Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil

I spent my childhood sitting between my mother’s thighs. I spent my Sunday’s sitting before her on the thin rug on the concrete floor as she did my hair. My mother loved me, but late in the evening, on this day of rest, I was not so sure. After dinner my mother had me wash my hair so we could begin brushing and blow drying it before it got late. The rich food in my stomach began to churn with anxiety. I hated Sundays; it meant having my hair done. It meant hating myself for an hour and a half. My throat burned and my chest felt tight as I got into the shower. For a minute I considered not putting my hair under the water, a rebellion that was only defeated by the weight of obligation. I do not know if I had started crying before or after the water ran down my hair, but the water from the showerhead distorted my tears and it made them less special. My eyes could not focus, not on the porcelain tub, or the dark black curtain, or the cracks in the cream shower tiles. I shampooed my hair and when I rinsed I let the product burn my eyes until I could not cry without it hurting. I filled my hand and the greater part of my fingers with conditioner and scrubbed it through my hair. My hair went down falling past the middle of my back, it was thick, encompassed with large curls and variant tangles. Under the water my hair grew to resemble an unnatural bird’s nest made from littered trash. I attempted rinsing out all of the conditioner from my hair. My mother would scold me later for having left product residue in my hair. Getting out of the shower, I looked at how my hair curled in every direction. I lost my hand reaching deep inside my hair to pull on my knotted roots. This is going to hurt.

I prepared for my mother to do my hair the way a soldier prepares to go to war, methodically and with little ceremony. I gathered the weapons of choice from under the sink in the bathroom; they felt heavier than they should have. The blow dryer held in my right hand, like a gun. The poignant smell of greasy coconut oil, held in my left hand, was metallic and reminded me of blood. My only reprieve was an apple scented detangler spray, a smell that to this day still makes me smile. I grabbed the brush, uncoiled the extension cord, and waited for my mother to sit behind me in the ugly pistachio green chair I was graced to sit before every Sunday.

She started by telling me that I should have combed my hair before I sat in front of her; I said nothing because she was right. She divided my hair into sections, pulling at the roots and ends until she was satisfied. She couldn’t see how this action made my eyes water. She would oil, detangle, brush, blow, and brush again. I hated the brush, the wide plastic bristles with little knobs on the end impaled my hair, and it ripped and tore and yanked. I remember how my sister would laugh at the faces I made and how my grandmother came out of her room waiting for my tears. The blow dryer was too hot and the air burned the back of my neck and the tips of my ears. We were not even half way finished.

My mother was a different person when she did my hair. Looking back I think she hated the process as much as I did. I like to pretend it was because she hated the idea of hurting me. She huffed impatiently as she combed through my hair. She told me to turn my head left, but it was not left enough, so she yanked me by my hair into position. In an act of self-preservation I could feel myself moving away from her, but she hit me with the brush for being difficult. My throat would burn with desperate sobs that tried to claw their way out of my throat. I looked up at my sister and grandmother; they were leaning in close to me waiting for me to cry. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths. I told myself to stop, stop thinking, stop wanting to cry, stop breathing. I promised that they would not have my tears. I broke that promise ten minutes later.

As she finished the last few sections, she was kinder to me. She spoke with soft words and gentle encouragements. I hated that she pretended that the last hour and a half had not happened. It was like the tears in the shower that never really meant anything. When she finished I could feel her relax as she sighed behind me. I got up hoping to make a quick escape, but she would not allow it. She stopped me looking into my red swollen eyes and she made me give her a hug and a kiss. It should not have felt so good to be held by her.

I could never find the process worth it. I was not somehow more attractive or more desirable because suddenly I could run my fingers through my hair. It burdened me; it made me apathetic about my own femininity. I sat before my mother every Sunday until I was eighteen because I couldn’t stand touching my own hair. I gathered all the materials and walked slowly into the bathroom. I never looked in the mirror right away. I wanted to be unburdened by my abusers; I needed to hide the tools which caused so much physical and emotion pain between me and my mother. Finally I looked up into the mirror at my hair neatly braided and tucked behind my ears. I looked at my face and cried simply to see what I looked like when I cried, and then I smiled to see if I was magically beautiful. I was not. I went back in the family room where everyone was watching television. They looked at me with something like pity. I sat on my mother’s lap and thanked her.


Cheyanne Akmal is a student at Fullerton College.


 

Lyublyu

Lyublyu

(“Love” in Russian)

The first time I met you, you looked like a lost boy. Your hair was haphazardly buzz cut. You were missing a couple teeth. You had tiny dark circles surrounding your eyes. You were seven years old. Half my size. Adorable. Distant. After ten long minutes, you looked straight at me, and, with a sudden jerk, puked all over my shirt. I was in love.

I do not mean love in the sense you probably think I do. I do not mean love in the way fairytales dress it up or how Hollywood movies capture it on the silver screen. In this story, I mean love in the only way orphans, like us, can love. For us family-less few, love is as illusory as a vivid dream forgotten in the waking moments of dawn—clearly there for one long second, hopelessly out of reach the next—but it is also real, unblinking. Like the sun itself. A final verdict.

After all, you were just like me. You were a genuine sirota, a little Russian orphan girl. Your hair was kept short to keep the lice and bed bugs out. Your daily diet included kasha and bread, and your clothes were a hodgepodge of colors, styles and sizes because in an orphanage you wear what you get and you may only “get” once a year. I knew exactly how hungry you were, how tired you felt, how scared.

For I, too, was taken away. At four. My mother had spent almost every day of those four years abandoning me in order to look for her drink. One day, the police finally had it with the neighbor’s complaints that there was a child crying next door, so they took me. What do I remember from that time? The waiting. I waited for her. At home, at the police station, at the orphanage, even some days now. But she never came for me.

I moved–from slum, to orphanage, to the home of the total strangers who adopted me. I moved from Russia to the United States. Everywhere I moved, I waited. I could not speak the language my new parents spoke, I did not like the new food we ate, and nothing around me seemed recognizable those first few years. (You have to understand: the process of adoption is never explained to the chosen child being handed off. I mean, how could it be? “Hi there. We are your brand new family. Now follow us to a home as unknown as your future and trust us with your life. Oh, and forget everything you already think you know, starting with your name.” It doesn’t really roll off the tongue well in any language.)

So what could I do? Wait. Wait for my mother. Wait for my father. Wait for someone to come and tell me who I was and where I belonged. I would wait forever until finally, one day, my adoptive family moved to the United States, and they decided to adopt you.

I waited for you at the airport. I waited, not sure what to expect. I was scared of you before we even met. I thought you were my replacement. But then I saw you for the first time. Actually, I could say, “I saw me.” In that instance, I understood who I was, and it didn’t even matter because you were there. Finally. After ten long minutes, you looked straight at me, and, with a sudden jerk, puked all over my shirt. I was in love.

You are a sirota. Your mother was in jail, your father not around. You spent some time at your grandmother’s but she was very old and very poor, so it wasn’t meant to last. They sent you to an orphanage. Your hair was cut, your clothes replaced. You lived with a bunch of wild kids. A wild life. No parents, family, tradition, protection. You had to put yourself first. Eat quickly. Hoard your things under the pillow. Watch out for the big kids and the even bigger adults. They hit hard and ran fast, but you’d learn to hide. You’d learn to get good at waiting.

Then, like me, you were adopted. But being adopted was not all you hoped it will be. For you, it meant being pulled from a place you knew and were accustomed to. When you lived in Russia in the orphanage, you still spent occasional weekends at your grandmother’s house with your five other sisters. Your grandfather was a drunk but good ol’ Babushka always tried to take care of you. Although the orphanage was barely tolerable, you at least had those weekends. But being adopted took that from you. Being adopted meant entering an unknown life, with an unknown language, an unknown world. Your hair was cut, and you were thrown onto a plane. No one told you anything except that “you’d better behave.” The first time you met me, you were scared. We both had to wait awhile. Finally, after ten long minutes, you looked straight at me, and, with a sudden jerk, puked all over my shirt. (I was in love.)

Now you are grown. You have such long and sweeping dark hair that I wonder how anyone could have ever cut it in the first place. All your teeth are in and your clothes fit because they are your clothes. You are nineteen years old and still half my size. Gorgeous but distant. Only I can tell that you are still as wild as you once were. There is not enough makeup in this world to hide the blackness around your eyes and the fear creeping in along your face. A woman just barely, you look as if though you are about to throw up again…

But this time you won’t look at me. Your wildness has taken over, and you are back to being the sirota you once were, long ago. Being in jail means just that. No parents, no family, no tradition, no protection. Eat quickly and hoard your things. Watch out for big people and even bigger bed bugs.

What drove you to make the choices you have recently made? It haunts me. Drinking and driving, resisting arrest, underage intoxication and providing minors with alcohol. You’re going to do some time. Time that I should be serving. After all, who was the one who gave you your first drink, introduced you to your first smoke? What I was thinking back then? Who was I?

When my own mother chose to chase the bottle over being with me, it left me with an understanding that I was not enough. I wasn’t meant to be loved, and the longer I waited for it, the more incapable of it I became. So, to try to forget that pain, I got high and drank the waiting moments away. I was supposed to protect you, but all I really thought of was myself. I thought if I tried to love you, you would begin to see what was wrong with me. So instead of loving you, I turned into the person I was before the day you and I met. I followed mother’s steps and followed the bottle until I had nothing left. In and out of shelters, rehabs, and hospitals, I tried to hate the world around me, but mostly I just couldn’t forget. I couldn’t forget the first time I met you. I was scared. Finally, after ten long minutes, you looked straight at me, and, with a sudden jerk, puked all over my shirt. Love.

Trust me when I say there is nothing wrong with you. Yes, you were a sirota and things happened. Many things. But you are not alone in this world. You are part of something (love) that will never be taken away. Stop waiting around, or you will spend the rest of life deeming yourself not good enough. Love is here for you always–you don’t have to choose correctly when it comes to that–but you do have to choose whether to live like a waiting orphan or to love life in an orphan’s family. It exists, love. Trust me. I knew it from the first time I met you.


Yana Pollard plays basketball, writes, and is a student at Fullerton College.


 

The Last Arabesque

The Last Arabesque

Sheriff’s Crime Report: An unidentified woman allegedly stole two macaroon baking sheets from Jane’s Cakes and Chocolates … a blonde woman approximately 5’5″ and weighing 250 pounds took the baking sheets from a package, covered them with her sweater, and left the store.

She was a rather pretty child, but like most good things in her life, it didn’t last. At seven, her round blue eyes and blonde pigtails registered as cute with most folks, despite her unfortunate tendency to dress in imitation of Holly Hobbie — pinafores weren’t cool in 1975.

But, alas, by sixth grade, the chubbiness had set in. She had always had an affinity for sweets, especially cupcakes, especially the chocolate ones with whipped cream frosting and sprinkles. She just couldn’t help herself, cupcakes were her inspiration and her nemesis. The thick, creamy gooeyness of the frosting was offset so splendidly by the firmness of the cake, and cupcakes were just the right size for quick consumption when parents were otherwise engaged. At birthday parties, should cupcakes be on offer, Sarah would always be found at the treats table, surreptitiously grabbing any extras while the other kids played pin the tail on the donkey. The other mothers would raise collective, penciled eyebrows and murmur things like, “You know, I don’t allow MY daughter more than one cupcake per week!” and “Too much sugar is quite bad for one’s complexion, you know….” and “My goodness, she really likes those cupcakes, doesn’t she?” Sarah would smile in what she hoped was a charming fashion, and hightail it for the kitchen, cupcakes in hand, in hopes that there resided the rest of the treats, and no condescending maternal eyes.

Her parents faked tolerance and understanding; her mother taught her to grease pans and whip up cupcake mix, reassuring Sarah that “beauty was in the eye of the beholder” and that “it was what was on the inside that counted,” while her father mumbled something about “keeping her (double) chin(s) up” from underneath the headphones which seemed to be affixed permanently to his ears.

Birthday parties and other moms aside, the real terror occurred during ballet. Her teacher, a tall, commanding woman decked out in perfectly matched leotards and dance shoes (often purple), would stalk gracefully through the classroom filled with sweaty little girls, and glare down at Sarah’s increasingly filled out leotard, making remarks about dancers who didn’t understand the necessity of lithe limbs. “You might look fine in street clothes,” Mrs. Cushman would intone, “but a dancer must weigh much less, much less than an ORDINARY person.” Sarah would shrink inside, first wondering if, and later suspecting that, she was merely ordinary. Alas, her external self did not participate in her internal shrinkage.

By the time she was fourteen, the leotards were filled to bursting, and the dainty pointe shoes seemed only to emphasize the increasingly rotund body above them. When it came time to partner up for a pas de deux, Sarah was never chosen. It was like being the last picked for the softball team, except nobody really expected girls to be good at softball, but everyone expected girl dancers to be thin. The three boy dancers in the troupe would make groaning noises and fake limp arms and legs should Mrs. Cushman demand that any of them partner up with Sarah. Finally, after a particularly, humiliatingly, loud landing (the floorboards not only shook, but the metal folding chairs rattled) on a tour jete, Mrs. Cushman laid down the law: Sarah would write down each and everything she ate, participate in weekly weigh-ins, and until she had dropped down to 118 pounds, she could put aside any notion of joining the Ballet Company. “118 pounds is quite generous, you know,” said Mrs. Cushman, “when I was dancing with the American Ballet Theater, we were not allowed to weigh more than 110.” Sarah didn’t doubt it.

Sarah tried to do as she was told, dutifully recording (1) one scrambled egg; (2) one apple; (3) turkey sandwich; (4) milk; (5) chicken breast; (6) green salad and (7) one chocolate cupcake (sometimes two). She would watch the thinner dancers briskly pirouette and grande jete, and miserably stand on the scale underneath the judgmental gaze of Mrs. Cushman who recorded every ounce gained or lost.

And then, at fifteen, she made two exciting discoveries: pot and the boys who smoked it. It turned out that ordinary boys, the kind who, instead of dancing in leotards, hung around behind the school gym, actually liked girls who weren’t particularly skinny, particularly if said girls were insecure, needy, and ready and willing to “make friends.” And weed, glorious weed, not only made her actually not care about Mrs. Cushman, which had seemed improbable, it also accomplished the truly impossible: it made cupcakes taste even better.

So it was goodbye leotards, goodbye pointe shoes, goodbye leotard-wearing, smarmy boys and especially, goodbye Mrs. Cushman, and hello pot-smoking, pill popping, alcohol drinking, Twinkie, Ding-Dong and Hostess Cupcake eating stoner friends.

A great weight had been lifted from Sarah’s shoulders, but… alas and alack, not from her ever expanding hips. Although ballet had certainly shrunk her soul, it had also helped to shrink her body — and after three years of cartoons, smoking, baking, and eating, Sarah was in danger of becoming, not a cupcake, but a triple layer, double frosted, heavily decorated (she was an eager consume of Revlon, Maybelline, and L’Oreal) cake.

Her popularity, although not her weight, declined.

And then a miracle occurred. Cupcakes became TRENDY. Cupcake shops were springing up as if from yeast-laden mountains of sugar and spice, literally (or at least almost metaphorically) on every street corner. People were paying what seemed to be obscene (if cupcakes could be associated with such a word) amounts of money for mini-cakes with outlandish names such as “Red Velvet Rope Cupcake Surprise” and “Rock Candy Sugar Coconut Mini-Mountain.” Skinny starlets were documented consuming cupcakes in magazines! Sarah knew in her heart, soul, and stomach that this was the bandwagon for which she had been waiting. She applied for a small business loan (successfully), badgered parents (successfully), friends (marginally successfully), and fellow stoners (with near total failure) for money, and rented a small space in the Montrose Shopping Park. In six months, her Cupcake Den was open and selling fantastical concoctions such as “Lemon Meringue Surprise,” “Raspberry Rum Delicacy,” “Choco-Peanut Delight,” “Chocolate Dream Cake,” and “Double Fudge Ribbon Decadence” (Sarah’s devotion to chocolate had never abated).

The cupcakes were delicious, but whether it was Sarah’s steady consumption of her own product, or the fifteen other cupcake eateries which had opened within the surrounding five mile radius, her business failed. Tuesday Tastie Specials aside, her business lost money even as its owner continued to gain, not financial success, but weight.

The Cupcake Den closed and Sarah retreated, fat and alone, into her small kitchen, where she baked, ate, smoked, and watched t.v. (not necessarily in that order), and thought sadly of her days as an aspiring ballerina who, if lacking in promise, at least had a dim hope of a future of flashing footlights and beautiful tutus, instead of days and nights spent in baggy sweatpants with Jack Black (onscreen only, of course), and Choco-Mint Rum-Filled Mini-Semi-Surprises.

And then, whilst watching The Cooking Channel (NOT the Cupcake Wars show; she always avoided that one — the pain was too intense), Sarah saw that, not cupcakes, but macaroons were the “new thing.” Macaroons — French, Small, Light, Beautifully Colored (all of the things that fat, pasty-white, American Sarah was not) were the new IT pastry. Dreams of, not sugarplums, but beautifully displayed cookies, and visions of success danced in Sarah’s head.

Broke, obese and alone, Sarah waddled out to find her dream in a cruel and semi-oblivious world….. Because, “one fine day……and so we beat on, boats against the current…” or the frosting, in Sarah’s case.


Blythe Telefson teaches English at Fullerton College and is a frequent contributor to the literary world.