Every story has an end and mine is no different. With sadness I am posting the last part of “A Cut Above Discrimination.” Thank you so much for all of you who followed me from the first word to the last. I do hope you will be back for other things I post though.
After that unforgettable incident Marissa never did come back to school; the trauma, we were told, was far too much for her. She had decided on a different vocation, one that she hoped would not include traumatizing situations. Was there such a thing? Even at my young age I knew life was full of traumatizing situations. I would truly miss my friendship with Marissa and hoped she would miss me too. It was very sad to know she would not continue to follow her dream. Each of us has to do what we think is best for ourselves and I understood Marissa’s choice. We all wished her well in her new vocation, whatever it would be.
After what was a horrendous and frightening ordeal, we were very cautious and the Board of Health ordered us not to speak to anyone about it. Lice was a taboo and shushed subject although we were itching to discuss what we experienced. Ever since then, when we caught one of us scratching our heads we would make a rude or silly lice remark.
After this eye-opening incident and many heated conversations with them, Helena and Brenda made special arrangements with the Board of Health to help. They reluctantly took on the responsibility to supply a place to continue providing those much-needed free services. No longer would we do this as students, instead we would volunteer our time to the Board of Health. It was deeply disappointing that not all the students volunteered. Some were leery of working with the Board of Health staff and not Helina. As things started to ramp up again we found that even more precautions would have to be taken. We all wore rubber gloves and plastic outfits, ones that covered our entire uniforms and shoes. Overall, we didn’t mind and the patrons didn’t know the difference. Being less fortunate or poor was not an indication someone was not clean or didn’t know how to take care of themselves. However, some could not afford professional salon services.
There was no recognition or extra marks and many times no thanks given but we knew in our hearts that we really did make a difference, and that was good enough for us. After all, I came from a family that struggled and any extras were a luxury. I understood.
During our time spent helping others there were many lessons to be learned, we witnessed and dealt with some horrendous medical and health problems.
The mind-boggling and shocking sight of a spider that built a web just under the skin on the scalp of one unfortunate woman causing her severe headaches, the problem going undiagnosed by the medical profession, but caught by the trained eye of our teacher. Scabs and open sores on the heads of men, women and children from scratching with dirty nails or the sharing of unclean or broken hair care utensils, sometimes these wounds would emit a putrid sickening odor. It was not unheard of that one of us might feel sick to our stomach at times.
We fixed jagged unprofessional hair cuts on uncombed matted, filthy dirty hair that desperately needed grooming. One mother, confessed to me she used pinking shears that she salvaged from the trash bin to cut her family’s hair. Lovingly we manicured and treated broken and dirty fingernails with torn or split skin where hang nails occurred, sometimes becoming infected. Our hearts went out to the people we were able to help and I cannot remember any of us making a rude remark about what we saw. Did we talk about it? Of course we did. Did we shudder at the sight of some of the things we saw? Yes, but while we were looking we saw that we were blessed by the simplest things; like the tools to stay clean, the desire to take care of our daily needs. I could not begin to fathom what life would be like living in such conditions nor could I understand how one could find themselves in such a place of hopelessness and abject poverty, living on the streets. Although I came from a family that was poor, not in my worst nightmare could I see myself there. I didn’t expect to learn or experience anything like this when I enrolled in hairdressing school. I was there to do hair. But what a gift, learning from one lice laden head riddled with sores what it meant to care for others. To my profound displeasure, anger and frustration and to Helena’s heart wrenching disbelief, Barnett finally got his revenge and with feral joy closed its doors at the Board Of Health, to the services so desperately needed by others, so readily given by a few caring students and one superintendent who believed. To this sixteen year old the excuses concerning liability and safety were both flimsy and seemed deliberately uncaring. I could not understand why this country that boasted caring for its people could be so indifferent to any one segment of the community. Making myself a promise I swore I would be the next one who would change their way of thinking and restore Helena’s dream. I was honored and privileged to be one of the students who were given the chance to learn from Helena and to carry for the rest of my life the lessons on giving to others selflessly. It was much later that I would learn my next lesson, that this simple act, when shrouded in government regulations, would become impossible.