My Life With Hair Part IV: Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
Once a year I go to my parents’ house for the holidays. My brother, sister, and I convene, grumble and moan, but ultimately we rise to the occasion and greet our family and friends with open arms. Seated around a whole slew of square tables we consume a meal that my mother cooks for 30 dinner guests, who will invariably inquire about my welfare, relationships, and job situation, all of which they know nothing about. Then they comment on my hair. Like people, hair grows, changes, and transforms. It expresses who we are at different moments in our lives.
For chameleons like me this can be a particularly effective means of marking time. Example: age 3, I am a cherub with angelic ringlet golden curls. I smile sweet as sugar, but when I don’t get my way, the entire block hears my screeches and fists hurled to the ground in a full force temper tantrum. My hair is not a halo but a lion’s mane of roaring wrath. Us chameleons can be deceptive that way.
Age 12: My mother has refused to take me to get my haircut after one tumultuous fight or another, but I will not be held down. I go up to the bathroom on the 3rd floor of our house with a pair of scissors previously reserved for cutting wrapping and construction paper for arts and crafts and proceed to give myself a bold above the shoulder long bob, only ever so slightly uneven. I emerge to go to a bat mitzvah in a black skirt suit and 2 inch pumps the next morning with a straight face (inwardly grinning ear to ear—or should I say strand to strand) as my mother does her best not to respond. Though I seem to recall her remarking afterwards that it was actually a pretty good cut.
Age 16: A previously mentioned former ‘best friend for life’, with the conviction of a professional hairstylist after slightly tinting her dark brown hair a deep auburn, takes it upon herself to dye my hair a platinum blonde with no success. My hair is left both dry and a rusty desert-colored orange/yellow. I spend a Saturday with my hair soaking in olive oil cocooned in saran wrap in an effort to recondition before succumbing at last to the hair salon where a hairstylist tells me our mistake was not having left the dye on long enough.
Age 21: Days before a trip to Paris, Barcelona and London with my then-boyfriend who had just graduated from college I decide it is the time to test the waters on the permanent straightening front and spring for the Japanese treatment at a highly regarded Upper East Side salon. While the salon may have the ambiance right, the results are miserable and a part of me cries inside throughout our vacation. A word is not uttered on this front to my boyfriend lest he find out that I have (gasp!) irrevocable hair troubles.
Given my interest in hair in general and my fondness in particular for its evocation of various points in my life via different incarnations, you would think that I might jump at the opportunity to gab like a middle school-er when a friend of my family remarks on my hair’s progress. And yet at these once yearly gatherings when the passing inquiries and comments are made about my life or physical appearance, even someone like me, with a singular interest in hair and an awareness that it is not just a superficiality but a metaphoric extension of ourselves, I find a discussion of my hair’s growth to be just about as titillating as a conversation about grass growing.
I changed my hair a lot as a girl, teen and young woman. And I’m still partial to change. As you may have gathered I’m a woman on a journey; I’m wont to go through markedly different phases, to change my mind about important philosophies on life as whimsically as others might change their physical appearance with clothing or haircuts. But while my opinions sometimes change excitedly, and I’m constantly on the lookout for my next great obsession (restaurants, spinning, meditation, travel), now in my mid-twenties, the changes in my hair have slowed down. They are unnoticeable to me on a day-to-day, month-to-month basis. Yes, I have been growing my hair out for about a year now. Yes, it is inches longer now than it was last year; I’m pleased with this. But at a certain point, the changes in the way that my hair looks will happen on their own. I may guide my tresses to the best of my ability, but sometimes you have to let go and let time do its work.
Like many changes in life, my hair’s growth has been gradual, over time, at a steady pace, in an entirely unexciting process. All the while I led my life as usual. I continued to go to work 5 days a week, went out to drinks, brunches and dinners with friends and on dates, attended parties, watched movies and saw Broadway shows, forgot to answer his last text message or checked my phone too periodically when he didn’t answer mine. And then one day I went back to my parents’ house, where I saw the same crew that I had seen the previous year, who commented on my hair, and I realized yes, yes it has been a year, and yes I have changed. It’s rather amazing how certain changes only happen when you don’t focus on them, how the watched pot won’t boil, or the watched phone won’t ring. For most of us (or the lucky ones at least), as time goes by, our hair just continues to grow back. For its constancy, I adore it. I may be capricious in my youth, but we all need something to hold onto at times.
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