My Battles With Hair Part III: Summer Love, Sisters, and The Blow Dryer-Brush
The summer after I turned 11, when my sister was 13, we spent a lot of weekends with our parents at our lake house in the Pocono Mountains. The region was plagued, that summer, by swarms of black flies, and hair-ruining humidity. We soon befriended our neighbors around the corner, a 14-year-old boy and his two younger sisters.
I want to say his name was Jake, but that may only be because I fell for him as desperately and obsessively as Molly Ringwald falls for Jake Ryan in Sixteen Candles. Like Jake Ryan, my Jake was rugged and carefree. He knew how to fish and jump start our ATV’s by connecting their batteries to car engines. We would play hide and go seek in the night amidst fireflies, beneath stars. Possibly nothing has been more thrilling than those stolen moments when he grabbed my shoulder or tickled my abdomen.
This was the summer I would sit out on our deck reading letters from my friend at sleepaway camp. She would write about her new boyfriend, making out, and how one time his hand had ever so intentionally grazed her buttocks. Do I have to iterate that I wanted to impress Jake? I did. And I tried my hardest that summer to be cute as could be. I would put on outfits just to go make a campfire, all the while struggling desperately to manage the frizz-fest on my head.
I tried many gadgets around that age to get my hair to look the right way. There were hair rollers, shampoos, and serums. But one of the most promising was a revolving round brush perforated with holes that blew hot air to allow an amateur to simultaneously brush and blow dry. The logic here is completely sound, but as is common with products developed for use by non-professionals, the blow dryer just did not work powerfully enough.
I used this blow dryer brush for the first time one Saturday after spending the day swimming in the lake. After dinner, around dusk, Jake and his sisters picked up my sister and I from our house. We walked around the lake aimlessly discussing our plans for the night.
Before going out that night, after having styled my hair, I had turned to my sister solemnly and made an earnest request of her. Though still naïve at 11, I knew that new products were not foolproof. Often they failed to meet the promises of their infomercials or photos on the back of their packaging. So I needed my sister to be honest with me. If my hair took a turn for the worse, if it started to look bad, I needed her to tell me. She swore and out we went.
We had once circled the lake and the cicadas began to envelope the evening inspiring all sorts of hopeful romantic opportunities in my Little Mermaid-informed imagination. And it was at this moment, to my trauma and horror, that Jake’s little sister turned to me, in front of everyone (in front of Jake!) and said to me, ‘What happened to your hair? It looks like you’ve been electrocuted.’
Everyone died with laughter, except for me; I was dying with mortification. Of course, I experienced rage at and betrayal by my sister, but primarily I was overwhelmed by mortification. I was wont to act as though I didn’t care (this was the era of Cher Horowitz’s ‘Whatever’ after all), but I promptly went home, looked in the mirror at myself, and at the enormous swath of hair ballooning around my head, and sobbed heartily at my misfortune.
I was certain at the time that I would never forgive my sister or trust her again. To be fair, I made sure to torment her for the next few years of our lives to make up for this and other inevitable let-downs; sister relationships are complicated. Fortunately we have since recovered from this phase of our lives. I’ve even begun to trust people again.
But there are certain truths about ourselves that we know best. And if I didn’t learn that discrete fact concretely then (as I can attest I did not—there was even a time when at 16 I allowed my ‘best friend’ to dye my hair blonde and ended up with a head full of brittle orange hay), I have come to fully develop an understanding of it now.
It’s important to be able to reach out to experts for the resources they have to offer, but that summer at our lake house a spark of Henry David Thoreau was lit within me, and I too began to heed the words Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance. We are our own best experts, and if we are going to evaluate ourselves based on our own sets of expectations, ultimately we are the ones to trust. I never got the kiss I wanted that summer. Though I would argue that what I learned would ultimately become of greater value to me. When it comes to your life, and more importantly, your hair, become your own expert; trust yourself. And me, of course.
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