Gemma's Hair

Gemma’s Hair
In sixth-grade, Gemma’s assigned seat was next to mine. My only knowledge of Gemma was that:

1. she played the youngest von Trapp child in our school’s production of The Sound of Music,
2. she could run a six-minute mile in gym (while I was pushing thirteen),
3. she actually looked good when she tied her uniform shirt to one side,
4. she was friends with the high schoolers,
5. and most importantly, she was the only girl Nick thought was pretty.

In other words, she was hot shit. Before Mrs. Reed’s seating chart, I only knew this faraway girl from her hair.

In middle school, straight hair was the epitome of beauty. For the Italian girls like me and Noelle who were taught to thrash-mousse-and-crimp, our curly hair had to be sizzle-crisped for every Picture Day and Dress-Down Friday. But Gemma was yearbook-pretty all year round.

In blond terminology (you won’t believe how much there is), Gemma was a sunflower base with diamond highlights and caramel undertones. Not too platinum. Not too yellow. It was Goldilocks-just-right.

She would finger-brush her hair, knuckle-cradling the one-inch-wide strands between her middle and index fingers, guiding them up and out, sailing from sandy roots to nondead, nonsplit ends—dissolving docile, flippant knots. As delicate and fixed as violin strings.

My partner-in-jealousy, Callie, and I aspired to be so aloofly gorgeous. Callie wanted more than what she called her “puff”: the gathered hair at her crown that started as a morning bun and blossomed into an afternoon cloud. And I longed for more than the inconsistent curls and waves that frizzed every time I brushed it.

One time over Kassandra’s, she said, “Callie, you think your Black hair is bad? Look at Bella’s Italian hair,” after brandishing a brush and jousting with my head until I looked like a socket-fried Cousin Itt. (Neither of us is friends with Kassandra anymore.)

So, of course, Callie and I gossiped about Gemma’s hair, pretending that she took the time to straighten it every morning, sweating over the iron during the misty six-am hour, working for it like the rest of us. Going to war like the rest of us. Another brush lost to the knots. Pins and clips MIA in the jungle. Storming baby hairs and frizz with headbands, hair ties, mousse, and creams only for it all to burst undone by the last bell.