Crystal Jensen

City Hair

When I was in sixth grade, my mother took me to St. Paul, MN – the big city – to get my haircut.  The awkwardness of puberty had taken a strong hold and my shoulders and calves had begun to swell with muscle too big for a girl who’d started school a year before her classmates. Perhaps it was only my hair, she convinced me to think.  If my hair were cut right, I’d look the right size – or, she meant, not the right size, but the size I’d be more comfortable in.  


It was 1982.  My mother frosted her hair and was an unstoppable optimist.  In the salon, the hairdresser cut off the ends, which have always been curly, texturally mismatched against the dense, dark, straightness of the rest of my head.  She razored the wisps along my neckline, parted my hair to the side using the cowlick at my forehead. My mother put her hand on my shoulder.  “I’m sorry for that,” she said, looking at me through the mirror.  My mother parts her hair on the same side.


We walked from the salon to the drugstore, The Pill and Puff, and I picked out sunglasses the same shape as Madonna’s, but silver, not black, and with reflective lenses.  I could see out, but no one could see in.  My hair was feathered and hair-sprayed in a swoop over my forehead, scraping my left eyelid.  My mother and I walked down the city street to meet my little sister and my father at a park where he said he played when he was a kid.  Mom let me carry her purse on my arm.


When I went back to school, Jimmy Littleton said I musta thought I was a big shot from the city with that hair and that he told all his friends what he heard about me and Mr. Shreve, the fifth grade teacher.  The teacher’s pet, he said, wasn’t supposed to really be a pet, if I knew what he meant.  Jimmy Littleton was skinnier and shorter than me, and when he yelled at his squad during gym, his mouth opened almost his whole face wide.  I didn’t know what he meant, about being a pet.  I wondered if what he meant happened in St. Paul, in the city.  If city people kept each other as pets sometimes, without telling.  I wondered about my hairdresser, if she had done it, sometime long ago.  I wondered if Mr. Shreve knew what Jimmy Littleton knew, and I wondered what else would soon be revealed, now that I had my city hair.

Crystal lives in Fargo, ND with her husband and a passel of pets. Since getting her MFA in Creative Writing at Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2004 , she has taught English at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead. In addition to hairdos, she finds creative sparks in yoga, music, and the absurd and beautiful characters that inhabit her everyday life. cristal