I arrived at school Monday ,my hair colored light ash blonde, my face made up. Once at school I made my way to my favorite teacher’s portable. Miss Green was the best. She was a great listener always willing to make time whenever I needed to talk to someone or to offer practical words of wisdom when I had hurt feelings from being teased. I’d hoped she would be in her room and she was. I stood in the room my eyes adjusting from the bright morning sunlight to the artificially lit room. I waited for her to notice me. Unable to stand her not saying anything I said good morning and asked if she noticed anything different about me. I stood allowing her to take in the new me. Miss Green regarded me, settling finally on my face. The one and only question she asked was whether or not I liked it all. There was no judgement, no ‘why would you have done this to yourself.’ There was only the gentle smile on her face giving me permission to like or dislike the newly created me. I stand forever in gratitude for that response. She let me go on and on abut the entire process until glancing at the clock I was reminded I had a class to be at.
I slid into my desk. I did all i could to draw as little attention to myself as possible. Pretending to not hear the whispers around me I focused on my math book. When the final bell rang everyone looked directly at Mrs Alexander. There were still a few whispers behind me. Two girls were talking about me. All of a sudden my confidence about my new self dissipated. I felt exposed and uncomfortable. My cheeks burned with embarrassment. The girls were called out having to walk to the front of the room to face the strictest teacher in the school. Lowering my head i peeked to my left noticing others doing the same thing. Some stifled snickers with coughs while others did what they could to stay under the radar. Strands of golden blonde hair touched my arm. For better or worse this was my hair i told myself so i might as well make it for better. Hearing the door close i sat up looking for the two chastised students. They were gone. And so began my first day at school as a blonde.
In the halls between classes bore a completely different story. Everybody noticed me. A few girls said they liked the blonde. they told me the color brought out my face. Still others told me they were jealous that i could wear makeup. When i shared that it had been my mom’s idea that alone made me suddenly cool. Smiling, happy with the attention I closed the locker door finding the two girls from algebra looking at me. “You look stupid,” one said and ” don’t think that makes you normal. You’ll always be a freak.” came the other. My face crumbled, cheeks burning with hurt and shame. Holding in the tears which stung my eyes wanting to spill forward I walked away quickly hurrying upstairs to my next class. So much for looking normal i muttered to myself. I would never fit in and I knew it.
Fitting in is all I ever wanted as a teenager. This is what all teenagers aspire toward. When you look different, act different, think different, are different from everybody else you stand out. You risk being the target of unwanted attention. You risk being an individual with your own thoughts, you risk being included and accepted for who you are. I wish I had known these things when I was young. I wish all teenagers, all children knew this in the moment and I wish the world were kinder. Thankfully I am no longer so naive as to believe we all get treated equally for this is not so. As a girl who didn’t see well and as a girl with white skin in a community of brown I was other.
In retrospect, I understand that my mother’s desire to have me color my hair stemmed from a need on her part for have me present as normal. Additionally, I choose to believe that she chose this path for me out of love. Embracing the latter has proved challenging because if you love someone, why can you not accept them for who they are? Perhaps had I met the woman and her daughter as my mother had, I might have had the idea rather than having a plan presented to me, which I had no option but to comply with.
After I graduated from high school, I left for college. With a newfound freedom, I stopped coloring my hair. My mother and I used to argue abot my decision because, well she wanted me to do things her way. In the end, this was the begginning of my independence. My choice to embrace my identity as a black woman with albinism allowed me to begin to love myself.