Orange Blossoms and Hair

Orange Blossoms and Hair

During my time as an intern, I was given the opportunity to attend a workshop with Lighthouse. I attended Sarah Elizabeth Schantz's class on the braided essay. There, I learned about the glimmer, the portrait, and the place and how writing about random images of our past can subconsciously bring together a larger image. After the class, I decided to give it a go. 


Summer, to me, has always tasted like sour cherry syrup and orange blossom jam. 

Both homemade in a kitchen with windows that have no screens and floors made of red concrete. The walls are yellow, and there was a time, when I was a child, that the fridge was green. 

The sour cherries are bought from a bazaar not twenty minutes from my grandparents’ house. Small stalls overflow with kettles and pans, tents are draped over alleyways as tables of various fruits, vegetables, and spices line the once abandoned streets.

The orange blossoms come from my grandfather’s orange tree. The one that stood rooted in the corner of his garden. In its most recent years, the tree creates a ceiling of shade above the garden. Serving its duty protecting the other plants from the near desert sun. My grandfather loved that tree, and he loved that garden. I joke that he loved that tree more than any of us. I don’t remember if it has always been there, but I do know that for 11 years he would spend most of the spring and summer sitting at the top of his green front steps watching as my sister or I tended to the garden under his strict instructions.

“You haven’t watered that one enough!” 

“Enough! That’s too much water!”

He used to be a heavy weightlifter, then a teacher, then a father, a principle, eventually a father-in-law, and some twenty-three odd years ago a grandfather. Throughout it all he was a gardener. He knew his gardens and the plants that resided as well as the roots did.

The orange tree was the crown jewel of his jungle, the jam was the crown jewel of my grandmother's kitchen. Everyone loved the jam, but no one cared for it more than my father. The carefully packaged jar would make its journey once a year across a sea and ocean just to get to him. 

Three thousand miles away, and we can still smell the orange blossoms in summer. 


A neon hue of pale blue illuminated the room. The computer screen on the other side was half blocked by my father’s head. Slumped in a chair watching a braiding tutorial intently. 

I couldn’t sleep that night, I was supposed to wake up the next day and be some sort of big kid, but I didn’t feel that way then. I don’t feel that way now. I came looking for him in all my five year old distress. Quiet like a mouse I sat on the floor next to him. He had a beauty doll in front of him. The hair was tangled and knotted and the face had been ruined by random streaks of nail polish added when I wanted to be a makeup artist. Despite not being the best dummy, my dad was still trying to brush out and braid its hair. 

“Hi honey,” he said, the way he has said it for my entire life. 

My sister had gone to bed crying. 

Tomorrow was the first day of school and our mom was studying in Wyoming. She wouldn’t be there to get us ready or see us off. This would be the first year she wasn’t there to see us off.  My sister cried that she wanted her to come home so that she could braid her hair in the morning. It was the first day of school, she had to have her hair braided. My mother would understand, if only she would come home.  My dad told her that wasn’t possible, so she went to bed in tears. 

He spent the night teaching himself a simple French braid so that she could look her best tomorrow. 

My mother didn’t know how to braid hair.

He knew that, yet he still learned. On the floor, perched at his feet, I let him brush my hair and braid it. Two simple braids that fell down my shoulders. He carried me off to bed after that, but in the morning, he would braid my hair again. They came out better the second time. 


Spring always starts with fire. Crimson, yellow, orange, and scarlet sounding the bells for the start of a thirteen-day celebration. On the eve of the last Wednesday of the solar year, just as the sun goes down, three to five fires are lit in the driveway or backyard of some aunt or uncle of mine. 

We used to hold Charshambeh Soori at our house, but we haven’t done that since I was little.

The fires burn as we jump over them, cleansing our soul in preparation for the new year brought about by the spring equinox.  After the jumping comes the sparklers and poppers and whatever fireworks we could manage to find. 

Fire is a symbol of rebirth so it makes sense that Nowruz would start that way. 

When I was five, we celebrated in our garage. It was a cold March that year, not surprising for Colorado, so the fires wouldn’t stay lit amongst the frost and snow, so we moved the cars and the boxes and anything flammable and we set up our fires in the garage. Our closest friends joined us—they are more like family by spirit though. There was smoke everywhere and people laughing, singing, and chanting. 

Along with the fires comes the assortment of fireworks and wonders that the average American would find useful on the fourth of July. These wonders included sparklers,

I had been given sparklers before, but never one this big. When I saw the pretty light, my instinct was to touch it. Instead, I wrapped my little hand around the sparkles. 

I learned what instant regret was that year. I cried then, unable to use my hand for the days to come, but I laugh now.


I was six years old the first time the question of my race was ever posed to me. 

Sitting in a comically small dark blue plastic chair, barely sitting over the tan wood desk, staring at a survey that was meant to measure how safe I felt at school. The survey was anonymous, so naturally it collected as much defining information that it could without asking for a name directly. 

The third question was on race. 




Native American

Pacific Islander

or other were my options. Up until that moment race was not a concern of mine, at that moment I realized I didn’t know what my race was. I stared at the list trying to figure it out. Where did Middle Eastern fit in all of this? I knew I wasn’t black, nor native American—my parents were immigrants. I also didn’t come from an island, and I most certainly was not white. My skin was brown, a coffee mixed with heavy creamer color during the winter, and a slighter darker roast for the summer. Beyond that I didn’t look like the other girls in my class. My hair was dark, and thick, and seemed to cover more of me than it did them. So, through the process of elimination, I had come to the conclusion that I was Asian. All this time, and no one ever told me. I was offended that no one had thought to mention it to me before. Secure in my newfound identity I walked with a new air of confidence to my teacher for confirmation. I was six, never had been asked this question before, and raised on the need for approval and validation from adults. 

“Honey, you are white.” My teacher Ms. Katie had just hit me with a bus.

Unfortunately for her, I am a beautiful combination of both my mother and fathers’ inherited stubbornness. 

“No, I am not.” 

After a few minutes of bickering with a six-year-old, my teacher gave in. She told me to mark what felt right then go home and talk to my parents about it. It was the right response to give, it wasn’t her job to explain the follies of the world to me, not these ones anyways. It was her job to teach me addition and subtraction. 

I spent the rest of the school day angry that she wouldn’t listen to reason, and the evening waiting for my dad to come home so I could receive the confirmation I wanted.

“You’ll never believe what Ms. Katie thinks. She thinks we are white!” I declared just after dinner.

“You are.” 

And so, it seems, I am. White (including that of Middle Eastern origin)


They told me to love my curls. 

As far back as I can remember people were constantly telling me how lucky I was to have curly hair.

“People would kill to have your kind of hair.”

“You are so lucky your hair is curly and not boring and flat.”

They would always tell me to love my curls.

Of course, I didn’t. I hated my curls.They didn’t fit right with my head, I thought, I imagined how much better it would be if my hair was straight. They were always so chaotic and untamable. I could never put my hair into a nice ponytail like the other girls, if I brushed it when dry the curls would come apart and I would be left with a pile of frizz three times the size. Everyone wanted curly hair yet the curls that were shown on TV were all man made and nothing like mine. 

Then there was the hassle of the maintenance. 

You cannot shower too often or else your hair will dry out, but you also must shower often in order to maintain the perfect spiral. You must put in the effort to find better oils, mousse, leave-in conditioners, gels, and other random products to make sure the curl is as perfect as it can be. You should not use a regular towel to dry your hair. You must use a wide tooth comb to brush it.  You must make sure there are no knots in your hair. You have to wait for your hair to dry before going to bed or else you will wake up in the morning with a bird’s nest instead. You will wake up in the morning with a bird nest anyway. You must not brush your hair when dry. 

I was six the first time I tried to get my hair straightened. My efforts died in vain when my mother ultimately vetoed my attempt. 

“No.” I begged, I pleaded, I bargained, but she did not budge. 

“Why do you even want to straighten your hair? If you do, your curls will lose their hold.” It was a lie of course. 

“Good.” I would tell her. I hated my curls. 

My mother eventually caved and bought a hair straightener. Gray and shitty, barely doing the job, but doing it nonetheless. The first time I straightened my hair I was transfixed on how different I looked, how much better I looked. If only it could remain straight forever. I spent years chasing an image that was not my own.

“Special occasions only,” she would warn me. 

I listened for a time, but ‘special occasion’ was a loose term and I was able to manipulate any occasion into ‘special’. First days of school, last day of school, birthdays (not just mine), holidays, dinner parties. The list grew as the year’s past. 

People in the halls always complimented my curls. 

“I love your curls.” The statement was getting repetitive.

I also was complimented on the rare days my hair was straight. Often met with even more admiration for some dead cells growing out of the top of my head. 

“You look so good with straight hair.”

“Why don’t you straighten your hair more?”

 “I love it!”

 The only person who never liked when my hair was straight was my mother. She thought it was a waste. When I first started straightening it she would tell me I looked nice—never pretty or beautiful, just nice. As I grew older and I straightened it more she grew silent, and by the time I was sixteen she would warn me away from it. 

“You’ll fry your hair.”

“It will all fall out.”

“You will lose your curls.”

I stopped straightening my hair.

My hair never liked being straight. It struggled to maintain the flat stiff structure the four-hundred-degree iron willed it to be. Bumps, waves, and even curls would return to my hair within the hour of straightening it. The memory of the hair overpowering the forced figure it had taken. 


I think I knew my grandfather was going to die that day. Subconsciously at least. I had already been wearing all black. Which is something I rarely do. I like loud colors and odd pieces. That Friday I found myself wearing the plain black attire that I would dawn for the next two weeks. I woke up and grabbed the first thing in sight. 

I knew he was sick. 

He had been sick for quite some time. Survived a series of unfortunate events that took place over the past decade or so. All the while staying in the home he built only 20 feet away from his orange tree. 

I received the news while I was at work. 11:18 AM. Fifteen days before spring.

My Grandparents had raised me. My dad’s mom was with us for half the year and my mother’s parents for the other. They looked after us when we were too young for school, then they waited for us to return in the yellow bus while we went. It was like this for most of my childhood.

Then we got older. We had sports, camps, and friends. We had grown up and didn’t need much raising anymore. 

Of course, my grandfather stopped coming well before then. 

Truth be told, I am not sure how much he enjoyed coming here. It was far from his home, and from his family, and my sister and I always gave him a hard time.

He was a smoker. A heavy one. We would steal his lighters, cut his cigarettes, or soak them completely. In the winter when it was too cold to smoke outside, he would smoke in the garage. My sister would lock him in there until my mom or dad heard his knocks and let him back in. For as annoying as we were, he never let it be known. He took it all in good spirits and laughed with us in the end. 

My grandfather was my favorite person on the planet. He shaped a lot of who I am. My stubbornness, my curiosity—okay fine, nosiness—my will, and my drive. 

He was in the hospital before he died. It wasn’t the first time either. This time we all knew it was the last. However, his absence still left everything in chaos. 

All of us seemed to be in a limbo. We existed in the gray area between life and death, grief was a barren and cold land.

In the days following his death I thought a lot about his orange tree. I knew my grandmother wouldn’t stay in that house forever, and I knew that once it was sold the land would be leveled and used as an extension for the government building next door, and I knew that the tree wouldn’t be here at some point. 

Though spring was right around the corner, and the orange blossoms in bloom, the roots that had been taking hold for forty years have a future that only needs to know: When?

Darya Navid is an intern. She’s an English and Economics major at the University or Colorado and an aspiring writer.