My daughter consistently leaves the house with hair unbrushed. It doesn’t help that her hair is a mop of incredibly curly tendrils that go every which way depending on humidity levels, temperature and apparently the cycles of the moon. I generally do not stress about her unkempt head because even when I do manage to run a brush through it, it tends to look messier than if I’d never even touched it. I’m also trying to avoid the deep emotional trauma that is evidently caused by a hairbrush being brought into her line of vision. This is compounded when I produce the bottle of detangler which makes her feel “shivery”, triggering a PTSD response akin to a Vietnam flashback. Ironically, this feels all too familiar. I too had a giant Cupie Doll mop of hair. It was gorgeous actually. People called me Goldie Locks. It didn’t matter what 80s monstrosity of an outfit I was wearing, or if I had chocolate milk on my lip. I was goddamn adorable with my big head full of messy locks…that is, until the incident.
One of my earliest religious memories is learning about pergatory. I didn’t learn about it in church or from reading the Bible, I learned about it from having my hair brushed. My mother, spent my early childhood getting her Bachelors degree in Latin American Studies at Smith College. She could not give a rats ass if my hair looked like a rats nest. My grandmother was a different story. Whenever she came to town she would sit me down on a chair in the kitchen and boldly announce, “I’m brushing this child’s hair!” To which my mother would respond from between the pages of a Pablo Neruda, “Have a ball!” Unfortunately for me, I was a relatively good little girl. At least I knew to be one when grandma was in town. So, I would diligently sit in that chair while my grandmother tore a comb — not a brush– but a comb through my gloriously messy golden locks. One particularly violent day a single tear managed to escape my eye and roll down my cheek. It splashed onto the vinyl cover of the chair upon which I sat. My grandmother glanced down and seeing my silently tortured face suggested, “Offer it up to the souls in pergatory dear.” I didn’t have the nerve to ask her what pergatory was since she was in fact wielding an instrument of torture. But later at dinner with my head gleaming and my scalp tingling I asked my mother. She thought for a moment before answering and finally said, “It’s kind of like Heaven’s waiting room.” Well, I was six. And the only waiting room I had ever been in was the one at the dentist. I imagined a beige waiting room filled with old magazines, Bossa Nova on the radio, souls wearing white robes waiting patiently while Saint Peter sat at a desk behind glass calling out names intermittently. The connection couldn’t have been vaguer. But somehow after that visit…the purgatory visit, my mother became far more concerned with my hair than ever before. During this time, I became bolder…and also more dramatic. I would scream and shout and flinch and cry every time she pulled the hairbrush down from the shelf…until the day she hit the wall. She hit the wall both figuratively and literally because my mother, without saying a word lobbed the wooden all natural boar bristles hairbrush across the room, denting the adjacent wall. She then without a word scooped me up and threw me into the backseat of the car. “Where are we going??” I screamed. She said nothing but drove me silently to the nearest hair salon where her good friend happened to work. “What are we doing today?” her friend asked brightly after I was tossed into the chair like I was a POW. My mother my responded, “Take it all off.”
Her friend of course protested. “No, no Karen that is her most beautiful feature. You don’t want to rob her of that.” Did I mention my mother went to Smith? Her eyes darkened and she demanded again, “Shave it all off.” Off it went. All my golden curls fell to the floor – a regular fairy tale massacre complete with blood curdling screams from yours truly. If I were my mother, I would have been mortified. But she seemed to take some silent pleasure in the whole experience.
Strangely, once I had cycled through DABDA for the third time I actually found myself enjoying my new buzz cut. Even as a six year old I understood the gloriously freeing feeling of experiencing the world, “like a boy” and by that I mean – not having to worry about “upkeep”. That weekend I ran around in the park and never had to worry about my windswept hair collecting debris, I went swimming without a swim cap, and I went straight to sleep after my bath without having to wait for my mom to braid my hair. My mind was already becoming accustomed to a freedom never before experienced when Monday morning stamped out my exultation with a steel-toed boot.
We had a substitute teacher that day and the very first thing that substitute teacher said to me was, “What is your name little boy?” I was mortified. All of the children laughed. The boys pointed at me. The girls didn’t want to play with me. Kindergarteners are assholes.
I arrived home sobbing to my mother, “They think I’m a boy!!!” Her solution? Get my ears pierced. Then everyone would know I was a boy. The next day I came to school with sparkly new studs in my ears and a pretty pink dress. It was worse than ever. The damage had been done and now I was jut there freak who looked like a boy wearing a dress and earrings.
“You are a radical!” my mother said. “Tell all those bratty kids that you are standing up for transgendered people.” My mother was about 20 years ahead of her time and clearly didn’t understand the social complexities of kindergarten life.
But as the saying goes, “Time heals all wounds”. By the first grade my hair had grown into a smart looking pageboy. Most of the scars of my kindergarten experience were all but gone…except that my curly blond locks never grew back. They were replaced by dull, frizzy ash brown strands. I was never again that adorable little girl. I always wonder how my life would have been different if I had stayed Goldie Locks. Would I have lived a charmed life? Or would I have had a run in with bears? I guess I will never know. But I do know that eventually my daughter will learn to brush her own hair…hopefully. Until then, she can be the messy haired ragamuffin that she is.