I wish I had my big sister’s hair. Hers is soft and light. Touching her arms is like touching peach fuzz. When she sweats her skin looks like melted butter.
It’s not fair.
My hair is thick, wiry, and black as spider legs. I’m only thirteen and I have thicker hair on my arms and legs than most boys on the Tanglewood Junior High football team. My big sister and I are practically the same in every other way. But she got the peach fuzz and I got black bristles—all over. Arms, legs, chest, face…and even down there.
Washing the mop on my head takes over an hour. It gets knotted and unruly as a nest of snakes. Then there’s the procedure of removing my facial hair. It’s like plucking staples. I grow a full-on porn star mustache, so deep-rooted my top lip goes beet red after a painful session with the tweezers, and afterward, I have to dab off dots of blood.
My sister keeps telling me to stop wearing long sleeve shirts to gym class—to shower with the other girls. “People are starting rumors, Camilla,” she tells me. But I won’t budge. I’ve worn long pants and sleeves since Elementary and I’m not going to stop now. And I’d rather stink than wax my entire body for one shower. Keeping exposed skin smooth is bad enough.
My sister and I are sitting next to each other. It’s lunchtime in the screaming, jam-packed cafeteria, and I’m poking my chicken nuggets like they’re alien specimens, when Brittany and her two Mimi’s come over. I don’t know why my sister and I call Brittany’s two goons the Mimi’s, but trust me, the name suits. They’re three distinct people, but I see them more like a single entity. A three-headed-goblin.
The goblin sits across from us. There must be nowhere else to sit. Normally, Brittany and her Mimi’s wouldn’t be caught dead near me and my sister.
They ignore us, of course, and talk like they’re the only three people on earth. Brittany (pink skin, feathered strawberry hair) is the middle one. She’s talking about herself—asking the Mimi’s if she should get a braid. The Mimi’s seem torn.
My head stays down. Whenever the Mimi’s make a dumb remark my sister and I exchange smiling sidelong glances.
My hand gets pulled. My fork clatters.
I look up and Brittany’s holding my hand.
“Oh my god,” the left Mimi says.
“Gross,” chirps the right.
I didn’t realize it, but my sleeve was pushed back, only part way up my forearm, but enough to expose a mangrove of black hair.
Brittany pushes back my sleeve, all the way to the elbow.
I try to pull away, but her grip is vice-like.
The Mimi’s are transfixed.
“She’s like a gorilla,” one says.
“I knew it,” says the other.
My sister leans over, pulls the sleeve down, and bats Brittany away.
As if hypnotized, Brittany leans back, hands over her mouth. The Mimi’s are waiting for her to say something.
“Camilla…” Brittany lowers her hands and sends me a wide-eyed look of epiphany. “I knew it…”
A splinter of a smile on each of their faces grows into three large crescents that threaten to form one.
“Are you hairy all over?” the left head asks.
“I bet she’s got a bird’s nest down there,” says the right.
A sharp laugh escapes Brittany’s mouth. The whole cafeteria hears it. The sound bores into my brain and lodges there.
I wipe my face with my sleeve involuntarily. The sleeve is soaked. I’ve been crying and didn’t even know it.
Girls at the table behind ask Brittany and the Mimi’s what’s going on. They tell them. I hear “Camilla the gorilla” being whispered.
“How thick was it?” someone asks; I don’t know who. My sleeves are pulled over my hands, and my hands are covering my face, because I’m crying, but I’m trying hard not to blubber and make things worse.
‘Camilla the gorilla’ enters my ears from every angle, so I cover them. Someone’s pulling my arm. Must be my sister. She pulls my hand away long enough to whisper, “C’mon, let’s go.”
We cut through stares, pointing fingers and muffled laughter to leave the cafeteria.
* * * * * *
“Just wax it off,” my sister says.
It’s after school. We’re in her room, sitting on her bed. I’m hugging a pillow nestled between my crossed legs. The pillow’s done a good job soaking up all the tears.
“Are you crazy?” I say. “If I wax my arms they’ll make even more fun of me because they’ll know they made me do it.”
“What do you mean so what?”
“They’re going to make fun of you either way, but if you wax the hair—eventually—they’ll forget about it.”
I issue my sister the coldest stare I can muster. “They’ll make fun of me either way?”
“You know what I mean.”
“You don’t know what it’s like. You have perfect hair.”
“I don’t have perfect hair.”
I get up off the bed. “No one ever makes fun of you about anything.”
She furrows her brow and makes that little pig snort I hate. “Remember a couple summer’s ago, when I fell on that Frisbee and cut my forehead? They called me Scarface for, like, six months.”
“Scarface is a cool name.”
“Not when you’re twelve.”
“Fine,” I say, walking to the door. I grasp the handle. “Let’s swap. I’ll be Scarface and you can be Camilla the gorilla!” I rush out and slam the door behind me.
* * * * * *
My room. Door locked. On my bed I sit for hours, inspecting my arms and legs, wishing the hair to go away. Of course, it doesn’t. It’s as coarse as it is stubborn.
Mom calls for dinner, but I don’t go. I don’t leave my bed. It’s already dark outside, so I put my lamp on and continue praying to God to get rid of the horrible hair. I don’t even believe in God, but I keep praying anyway. I’ll do anything, I tell him. Anything. Just let me wake up with nice light fine hair like my sister’s and I’ll be the best, most honest person who’s ever lived.
I pray and pray, until I fall asleep.
* * * * * *
It’s morning. I’m in the bathroom standing in front of the mirror, looking at what’s coming out the side of my head. It’s coming out of my ear. Right out of the center. A single hair. Long and dark, it dangles next to my arm, all the way down to my hand. When it brushes against my skin it tickles.
Entwining it through my fingers, I notice my hand is trembling.
I give it a tug.
It feels like my brain gets pulled. Inside my ear blooms a hot ball of sharp pain.
On closer inspection, I see in the mirror that the hair goes deep. I can’t see where it ends.
My breathing quickens. With my other hand, I clasp the side of the sink. My shoulders rise and fall in time with each panicked breath. The hair is tightly wound around my fist.
The strand is strong, like floss. It’s probably rooted deep. I’ll need to pull hard to get it out. If I cut it, it’ll just grow back. I need to get rid of it.
My toes are curled against the cold tile floor. My lungs inhale damp air. I bare my teeth, take one last look at myself, tilt my head and shut my eyes.
With full strength, I yank it.
A flash of white.
My legs turn liquid. I collapse to my knees. Intense nausea. The room tilts. I catch a glimpse of the pulled hair. The end that came out of my brain is coated in a film of blood specked with tiny white lumps.
I’m on all fours. Globs of saliva spill from my mouth.
My ear throbs.
But I don’t scream. Not once. I don’t want anyone to know.
Not even my sister.
* * * * * *
School. The lunch line. I’m waiting next to my sister with a plate in my hand. One step at a time, we inch sideways—closer to trays of food. In my head, I’m trying to process what happened. What is doing this? Why bother with someone like me? I’m nobody. All I want is to be left alone.
Is it normal for hair to grow out your eardrum? Maybe it is. Maybe I don’t want to know.
Brittany shoves in next to me, sidled by her two Mimi’s.
“Hey, Camilla. We wanted to ask you something,” Brittany says.
“Yeah,” says one Mimi, leaning in.
“It’s really important,” adds the other, leaning further to show me her beaming smirk.
“Leave me alone,” I tell them.
“Why don’t you wax?” Brittany says. “Do you want us to show you how?”
I ignore her and lift my plate in front of lunch lady Saunders, whose starched white outfit and square glasses seem too big for her frail old body.
“How much, Camilla?” croaks Saunders, holding tongs full of… of… something black, and—
No. It can’t be.
Hanging in her tongs is a wad of dark, bloody hair. My eyes follow red beads traveling down a strand into the tray beneath—a pile of hair tangled in blood.
Saunders lays the hairy wad on my plate. It makes a wet slap. Blood spatters my uniform.
My spine becomes cold steel.
My hands lose feeling.
I drop the plate.
When it meets the floor shards explode in every direction, but make no noise. In slow motion, soundlessly, pieces of plate revolve through the air. The hair sits in a heap on the floor—pulsing—a black mass curling in on itself.
“My spaghetti’s that bad, is it?”
Lunch Lady Saunders crosses her arms. I blink and rub my eyes with the palms of my hands. In the tray in front of her—
Spaghetti. In tomato sauce. And the same around my feet.
The spaghetti doesn’t move. It just sits there, dead.
A hand grips my shoulder. It’s my sister.
“Are you okay?”
I don’t respond.
Gently, she pulls me from the mess and sends Brittany a cold look.
“What did you do?”
Brittany, smiling, shrugs. “I didn’t do anything. I wouldn’t touch Camilla with a ten-foot pole.”
“Yeah, Brittany didn’t lay a hand on her,” one Mimi says.
“Not a finger,” says the other.
“C’mon, let’s go,” my sister says.
She takes my hand. I follow without resistance.
I want out of here.
* * * * * *
The girl’s bathroom. It’s just my sister and I. I’ve locked myself in a stall. From the other side of the door, she asks what’s wrong. I’m coughing. Something is stuck in my throat. My breath smells like parmesan cheese and the lining of my esophagus is rough as fish scales.
After flushing a wad of tear-soaked tissue, I sit on the toilet and try to tell my sister about what I saw. My body is trembling and the skin on the back of my neck is still crawling. I’m scared to look at the reflection of my hair in the mirror, so I stay in the stall.
“You need to see a doctor,” my big sister’s voice is followed by an echo.
“A doctor? I thought you cared about me?”
“What do you mean?”
“They’d think I’m insane.” I rip toilet paper from the dispenser to blow my nose.
“It might help,” she says.
“I’m not seeing a doctor. And you better not tell anyone about—”
The sight of long black hairs sticking out my sleeves steals my breath. I roll my sleeves back. It’s doubled in thickness. I can’t see the skin of my arms. From my head hangs a dark curtain of hair—all the way to my knees.
What’s happening to me?
It isn’t fair.
A scream tries to escape my mouth, but it can’t. My throat’s plugged. I can’t breathe. Each heaving cough feels like needles jabbing my neck. I need oxygen. My fingers plunge into my throat. They prod something stuck there. I grip it between two fingers and yank it out.
A wad of saliva soaked hair.
Quickly, tossing it in the toilet and flushing, I yell, “What is happening to me?” I call to my sister, frantically unlock the stall door and stumble out. She catches me in her arms.
“Oh my god!” Brittany’s voice.
She’s standing across from us, in front of the bathroom door, flanked by the two Mimi’s. All three are holding up their phones, filming me. A three-eyed goblin. Their red lipstick smiles threaten to form one.
“Check out the crazy eyes. She’s totally lost it,” one Mimi says.
“What a psycho,” says the other.
Their shrill voices echo off the walls and drum into my head. They won’t shut up. I rush at the three-headed-goblin. “Leave me alone!”
“She’s going to kill us!” the goblin screams, still filming.
Shoving past, I run out the door, into the hall. My hair drags on the floor behind. It’s still growing. I have to part it with one hand just to see what direction I’m heading. Bursting out the school doors, my legs carry me out into torrential rain. The sky is a swirling godhead of black clouds. A deafening thunderclap shakes the earth. My feet stamp across the wet pavement so fast tears fly from my face. The mop of hair clinging to my body is heavy as a blanket. I feel like it’s going to suck me down through the sidewalk.
I’ll wax it all off and everything will be fine, I tell myself. Everything’s fine.
But I know that’s not true.
* * * * * *
When I get home I take Mom’s kitchen shears, the ones for cutting meat, and lock myself in the bathroom. Thunder shakes the house. The power cuts.
In muted blue light I lower myself into the dry bathtub and start cutting hair.
Snip snip snip.
I cut huge chunks off, but it won’t stop growing. Out of my nipples, my armpits, my legs, head, and even down there, the hair pours out.
Snip snip snip.
My hair won’t stop growing and my hand can’t stop cutting—as if it’s got a mind of its own. My consciousness is locked in terror. Snip, snip, snip. My hand is wet. A little window at the top of the bathroom permits a white flash from a lightning strike. Giant whorls of hair fill the bathtub. And, my hands. They’re the color red. But where’s the blood coming from?
Snip, snip, snip, snip.
Another strike of lightning and I see what’s happening. I’m not just snipping the hair—I’m snipping my flesh, too. For some reason, I don’t register the pain. Something inside me must have short-circuited. Mind and body aren’t connected. My hand keeps going.
Snip, snip, snip.
“What a mess,” I say. It’s a strange thing to have said. I’m not crazy. I just have to get rid of this hair. That’s all.
My sister is banging on the door.
So are my parents.
But I won’t let them in. Not until I clean up this mess.
Snip, snip, snip.
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