It’s Okay to Try

Opening scene of Terri Hardin’s memoir – a collaboration

Dear Reader,

The Hollywood film industry is one of the few industries exempt from prosecution for discrimination laws. Imperfections have always been openly criticized and exploited. And what did I do? Well, just look at me—an interracial, wild-haired asthmatic—my body has always left me with no choice other than to be the bullies’ easy target—so, what do you think I did? I’ll tell you what I did. I jumped headfirst into this discriminating world, with all its beautiful–beautiful people. After all, people were mean to me already anyway, so what difference would it make? Right?

I’d bet you can easily recall a time when someone made you feel like an outcast. Me, too! Well, guess what. No matter how old you are or how old you become, you will always be different from other people, so you are going to bump into people who are mean to you from time to time, because you are you. But don’t worry about it.

It’s not a matter of becoming more defensive or aggressive. It’s a matter of becoming more honest with yourself and others, so you don’t waste your life fighting, or going in false directions, or leading others to believe you’re someone other than who you are, because no matter what, you can’t live a lie forever.

I hope this book with alternating chapters between my youth and my Hollywood career will show how many situations in my youth still happen to me as an adult. I hope that by sharing my challenges with you, you may be able to find the comfort and strength you need to accept yourself as you are (and maybe pity the ignorant a little.) I hope you may be inspired to explore art, or writing, or construction, or science—or anything—so you can find a personally satisfying form of self-expression for an outlet, as I did. And I hope you see that hiding the thing that makes you YOU may be killing the very thing that can give you the respect and appreciation you want.

But focusing on nothing but unhappy moments in a memoir can be a drag to read. So, I hope that by sharing my experiences as an adult behind the scenes as a Disney artist and Hollywood creature effects artist, you might find some fun trivia while relating to some funky situation.

Uncomfortable moments really do happen to us all. The truth is, we are all different, and that’s exactly what the world needs. The world needs YOU!

It’s all about attitude, my friend.

THE ROSE IN THE WEED PATCH

I was crying. Crying was something I did almost every day. Sometimes outwardly, but mostly within. I tried to be strong, but there were only so many times I could take being called Phyllis Diller. Maybe being wild-haired worked for Phyllis, but it didn’t work for me.

I was only eight; and so were the kids on the playground. The ones who had surrounded me earlier in the day. They had grabbed and pulled my hair until they steered my head around like I was a bridled horse. They’d laughed and poked their fingers in my hair—the hair that wouldn’t lie down any more than it would make a smooth afro.

My hair stood straight out in every direction, like a dandelion ready to release its tufts into the air and drift away. I couldn’t be that lucky though. My tuft wouldn’t drift away. I was stuck with it—along with the kids and their perpetual nasty name-calling.

I dropped to the front step, the one practically worn to fit my butt from the hundreds of times I had sat there waiting for my dad to come home, and watched the big ball of orange settle on the horizon. My tears blurred the world and made all the colors run together, but I didn’t try to wipe them away. I didn’t care. I just let them streak down my face and fall free on their own.

“Bad Day?”

I don’t know when my head had dropped from the sun to resting on my forearms, but I found myself looking at the tiny wet circles between my feet. I lifted my head.

Dad stood over me in spite of the rise from the step I was on, his dark skin making him an even darker silhouette against the evening sky, the clunky metal lunchbox dangling from the fingers of his one hand and his other hand already reaching for me. His thick black hair didn’t lay down either, but at least it made a perfectly smooth, tight curly sphere—not at all like the wild gold fluff I was cursed with.

The moment his fingers came in contact with my skin, the dam burst. The tears that had almost subsided flooded my eyes again. “Daaaaaaad… Why can’t I have hair like Mary Tyler Moore? Hair that goes down and turns up with a nice little flip, like everyone else’s?” I slid my palms down my hair and whipped them up at the base of my neck, like a downhill skier leaving the ramp. “Why does my hair have to grow straight up?”

My hair replied in defiance. It boinked back into the air in every direction, probably not exactly into the same shape it had been, but definitely not anything in a downward direction. I collapsed, sobbing as if an invisible string holding me up had been cut.

“All the kids make fun of me. Why do I have to be so different?”

Dad tried to suppress his smile, but he was never very good at it, so there it was, that same little smirk that got him in trouble with Mom whenever they tried to scold me or my sister for something they knew needed attention but also found funny. He sighed and sat down next to me. Leaning in, he whispered, “Close your eyes.”

Instead of closing my eyes, my eyes widened and I looked up at him.

“Close your eyes.”

I shook my head. Sheesh, I thought, but then I closed my eyes.

“Now, I’m going to ask you to create a picture in your mind. Okay?”

This was ridiculous. Create a picture? Really? Didn’t he realize how serious this was? I was dying! I imagined things all the time, and I could already tell him for a fact that, even if I conjured up the meanest dragon in the whole wide world, it wouldn’t protect me from the kids on the playground.

“Just humor me.”

I groaned.

“Alright. Now, imagine a rose,” he said. “Got it?”

“Yes daddy, I’ve got it.” This was really dumb, but whatever….

“What kind of a rose is it?”

“It’s pink, with dark pink edges.” I wasn’t sure what the point of this little picture was, but it was a pretty rose. It was my absolute favorite kind of rose. Mom grew ones like it in our garden. They were called Bewitched. They weren’t really supposed to have dark pink edges, but mine did. It looked nicer that way.

“Is it a long-stemmed rose or a short-stemmed one?”

“Long-stemmed.” I straightened my back. I wanted to be able to see every petal of it.

“Good. Now I want you to place that rose in a huge field of weeds, big strong green gnarly weeds. Weeds to the left, weeds to the right. Big ol’ weeds as far as your eyes can see.”

Weeds! Why would I put my perfect pink rose in a field of weeds? In a crystal vase maybe, or in my hand with a ribbon tied to it—but in a field of weeds? My dad had lost his mind!

“Do you have it?”

It took all the will power I had, but I did it. My special, one-of-a-kind just-for-me pink rose with the dark pink edges stood tall in a field of weeds. It was a beautiful rose. My beautiful rose. Somehow, it looked even prettier standing in contrast to the stubby weeds with their coarse leaves.

“Yes, Daddy. I have it.”

“Now, consider this very carefully.” He paused for just a moment. “There are weeds in every direction, and only one rose standing all alone in the center of all of them. “Now I ask you, Terri, do you really want to be a weed?”

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