Updated: Jun 28, 2022
It was 1990 at Daniel Wright Middle School in Lincolnshire, a sleepy suburb of Chicago. I’m in 8th grade and hopelessly one of the biggest nerds in school. Middle school was painful, or “character building,” as they like to say. But there was one shining moment that stands out among the dismal days. This was the day I got a perm.
I was 13, and had finally worn down my mother enough to agree to take me for my first real salon appointment. I remember sitting in the chair for what felt like hours, trembling with excitement as the smell of the pungent chemicals worked down to my roots.
“Y’okay?” Starla said, with a wad of gum between her teeth.
I nodded quickly, trying to blink the tears of joy out of my eyes. If only she knew my whole life was leading up to this moment.
As she pulled out the curlers one by one, I could already see the transformation. My hair, always thin and lanky, now looked crimped, curly, and smelled of skunk. I had never been so happy.
Starla styled it, making sure to show me the fine art of scrunching.
Back home, I would spend a good chunk of my day with my head flipped upside down, spraying Loreal’s Pumping Curls on my hair and scrunching it upwards just as I was told. The product made my hair crunchy, the texture of straw.
My first day at school with my new perm could only be described as magical. The cool kids noticed immediately and looked at me for possibly the first time. I remember Jill S., reigning queen of hair perms with beautiful golden curls cascading down her back, sat next to me at an all-school event and even spoke in my direction.
“Nora, right? I like your hair.”
“Thhhanks,” I said, with a scrunch.
“You should totally wear it like that more,” she said.
As I sat there on the nubby, puke green carpeting, I was already calculating how long the perm would last and how I could get my next fix. I didn’t care the cost, I would give every babysitting dollar to keep my hair curly if it meant I could hang with the cool kids a little longer.
I didn't realize that my hair, like my fleetingly cool status, was only semi permanent. Inside, I was still the anxious and awkward girl with no chest and absolutely no self-confidence. The next day--or possibly even later that same day--I returned to my rightful place with the other nerds. And for that, I am now grateful. Now in my late 30s, those nerds have become my closest friends, I have better hair, and I've got a boatload of character.
Nora Kerr is the owner of Memoir for Me, offering writing and layout services to capture a life story.