from intrusive acquaintances or opinionated aunts, leading me to close or avoid the discussion altogether. But my lover’s careful hands successfully disarmed me.

In the bathroom mirror, I watched her fingers carefully untangle my ends and move towards my roots. The tenderness imitated a slow kiss: poised, unhurried, precise. It was the kind of grace I thought I gave to my hair, but then I realized I hadn’t and maybe never had.

My morning routine offered compassion for my T-zone and its dry patches, gave my lash lines time and their habit for bold cat eyes. But as for my hair, I was often impatient, tactless, lacking in care for her needs.

“Yes. Well, I tried,” I replied. “Honestly, I just don’t really understand my hair.”

“You have a lot of hair,” Michael said, still combing his hair. “You just need to be gentle.”

The truth is, I hadn’t just tried – I was yearning for long hair. I dreamed of an Angela Davis for, a Diana Ross for, a Nina Simone for. I wanted my folds to bounce and bounce, shamelessly block people’s view, testify to the beauty of the dark. However, desire cannot undo years of permanent damage and hair loss.

I had memorized all the golden rules, the layer hair commands:

you will hydrate regularly
you will be deep condition
you will wear a silk scarf to bed
you will cling to a protective style

Yet all of my shea butter attempts to properly maintain my 4C curls seemed to be doing nothing. And after a nightmare experience that started with the heavy hands of a stylist and ended with a bald spot in the middle of my head, I completely gave up on trusting the growing process. Anytime it took on an awkward length – that is, the length that needed more attention than a quick combing and sloppy scalp oiling – I would run to the nearest barbershop and give up my TWA confused (teeny-weeny afro) to the decisive character of a hair clipper.

As much as I yearned for a big and shiny fro, it was less disappointing to maintain a routine of buzzcutting every now and then. With their heads shaved, no one asked uncomfortable questions or made unwarranted comments. Best of all, I didn’t have to deal with the appearance insecurities that sent my mind back to Tweendom.

Yet despite the shame I harbored for not growing my hair out, a tiny desire to keep trying persisted.

“I thought about having my hair braided, but I’m a little scared,” I said, as Michael worked on baby’s tender hair. I was still looking in the mirror, but now I was looking at myself.

After a few days, I walked through the rabbit hole which is YouTube’s natural hair universe. I usually took this trip before making a major decision, like choosing a deep conditioner, breaking up with coconut oil, or giving up chemical treatments for good. Now, however, nine years after discovering this part of the internet, all of the tips for healthy curls were still the same. Like chants, these digital sisters reiterated all the diaper commands, and they echoed in my head over and over again:

you will hydrate regularly
you will be deep condition
you will wear a silk scarf to bed
you will cling to a protective style

Finally, I said a reluctant amen to this latest diaper order and the Google braiding salons in Harlem. The abundance of stores in my area overwhelmed me. I was so used to the suburbs of Texas and the lack of options, but here there was practically a lounge on every other block. I picked a store with 4.5 stars, Covid-19 safety guidelines, and no lost edges report as a winner.

The salon’s website listed 19 different braid and twist styles. My favorites ranged from $ 200 for spring twists to $ 300 for hip length braids. In the past, I would have tapped at this point and opted for my mom’s friend from a friend of a friend of a friend, who could charge closer to $ 100 or $ 150, on top of that.

But lower rates, while more alluring, would most likely (at best) result in a random stranger pulling and pulling and shaming my hair for six to eight long, long hours; at worst, in another bald disaster. While my budget is admittedly tight, spending a few hundred dollars on a reputable stylist seemed justified to me. Especially since, if done right, these styles can often last up to eight weeks.

After going back and forth between box braids and passionate twists, I settled for the classic ‘do braid, which was priced at $ 250 for a length that reached the middle of the back.

The choice of box braids evoked a feeling of reconnection with youth. When I was a teenager, my mom encouraged me to choose this style, and I always happily accepted. If she had the time and the energy, she could even do the braids herself. I sat between his knees and kissed the prolonged closeness – the soft power of his hands adorning my head, the Nollywood movie playing loud in the background, the little breaks we took to eat plantains or chins, the buoyancy. of her thick Nigerian accent when she asserted me.

“You are going to be so pretty!”

“Wow, you look good, oh!”

As I made the appointment, I crossed my fingers to feel a sort of cosmic reunion with the security I had experienced while settling in my mother’s lap.

On the day of the appointment, the Harlem sky swayed like a cerulean cloth, and the glow of the sun shone slightly. Outside the brownstone living room, a dark-haired man was selling watermelon and mango, which I accepted as a good sign.

Upon entering, the sighting felt intensified by everyone’s masks. All I could see were round eyes, almond eyes, small eyes, big eyes, all eyes on me until three or four seconds passed, then the coin came back. to his light chatter. Soon a friendly voice greeted me, and suddenly I became aware of the fragrant melody in the air, cocoa, tea tree oil, lavender, and I was breathing deeply again. While Corinne Bailey Rae performed, a beaming woman introduced herself as Sonnie.

My mates often tease me for being sentimental, which is 100% true. I try (and usually fail) to avoid this part of my nature, but a few things here made it impossible:

  1. Sonnie touched my hair and didn’t moan about the evil.
  2. Sonnie touched my hair and asked if I was tender.
  3. Sonnie touched my hair and told me to speak if she was pulling, pulling or pulling.
  4. Sonnie touched my hair and told me to never let my friends or my boyfriend, or anyone for that matter, pull, pull or pull.
  5. Sonnie touched my hair and started to sing along with Corinne.

And I swear I’m not being dramatic when I say this date redeemed me, when I say for the first time I didn’t feel my hair was a burden. Sonnie was doing each braid as if she was rocking a baby or teaching someone to hold onto. Every now and then she would ask me how I was, sometimes two or three times in a row. While braiding, she told me about her cats, her iguanas, her dogs. Sonnie told me that she was too outgoing for her 40s, which made me wonder if she was trying to say she was alone. There were no Nigerian chins or accents, but the soft power my mother possessed was in Sonnie’s hands as well. Maybe all black women have it.

After four hours of castor oil kissing the scalp, the extensions finally completely enveloped my head. For two bundles of hair, styling fees, service charges, and taxes, the total cost was $ 294.73. I swiped my card, feeling satisfied and cared for.

Later, I faced my mom to show her.

“It looks beautiful,” she said. “But how much did it cost?”

Hesitantly, I told him. She screamed. I rolled my eyes and frowned. I wanted to tell him about the smell of cocoa, mango brownstone, Sonnie and his soft power. But before I could, my mom laughed.

“Well you look good, oh!”

Loré Yessuff writes poems and essays on the intersection of intimacy and identity. His work has appeared in the Modern Love column of the New York Times, Man Repeller, Voicemail Poems, etc.