Writing 101 Assignment: Dear 7th-Grade Perm

Today’s WordPress Writing 101 assignment was to open the nearest book to page 29 and see what word jumps out at you. I saw the word permanent. It was used in the phrase “permanent vacation,” but after a moment of thought I heard my grandma’s voice saying that she was “going to the beauty parlor to get a permanent.” The writing challenge also suggests writing in the form of a letter. Here goes.

Dear 7th-Grade Perm,

What a disappointment you were. My hair and I, we had such high hopes. You were supposed to change things. You were supposed to make our existence in middle school at least slightly more bearable. All the other girls had had perms for at least a year, and Mom finally agreed that we could get one, too. What happened? You really dropped the ball.

I brought that picture from the magazine of the beautiful hair in the Pantene ad and showed the stylist. She said it “might not look exactly the same,” but she didn’t say it would look absolutely nothing like the flowing, curling, golden waves that filled the page.

I was supposed to look like her when it was all over. I wanted to be that woman with the hair and the white dress. Where did I go wrong? I brought in a picture of what I wanted. I sat with those stinking, burning chemicals on my head for hours. After all that pleading, I had finally gotten Mom to say yes. I did everything right.

Perm, why didn’t you turn out the way I wanted?? Why did I still look like…myself?

Did you not want to look like the other girls at school? I heard you sneer. Yes, I did want that. Well, partly. At first. I just wanted what they had. But then I saw that picture in the magazine, and I wanted what she had instead. I didn’t get magazine hair, and later, I didn’t care that I looked like the other girls. I still didn’t feel like one of them.

I had hair like them, that’s all. I styled it like them, used gel like them, scrunched like them, but I was not like them. I thought that stuff was supposed to bring us closer. Perm, you messed up again!

After a while, I gave up on you. I tried to brush you out every morning before forcing you into a ponytail. Otherwise, you were nothing but a heavy, curling, product-filled poof hanging over my face. I wanted my regular, straight hair back. That lumpy, frizzy mess only reminded me of my failure. At first, Mom and Dad were pissed at how soon after they paid for you I decided I didn’t want you around, but in time they accepted it as just another example of my rebelliousness.

You sucked. I hated you. This is how my 13-year-old self felt about you and acted toward you. But, after all these years, I don’t feel angry at you anymore. Enough time has gone by for me to realize what was really going on at the time.

Middle school was tough. There were a lot of lessons to be learned, and a lot of people and things took a lot of blame that they didn’t deserve.

In fact, perm, I feel bad for you. I treated you badly. You should have been enjoyed and celebrated, not reviled and hidden away. I tried to change you, and force you to be something you were not. I bet you wish you ended up on a more grateful head than mine. Maybe you would have lived out your life in a more fulfilled way, reaching your potential and glory.

All I can say is that I’m sorry, and that I think I learned a thing or two after everything that went down. Can we be friends?


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