Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer Hair

My straight hair is god-given, something that came with the Claire kit. Apparently, it can't be returned for exchange or refund.

I figured this out early, when selected to be an angel in the Christmas Eve pageant. Even my mom was enchanted by the halo and gossamer wings the church school teacher had given me. In a rare nod to playing dress up, she did her best to add to the overall effect, using bobby pins to twist sproing-like curls all over my head. I suppose she'd imagined a fluffy cluster of ringlets to disguise the wire that held the halo in place, but seconds after the bobby pins were removed, only one or two listless waves remained. At the eleventh hour, as the birth of Christ was nearly upon us, she dragged me to the church and the church school teacher came to the rescue with clouds of hairspray.

Once I'd entered elementary school, I absorbed the concept of envy more wholeheartedly than reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. Lindsey had this head of curly, dark hair, and Audrey was daring enough to tease her hair on top and make it flip out at the ends.

"I want curls like Lindsey, Mom," I begged. "Please?!"

Dutifully, Mom did what she could. After my bath, she rolled my wet hair tightly in these incredibly prickly curlers, snapped a shower cap over the top, and sent me off to bed. I'm still not sure how I survived the night. That curler helmet was nothing less than a scalp torture chamber. Everytime I moved my skull exploded with stabbing pain. When I didn't move, it kept up an aching, your-hair's-being-ripped-out-of-your-skull tension. And all for naught. The next morning, when she took out the rods (or cattle prods, or whatever the hell they were), the curls lasted less than half an hour.

My point is, I lusted after curls, but they'd always eluded me. So when perms made the scene in the 1980's, I was nothing short of ecstatic. My hair curled, and stayed curled! I had bounce, flair, my entire visage lifted. I looked and felt happier. I clung to the perm concept for over a decade, but after I had children, visits to hair salons by necessity became brief, anxious affairs. Once again, my hair deflated to its limp origins.

Then one day, it was a late spring afternoon, as I remember, when my son was at school and my preschool-aged daughter had a play date, I visited a walk-in hair salon and, on a whim, asked the stylist if she could give me a perm. She was so nice about it, willing to abandon several hours worth of clients just so I could regain my curly peace of mind. Together, we suffered through the smell, the drips, the folded papers and different-sized curlers, the whir of the hair dryer, the tangle of curlers clicking in the sink during the wash and rinse. The whole time, I felt a growing sense of excitement. My curls were back! I was back! Look out world! I could have it all!

Then came that last blow dry and style--the one where the stylist whips the chair around for the final "ta da"--and I knew in one glance: I'd made a huge mistake. I only had myself to blame. It's true, most of the hair I'd had when I'd walked into the salon had been on top. Perhaps the raw material had been lacking for what I'd envisioned. Whatever the reason, my hair was a mess, now rising up in a mound of floppy silly string, stupid, a ridiculous after-thought.

On the way home, I stopped to pick up my first grader. When your little son--who rarely really looks at you--notices something different, you know you're in trouble.

"What's that on your head, Mom?" He asked, frowning at my curly-the-clown hairdo.

"It's, um, my summer hair," I said, brightly.

"Yuk," he said, buckling in for the ride home. "I liked it better the other way."

The style grew out, but the "summer hair" moment has endured. I don't think I'll ever live it down.

No comments: