You're Not a Girl

When I was young, my mother Antonia used to braid my hair every day before school. Two long straight braids every single day.

My friends would tease me that I looked like Laura Ingalls. At the time, the television series Little House on the Prairie -  which was loosely based on the books - was a big hit in the nine to 11 year old white female demographic. The teasing from my friends about my "look" was relentless. So for a while, I just went with it, and pretended to be Laura. My dad was Charles, and I called him Pa. My younger sister Jessica was Nelly, the mean friend. And my younger brother Christopher, was Nelly's brother Willie.

My brother and sister hated it. Nelly and Willie were brats. But my sister had these beautiful red ringlet curls that looked just like Nelly's hair, except red instead of blond. And in my mind that made her perfect for the role. Most of the time she wouldn't act in character the way I wanted her to, so I'd have to lock her in the tiny triangle closet we had in the hallway below the staircase - in order to rile her up a little and get her mad enough to force her into character. Once I let her out, she slipped right into her role. My brother never wanted to play either. But I made it work. I would stay in character for days at a time, and only call my siblings by their Little House on the Prairie names and talk about life on the prairie and the five mile walk to the school house and how sad it was that my older sister Mary went blind. You'd be surprised at how crazy it drove them, but how well it worked for me.

A few times, when I was out on the town shopping at Capwells or dining at Emil Villas with my mom and siblings, other kids would stop me and ask me if I really was that girl who played Laura Ingalls on TV and I'd say of course and just walk on by like I was a star. I could hear them whispering and wondering out loud all the reasons why Laura Ingalls might be sitting at Emil Villas eating a french dip and mashed potatoes in Walnut Creek, California.

And then one fine summer day I got a hair cut. I got it cut like Dorothy Hamill the Olympic skater. And my Laura Ingalls days were over. 

My mom's hairdresser was having a special, and cutting all the preteen girls hair with Dorothy Hamill cuts. It was all the rage. At first, I wasn't interested.  But as soon as she showed me the glossy hard cover hairstyles book, with the edge softened photos of all the model girls sporting "the Hamill", I knew it was right for me as well. Realistically, I think my mom was just done with the braiding of my hair every day.  But whatever, I loved the Dorothy Hamill finished product. It was a perfectly coifed oval bowl cut for which you had to first blow dry all the hair as straight as possible and then use a curling iron to curl the entire mushroom under, all they way around the entire head.  

Every day I'd wake up and spend an hour doing the curling iron routine. To reduce the waiting time to the bathroom for my siblings, my dad hammered a full length mirror onto the wall of my bedroom and told me to go to town.  I stuck a chair on front of the mirror, turned on the radio, and spent every morning curling my Dorothy Hamill.  Afterwards, I would put on my roller skates, and roll around the front of my house in character - as Dorothy Hamill.  After all, I wasn't spending an hour curling my hair every day for nothing.  On the days I had early swim practice, I'd get up early and do the curling before practice. And then, again in the late morning after swim practice, I'd be back at it. 

That same summer, I went south down to Long Beach for a few weeks to spend some time with my grandparents, Helen and Rosario. To pass some of the slow summer days, I'd roller skate along the beach sidewalk in "character" waiting for someone to notice me and make me a star.  After a few hours of rolling around each morning, I'd roll down to the doctor's office where my Nana worked part time as a receptionist, and help her out for a few hours. I had pretty good organizational skills, so she would put me to work checking in patients and scheduling appointments. She could also get her filing done and take more smoke breaks while I answered the phone and wrote things down for her. This also gave me a chance to practice my famous radio voices while answering the office calls.

One day I finished up my work early, and I was standing at the copy machine making copies of my professional signature, while waiting for Nana to finish up - when a friend of hers, an older gentleman, came in for an appointment. Nana checked him in and introduced him to me. This is my grand daughter Lauren, she said. She's helping me here for a few weeks.

He stared quietly at my face for a few minutes and then slowly looked me up and down. He wrinkled his nose and squinted a little.  Are you sure that isn't your grandson he said. Nana turned to look at him and shook her head slowly from side to side and smiled. No, no, she's my grand daughter, my oldest grand daughter. But he shook his head no and said, no I think it is a he

Like he knew better.  

No, Nana said. That's my grand daughter. She's here visiting for a few weeks. I think I would know if she was a he.  And she smiled at him. But he continued to shake his head back and forth as if he was thinking, no, I don't believe you, you're playing a trick on me.

By this time, the whole waiting room was looking up, at me, to see why my Nana and this old man were in disagreement of whether or not I was a girl or a boy. And I was looking right back at them, not knowing what to do.

I'm Dorothy Hamil,  I finally spit out. You better get your glasses fixed Mr. and I walked over to the old man and shoved one of my professional signature sheets into his hand, and then proceeded back to the copy machine to act busy and finish up making the rest of the copies of my signature.

Well shit, I thought after the old man had finally gone, I guess it's time for a new haircut.


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