Temporary (Permanent)

(photo credit to Robert Couse-Baker via flickr)

I’d just been down the street helping Justin. He was (shirtless) that kid in the neighborhood who was nice to everyone, so I offered to help him fix his bike.

He asked me to (stop staring at him) grab the little oil can from the garage. It was unusual to find him alone, so I asked him what he’d done with his fan club. He joked that they were all marooned on an island together—that’s why he needed to oil his bike chains: he was preparing to save them from doom.

As I pedaled the upside down Schwinn with my hands, Justin leaned over me clicking the bottom of the oil can. I felt his knee lightly on my back. His (armpit hair, bicep) proximity made me uncomfortable. Side-stepping, I made some excuse about getting home, to which he replied cluelessly “Snag you later then.” I walked up the incline of my driveway shivering,  confused.

Inside the house, my brother was in our bedroom. Mom was working at the kitchen table and Dad was snoring on the couch. So my parents’ room was the only option for me to calm down and avoid having to tell someone (my secret) what was wrong. I wasn’t sure I could. I laid on my Dad’s side of the bed and closed my eyes. Whenever a breeze from the open window hit me, I took a deep breath until the shivering stopped.

A few weeks later, I was in our cramped garage watching my mom sand a dilapidated hoosier cupboard. Flecks of sawdust shone brightly in her dark curly hair. She stopped sanding for a moment to stand back and look at her work, so I took the opportunity to ask if she’d give me a perm. She questioned why and I said I wanted to (fix myself) try something different for my first year of junior high. She agreed to do it—more questions churning behind the words—and then looked back at the hoosier.

I watched her work a little longer, trying to figure out why she’d bought the old stained thing. I knew in a few months it would hold a prime location in her antique booth. Customers would comment on how stately and charming it was, but I just couldn’t see how.

My favorite tv show at the time was Head of the Class, about a bunch of high school misfits and their dedicated teacher. I had a crush on (Alan) Simone, the shy girl with the long red hair. Simone had a thing for the curly-headed and brainy kid Alan. Lying on my parents’ bed before, I had concocted a plan to look more like Alan and maybe find myself a Simone to take to the first dance of the school year. I saved money to buy a sweater with a dynamic pattern. I asked for wingtips and learned how to buff them. The perm was the last step.

On the Saturday before school started, I was sitting at the kitchen table with medium-sized pink curlers in my hair—Mom apologized for the color; they were her only set— when my brother walked in.

“What’s going on?”

“Nathan wanted something different this year.”

“A perm?” My brother sat down, a smirk across his face.

The chemicals’ smell hit my nose before I felt them dribble down my scalp. I started to panic. I asked my mom what would happen if I didn’t (change) like it.

“I never did understand why they called it a permanent,” she said, “when it’s only temporary.”

permanent200

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61 thoughts on “Temporary (Permanent)

  1. Wonderful, wonderful post!! Reading your post reminds me of the time I got an afro-blowout, and went swimming right after. I could not reverse the look . . . I still had too much hair. I looked like a crazy, wet clown.

  2. Nate!
    I’m so sorry that I’ve been gone for so long. I was scrolling through the Freshly Pressed pieces and found this gem. Beautiful. I’ve missed your writing and hope that you are doing well. Congratulations on being FP!!

  3. Speaking of being teased mercilessly in middle school…I was homeschooled along with the first half of my 9 sibs until my parents realized that this was waaay too much work for what it was worth. Also my mother was beginning to go insane because we (especially my brother and I) were tremendous troublemakers. My younger siblings were introduced into the local public school system, and eventually it was just me at home and I felt left out. Sooo…I said I wanted in, and showed up to my last 3 months of 8th grade in baggy sweats, some sort of ratty tee and running shoes. I think I wore a stopwatch too, one of those fancy huge faced deals that make a scrawny forearm look..well even scrawnier and whiter than before the watch was applied. Not to mention that I was a laaaate bloomer and I wouldn’t sprout my first facial hair (<<singular) until my senior year in high school. In other words, as a senior in high school I finally looked like I might have belonged in 8th grade. You can probably imagine how this experience went…to say it was traumatic would be a severe understatement! Thank you for this post Nathan I haven't been brought down that memory lane for ages! Ahhh the joys of childhood:)

  4. I loved the story and I loved the picture of you. And I really liked that you put alternative (additional) thoughts in parentheses. Very clever!

  5. This was great, and I can so relate! I loved how spare and evocative the descriptions were. You captured the beautiful awkwardness of growing up in just a few well chosen words!

      1. Haha I feel you. Thirty and awkward as ever! But my friend calls it ‘grist for the writing mill’.

    1. That was my only hair treatment. No, I did dye my hair black once in college in the hopes it would make my eyes more blue. Turns out all I needed to do was wear blue shirts.

      1. Exactly! Though most of my teasing came in elementary school.
        Either way though, we survive and become stronger. And in my case, I got a strong sense of social justice and plenty of childhood horrors to rely on for the stories I write. In the end, the teased usually win.

  6. I’m finally home with my computer and able to comment. You know I loved this post from the very beginning and I was so thrilled to see it won the popular vote – congratulations! You had obviously honed it to perfection before I saw it but I was thrilled to have had a sneak peak. This is truly a wonderful exploration of inner conflict – the sweetness of childhood innocence mixed with the heavy weight of self discovery and introspection. And those parentheses – just perfect!

  7. This was a beautiful l read. The parentheses and the level of detail (sawdust in hair, wingtips, chemicals dribbling) made it even more realistic.

  8. I love the parenthetical device — you use it so well here. And the play on temporary/permanent as part of the device is great. Beautifully written, Nate.

    1. I’m amazed at the people who can just churn these out in a day_ you know who I’m talking about. This took me three weeks to write! Thanks for your kind words, meg.

  9. Oh, this is so (familiar) humorous. The parenthetical statements perfectly capture the inner struggle. Loved it.

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