The Russian French Braid

Russia, 1998: Our home-class in Ekaterinburg had a paragon of beauty, impossible to duplicate. Her name was Allochka, doe-eyed, with a waist-long braid. This braid done in a French manner was the envy of the third grade, and its platinum blonde color – glossing in the winter sun – wasn’t the cause. It was because Allochka’s braid was so tight and it had no holes between the crisscrossed locks. The fact that Allochka’s eyes seemed to crawl up to her forehead from the tightness of the braid only added to the envy, and universal awe.

“It’s the hairstyle of a Princess,” said some.

“It is the hairstyle of an alien,” said others, “Her forehead seems twice taller now.”

All of the little girls were mad about that infamous Russian French braid. Having my mother do my hair in the morning, I demanded to wear my braid a la Allochka without any holes in it. My mother failed. She failed again, and again…and every morning we would spend up to 30 minutes before my braid was “tight enough” – probably 30 or so attempts, with stomps, screams, and tears from my terrorizing side. I would tear off the scrunchy in wrath and despair.

“I can’t do it tighter. I might pull out your hair!” my mother warned, but I shouted, “I don’t care! I want a braid without a hole!”

Finally, my father offered a solution. He fetched my favorite plush bunny and tied three ropes around its head.

“Sweetheart,” he said to me, “Braid the bunny in the way that there’s no hole in the French braid.” For several days, I attempted – with all of my strength -until I tore the bunny’s head off (whether from the futile efforts, or in another fit of rage).

That day, when I crossed paths with Allochka, she seemed to be in pain, and I decided, “Her hair must be made by the Grand Inquisitor himself.” That would be Allochka’s older sister and her role model – a bald looking, but perfectly braided Grade 10 fashionista whom I heard say, “Beauty comes with hurt, Allochka.”

I fear checking if Allochka has become a hairstylist herself – in revenge.

And I’ve learned yet another lesson to never copy what doesn’t work for me. Namely anything that’s not distinctly, comfortably ME.

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