I knew that I was ugly on picture day, in the first grade. Mother wouldn’t wake up, citing a headache, or an ulcer, or a hangover. But my hair needed to be done. I wanted it pulled back in a neat bun, like Violet, from the Peanuts Gang.
Just the previous year, a teacher had complained that my hair wasn’t pretty enough for pictures. She threatened to pull me out of the Cinco de Mayo production, if mother didn’t do something, anything with it. She said a photographer from a news publication would be taking pictures, and I would only be an embarrassment, with my unruly locks.
Mother was braver then. She was a lioness who would not stand for her offspring to be cast aside. With a proud chest and sharp eyes, she hissed at teacher, and told her she would do no such thing, or else many things I was too young to understand, but knew they made teacher afraid. And so it is that I wore my Huipil, and danced in front of hundreds, but especially for my mother.
But on that day, one year later, my mother no longer felt like being one. Breakfast would rarely be made in the mornings. Affection was given sparingly. And I had become more a mother than I was prepared for.
So, I did my own hair. With small hands, I pulled it back, and tied it off-center. Little curls escaped, framing my head like a broken halo. I looked in the mirror, and saw my reflection with pride.
Pride. Fragile, like crystal. I saw my own shattered when my classmates surrounded me to say I was ugly. They pulled at my hair, and they laughed. But I was the child of a lioness, and I would not let them see my sadness. I would give them nothing.