My mom’s long, black, beautiful hair defined her. That, and her wonderfully exotic eyes, darkly lit, rising up at the edges — before she ruined everything with her Americanized cuts, perms, and plastic surgery.
Except for the long hair, I definitely did not take after my mom.
One day out of nowhere, while traipsing along on a military base near Louisville, my mom grabbed me, put me in the car, and drove me to get my hair cut.
Naturally, she was a huge proponent of haircuts, having gotten her long locks chopped off the minute she arrived in America on the arm of her newly acquired Army sergeant husband. Chopped shoulder-length, tied up for her many wigs.
It was quite possibly the worst day of my entire life.
For those first five halcyon years, I, too, had long and flowing black-brown, beautiful hair, halfway down my back. I intended to keep growing it until maybe past my butt.
My long hair made me feel special, girly, worthy of love. Rather, this boy named Billy made me feel that way. His mantra used to both excite and scare me: “If you didn’t have long hair, I wouldn’t like you.”
My mom didn’t give two shits about me or my puppy love with Billy.
“Umma!” I cried. “Billy only likes long-hair girls! I don’t want you to cut it! If you cut it, he won’t be my boyfriend!”
“What you say, hah? Boyfriend? You too young for boys. Never mind!”
“I like my long hair. I don’t like short!”
“Eh, you shut up!”
I don’t know why she made me cut my hair when she knew how much I adored it long, one of the only things I clearly loved about myself, my one shining gift.
Oh how I cried and cried, violent bitter futile tears. I twisted and turned in the passenger seat, slamming my head against the car window, completely unhinged. She cursed in Korean, slapped me hard, and stood over the hairdresser with this huge shit-eating grin on her face, as huge chunks of my hair fell away.
As if to ease the pain, she patted my head and said, “You look much better your hair cut short.”
I hated her for a long time after that incident. But she would make up for it soon enough with another incident, then another, until I couldn’t count the times she fucked me over, just for the hell of it. Or, maybe to mindlessly exercise her own power after living such a powerless life of her own as a child.
At least I only received one slap on the head for talking back. When she was a girl, her (adoptive) mom would repeatedly punch her, throw her around the room, and kick her until she blacked out.
The next day, Billy took one look at me, and ran.
In hindsight, I didn’t look all that awful with short hair. I’ve gone shoulder-length for most of my life since then. But that experience taught me to let people be who they are. It probably also saved me from turning into a raging control freak like my mom.
But the perms, dear god. I can still hear that kid in second grade taunting me, “Hey you look like a Chinese Shirley Temple!”