Soft curls loop in on themselves and lay haphazardly across the top of her head and onto her forehead. Her eyes are big, round, and bright, and seem to take up most of her face. 

The eye doctor tells her she needs to pin her curls because her vision is getting worse, but she wants to be like Violet from the Incredibles, so she keeps letting the curls fall. 

She likes to run after her friends across the field at school and let out shrieks of laughter as her hair whips around her face. 

She’s happy. 

I wish I could know her then.

I wish I could hug her. 

My curls still look like hers.

They rest in spirals down the sides of my face.

I lost my curls for a while after I discovered the magic of a hair straightener. Starting in middle school I spent countless hours frying my hair between the clamps of a 400 degree flatiron. I longed for silky straight hair. But, my lush curls in their natural state, just turned into loose frizzy squiggles around my head. 

I was growing up and I thought that I looked prettier with straight hair, more adult. I began to separate myself from the little girl with the curls, putting her buoyancy and innocence into a box that stays only as an image of my younger self. 

I have convinced myself that growing up meant leaving behind. 

I pushed that little girl so far away I let her detach from me, and become someone else. I’ve tried to protect her. I’ve tried to let her stay untouched and carefree, enveloped in a little world where she’s just a kid. 

Or maybe there’s a part of me that wishes I sometimes could be just her. Separate from the adult I have to become. 

That curly haired little girl fills my head with memories that feel like breathless joy. Moments where the world wasn’t speeding past me, where I was just a kid. 

My memories of being that little kid are filled with little moments with my cousin. We grew up parallel to each other; nine months apart and the same year in school. We would shriek with laughter on a late night doughnut run in the back of my aunt’s car, and together would scamper around rocks on hikes. 

We graduated high school on the same day, and after some more growing up, we were both supposed to walk across a stage this year to collect our college diplomas.

I tried on my blue graduation cap last week. I didn’t want to. 

I’m not ready to be the one to graduate. 

I’ve been praying for time to freeze. I’ve been terrified to lose time, and the people in it, and for it all to simply become a box of memories.

I’ve been hiding that little girl because she’s who I was with my cousin. I’ve been avoiding that little girl because I want her to stay in a world where my cousin is still a kid with her. I made her into a different person because I didn’t want to imagine the pain she would feel right now.

I’ve been protecting her, thinking it protected me, but the pain I feel is just as much hers as it is mine.

I misplaced the love I have for that little girl and her curls. 

I have forgotten that little girl still is me 

I retired my beloved flatiron last year and have been nursing my curls back to health. Their bounce returned in the last few months, and I feel comfortable in them. 

But the little girls’ curls still look weird underneath my cap for graduation.