1: Fried Hair

1: Fried Hair

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Fried Hair

He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.

~Raymond Hull

There she is, sitting at the lunch table placed precisely in the middle of the cafeteria. Not the tables by the garbage cans, not the square tables, but the circular one exactly in the center. Her friend beside her whispers something into her ear. They both giggle simultaneously. She and her friend look the same. In fact, everyone at this particular lunch table looks the same. They all have blond, perfectly straightened hair. The brunettes have dyed their hair to match the others. Curls are fried straight. Every girl at the table wears a different version of the same, tight T-shirt with “HOLLISTER” written in obnoxious letters across the front. They all wear their jeans skin tight, like Spandex to their legs. Their eyes are rimmed with black eyeliner, taking away their child-like cuteness and replacing it with the I’m-not-a-little-kid-anymore look. This specific girl seems to choose her words carefully as she whispers something back to her friend. She makes sure to match her movements with the people around her. Her eyes tell a different story than her attitude portrays.

I was, in fact, this Hollister-obsessed, fried-haired monster. I cared way too much about what other people thought and way too little about what I thought. Today, I am completely different from how I was back in junior high. How did I make this transformation?

It was an ordinary day at South Junior High. I had my arm linked with one of my friends as we walked down the hall. She was eagerly telling me a story about a girl who “MySpaced” her boyfriend the day before. I went along with it, trash talking the girl. I acted completely engaged, putting in a forced “Oh my God, who does she think she is?” every time she paused, but I was feeling distracted. As I tried to refocus on her story, I heard a piece of someone else’s conversation. “Taylor Haglin has cancer,” was all I caught. Taylor Haglin, who had barely been at school for the past two weeks, had cancer. My brain started spinning and my feet stuck to the floor.

“Did you hear that?” I choked out.

“What?” she asked, annoyed that I had interrupted her.

“Taylor Haglin has cancer?”

“Oh, that’s really sad,” she mumbled. We walked in silence for a few paces. “Do you want to go to the mall Friday?” she asked as we came to the end of the hall and split into our different classrooms.

“Um, yeah, I’ll text you later,” I replied weakly.

As I sat in English that day, my mind spun. And it wasn’t a gentle around-the-merry-go-round kind of spin, but an uncontrollable-tornado kind. I couldn’t pinpoint any certain feeling, except for extreme annoyance that my friend had just asked me to go to the mall. On any other day, I would have been excited by this question. But today, as my friend walked beside me, she suddenly seemed more like a little mosquito buzzing in my ear. I felt an urge to swat at her the next time she tried talking to me. I cannot describe to you what was happening that day; all I know is that something was changing inside me. I sat through English and the rest of the day trying to act the same way I always did. I went to track practice and did my homework. While going through my normal routine, I couldn’t seem to get the tornado to calm down. The storm continued spinning, and Taylor was in the middle of it.

Taylor was not one of my good friends. As a matter of fact, the only sort of connection we had was that our lockers were next to each other. I sometimes told her I liked her shirt. She once asked me if she could use my phone. That was the extent of our relationship. She started showing up at school less and less until she stopped showing up at all. I began searching for her in the halls and then making excuses for when I didn’t see her at her locker. I convinced myself she was just staying late after class.

After a few weeks of no Taylor, I finally grasped the reality that the rumor must be true. I stopped making excuses for why she wasn’t there. But ever since I had overheard that conversation in the hallway, the way I looked at everything was different. I started to be irritated by the stories and whispers that went around the lunch table. One day I asked myself, “Why am I even hanging around these people?” If I got cancer and died the next day, I wanted to be at complete happiness. I decided that if I wanted to achieve this, I had to be around people who made me completely happy. Sounds kind of obvious, but it’s something so many of us overlook.

The girls I hung around with in junior high weren’t all terrible. A few of them were genuinely nice, just poorly influenced by some of their friends. I know I wasn’t the worst of these girls, but I was just as judgmental and exclusionary as any of them. I knew I needed a change. I started to be more my own person and less like all of them. I stopped pretending to care about all the gossip that went around the lunch table. I stopped going over to girls’ houses who I didn’t like being around. I started hanging out with people I actually liked. I decided anyone who made me feel bad about myself was not worth a second of my time. At the end of my junior high years, I found myself to be much happier. I wrote down a few sentences on a piece of paper one day and vowed I would always live by these lines:

The best advice I can give you, when it really comes down to it, is to simply surround yourself with people you love. You know — those people who never leave your side, who constantly make you feel good about yourself. Those people are worth sticking by. They are the ones worth surrounding yourself with.

So now, here I am, sitting at the lunch table placed randomly on the left side of the cafeteria. Not the circular lunch table exactly in the center, but the odd rectangular one towards the left. My friend beside me tells a story to the whole table. We all burst out laughing, not caring how loud we are or how ridiculous we look when we’re laughing so hard. My friend and I look completely different. In fact, everyone at the table looks different. We all do something different with our hair. Curls are enhanced. Fried hair is a thing of the past. Everyone at the table has her own style. Our jeans are not skin tight, but rather loose fitting. Some of us are wearing skirts, others of us sweatpants. My hair might be a little bit messier and my jeans a little bit looser, but my eyes still hold the same motivation and intensity. They are completely unaware of what my future holds, yet prepared for whatever comes next.

~Claire Illies

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