By: Gabriel B.

Hair-Cutting Day; Sunday, September 1985 

Celia, tall, slender, sixteen, sat still on the stool while Mama cut her hair to a “sensible length.” Mama, tall, stocky, forty, former hair-dresser at Mister Maloney's barber shop before it closed. She trusted no one to cut our hair but herself.

Me, average height, stocky, sixteen, sat at the kitchen table, watching my twin’s haircut and dreading my turn. Mama said that only loose women had hair down to their mid-back. I’d never seen a loose woman but according to Mama, who presumably had, they were covered in tattoos, smoked, had long hair, and wore short skirts and low tops. 

Papa, tall, slender, forty-three, sat in the living room, reading his newspaper while the TV broadcasted the Weather Channel. He would occasionally grumble to himself about “kids nowadays”. It was hard to imagine Papa as a kid, he always seemed so strict and like he knew the answers to everything. My brother Julian, tall, slender, eleven, sat at the table next to me, reading a comic book he’d borrowed from a friend. He’d already had his haircut. 

“Stella, come here,” Mama said. 

Celia admired herself in the hand mirror, her dark hair cut into a neat bob. 

I got up and headed over to the stool that Celia had vacated. I sat down and took a deep breath, trying to focus on the week ahead. 

Nonna was visiting on Wednesday and staying until next Sunday. She was Mama’s mother and one of the few members of the Italian family who still talked to us. Mama’s sisters Zia Giulia and Zia Maria lived in Miami while we lived in Orlando. Nonna was coming all the way from Milian, Italy. She frequently traveled across the world visiting friends and family. No one asked how she got the means to do all this, but I figured it must have come from all the money her late husbands had left her. She had lived with her first husband, Zia Giulia’s father, in New York, then they moved to Italy to be closer to her mother. Her first husband died shortly after and she remarried two years later to Mama and Zia Maria’s father. Mama had grown up the first half of her childhood in Naples, then when she was about nine, they’d moved back to the US and settled in Miami. When Mama was in college, Nonna and her third husband moved back to Italy, and that’s where Nonna had lived ever since. 

Mama & My Best Friend Don’t Mix 

My best friend Kim Chen sat on my bed, smiling at me. She was wearing a rather low-cut pink top and shorts that day, even though it was starting to get closer to winter. Her hair was in a messy bun and she was wearing orange eyeshadow and tinted lip balm. Her nails were painted red, a color Mama would never allow me to paint mine. Apparently, make-up and bold nail polish were for loose women, according to Mama. Thank goodness she was right now at the airport picking up Nonna. 

“What did you think of the sub in Physical Education?” Kim asked. 

I shrugged. “He was okay. Made us do a lot of pushups, though.” 

“He kept looking down my top. But he was kinda cute.” She giggled.

“So, it’s okay, because he’s cute?” 

She shrugged. “I mean, it’s harmless to look, right? He didn’t touch me or anything.” 

“I guess.” It still made me uncomfortable; the thought of an older man looking down my shirt. I was never as outgoing and free as Kim, mostly because my mother wouldn’t let me. Though, maybe that was a good thing. Kim tended to attract the kind of attention that I didn’t want on me. She leaned closer to me. “Guess what?!” 


“I’ve got a date tomorrow after school!” 

“What? With who?” 

“Arnie Armstrong! He’s in our third period.” 

I stared at her. “Isn’t he…” visions of Arnie from third period smoking cigarettes behind the school flashed through my mind. “I didn’t think you’d go for someone like him. I mean, he smokes and says curse words.” 

Kim rolled her eyes. “Everybody does that. And he’s super cute.” 

I stared at her for a second. “I don’t. Do you?” 

“Well, duh, it's cool. Plus, it’s not gonna hurt anyone.” She pulled out a pack of Marlboro cigarettes and a bejeweled pink lighter from her purse. 


A knock came at my door. “Stella, Nonna’s here and..” The door opened. “She’s going to be staying on the air mattress in your room.” Mama and Nonna stood there. 

Mama’s eyes went right to the cigarettes, which Kim quickly shoved back in her purse. Then Mama looked at me. Her expression was a mix of anger and shock. “Mamma,” she said to Nonna. “Why don’t you go see Celia? She’s prepared a special surprise for you.” 

Nonna nodded and headed down the hall to Celia’s room. 

Mama turned to me and Kim. “I knew you were a bad influence on my daughter! Get out!” Her voice was raised loud enough to show her anger, but not loud enough for the entire building to hear. 

“Bye, Stella,” Kim said, then skittered like a scared cat out of my room, squeezing past Mama. Mama, hands now on her hips, turned to me. “How dare you bring cigarettes into my home! I hope you’re not going to start dressing like her too!” 

“Mama, I didn’t know she had those!” I protested. 

Mama narrowed her eyes. “It doesn’t matter. You have brought dishonor on this family by inviting her. You knew Nonna would be here, and you brought over some prostituta! Why are you even friends with her?!” 

I shook my head. “She didn’t used to be like this!” 

“You are forbidden from seeing that girl and no TV for a week!” 

I sat there silently, knowing it was useless to protest. 

Nonna’s Expectations 

Thursday morning, we all sat around the kitchen table, except Papa, who had already gone to work. Nonna and Mama had cooked up some cornettos, an Italian breakfast food that Nonna loved. The grown-ups had coffee. Us kids weren’t allowed to have any caffeine, even though Celia and I were both sixteen. Julian wasn’t allowed either, but he was younger.

“Girls,” Nonna said, and we looked up from our food. “How are you doing in school? I understand that it is a big thing now that girls get an education.” She sounded slightly resentful, as if she didn’t quite agree. 

“I’m doing good,” Celia said, which was true. She’d always been good at everything. 

“Me too,” I added. It wasn’t technically a lie. I was doing my best. Not that my best was good enough for Mama and Papa’s high standards. 

Nonna nodded. “And you have boyfriends?” 

Celia and I glanced at each other. “No,” Celia said. Mama and Papa thought we were too young for “that kind of nonsense”. 

“Ah well. Maybe you’ll find some nice boys to marry soon.” Nonna sipped her coffee. She looked at Julian. “And you’re doing well in school?” 

He nodded. 

“Good. Boys are the ones who really need an excellent education.” Nonna smiled. “You know, when I was young…” She began to ramble on about how girls weren’t meant to be equal to boys and saying other stuff I didn’t like hearing.

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