Wednesday, September 11

faults or credits

last week on a somewhat breezy Wednesday, I finished my class conferences, threw my notebooks and things in a bag, and walked across the street toward the hair salon I'd seen from the bus that morning. the receptionist asked if I'd need my hair dried and styled, unsure if there would be time between already scheduled appointments--but I said no, I hate hair dryers. so she sat me down in front of a very large mirror.

after some combing and sectioning and chatter, she cut off an eleven inch braid. the rest got trimmed very neatly, layered a bit, and thinned out enough to get me through the last few weeks of this humid Indiana summer. I'm going to mail the snipped off braid to these people and hope it ends up being useful to a wig-maker somewhere.

the last time my hair was anywhere near this short was in sixth grade. 1996 or so? yeah. a neighbor lady had volunteered to cut a more ambitious style than my mum (the usual hair stylist back then) had been willing to inflict, I suppose. I ended up with a bob around my ears, probably some fringe in front. pretty much the only thing I've remembered about that haircut, in all the years since, has been one cruel comment from a boy in my orchestra class. he said it looked as if some fuzzy creature had died on my head.

is that teaspoon of insult the reason I never again (until now) got my hair cut so short?

strangely (is it strange? you tell me) until just now as I wrote out this story (a story I've glossed in many casual self-deprecating conversations with dozens of friends. probably a third of you reading this have heard some version of it before), I always assumed that kid was right. I bought and swallowed that one-line comment completely. what that nameless sixth grade boy said about my hair must have been true.

and now that I am thinking back to all the times I've told the story and the excuses I've tacked on to it. usually I say something about my naive sixth-grade self, who hadn't figured out how to handle her mass of thick dark brown curls, so frizzing and crazy. that girl hadn't heard of mousse. all she knew was ponytails and those flippy triangular metal clip things. she couldn't french braid her own hair. she hadn't developed her current fondness for ribbons. she didn't quite know who she was.

that sixth-grade bob probably did look like something dead. I almost can't imagine it any other way, having attached everything about that haircut to one boy's probably thoughtless comment. no other reality has thus far existed in my head. nothing outside that moment of insult is still around for me to use as a framework for the memory.

of course, outwardly, I shrugged off that moment and went on to finish sixth grade, move away, learn many things, and grow my hair out again. at some point I started waiting longer and longer in between haircuts. I let almost anyone take scissors to it when it started really needing a trim (upstairs dorm friends. sisters. cosmetology students. my hair is not picky.)--and by now I've learned that all my hair really needs is daily washing, a bit of mousse, and space. maybe from time to time it still looks like a monster. oh well.

I do not want to say my everso precious self-image as a sixth grade girl was awfully damaged or ruined by this carefully remembered comment.

I'm just thinking and questioning, suddenly, the ways other people's expressed perceptions--and the expectations and standards of beauty or professionalism or appropriate grooming or whatever ingrained sense of propriety--are and have been shaping the way I remember this moment of my life and the way I have always told this story. how fascinating it is that I built a reality around that insult. I justified it, joined in, looked back with pity on my sixth-grade incompetence and laughed it off, blaming myself for eliciting insults from sixth-grade boys. without even knowing how serious a comment he meant it to be, without even giving room in my head for anyone else's opinions from that year, I made it all the haircut's fault. by extension, my fault. I had trusted that well-meaning neighbor with her hair scissors. if only I hadn't been so inexperienced, no insult would have been warranted. as it was, the insult somehow became a completely valid thing.

how have I never thought about this til now?

what if he was wrong?

I'm not saying he was. if he saw in my glorious mess of brown frizz something dead, okay.

but suddenly I'm pretty sure that's not the only way to look at the world, or my head, or anything else.
he, whoever he was, may have been unreasonably and intentionally mean. he may have been more simply thoughtless and blunt. I don't know.

in revisiting this whole account here, I also do not want to say that insults are never called for or should never happen. free speech, right? you are very welcome to hate my haircut. you are welcome to have fun imagining what kind of deceased thing it most resembles. I probably won't even mind much if you share your opinion.

I just hope that from now on I'll think before I rearrange my memories so I'm at fault for your dislike. the corollary to this, you realize, is that I can't take much credit for your approval either. if anything, the hairdresser at that salon on the corner, she deserves most of the praises for my haircut this time. or we could thank my parents, their genes, and biology. or the physics that make my hair fall this way or catch the light just so. it doesn't matter.

No comments: