The best symbol to express the relationship I had with my mother when I was younger is my hair.
When Mama went to school she was a cheerleader with strawberry blond hair designed to look like one of Charlie’s Angels. She did not do pageants, probably because she was shy or insecure, but would have easily won them if she did. She had a steady boyfriend who would later become her first husband. She knew early on what she would be when she grew up. A nurse, a mother. Both with certainty.
Not like me.
My hair flowed down my back when I was young. It had just enough auburn in it so that I could convince people I was a red-head, my dream in life to be. It was long and weighted, with waves curling at the bottom. With waves comes frizz. In the summer heat I looked like I had a halo around the top of my head. Or like I’d tested the electric dog fence while chasing a ball across the road.
More than anything I wanted short hair with golden highlights. Particularly the kind of look the Olsen twins or Jennifer Anniston had. More than that, I really, really wanted short hair.
Years after leaving Saluda, I convinced my aunt, a hairdresser, to chop it all off. If it looked terrible at least I had the nobility of saying I donated it. My frizz could crown someone else’s head.
She agreed but only, absolutely, if I did not tell my mother what I had planned to do.
From two years old until eighteen, I studied dance. Tap, ballet, clog, and jazz. I loved to dance and perform. I was good at it. Those happy days of dance recitals where flowers were received and applause was given are now clouded in my memory with the screaming matches my mother and I would get in to while she got me ready.
My hair was big enough but she made it bigger. I’d sit on the edge of the bathtub while she made it even bigger. She would curl it with the iron, spray it, curl it some more. To this day I believe White Rain is responsible for my bad hearing in my right ear and my inability to do math.
The Dance Recital Fight Of All Dance Recital Fights was the time I decided to do my own damn hair, thank you very much. I had not quite figured out how to use a round brush (still haven’t) but I had in mind to master it that day, 20 minutes before we had to leave to get to the recital. As I tugged my hair up, I’d spray it with hairspray, roll it up into the barrel, and spray it some more. Since I couldn’t roll the brush right off of the hair, I’d tug it sideways until it unstuck itself from my locks. Until it didn’t.
The brush had gotten stuck during the second spraying. My hair wound it like a spider spinning a dead moth in it’s web. It wasn’t going anywhere. By this point, Mama had left because the tension in the room wedged her out. Our dog, Tara, scuttled back and forth from me to her. As if trying to be the peacemaker between Mama, somewhere crying, and this crazy girl in purple sequins and white pantie hose with a comb balancing on the top of her head.
I gulped my pride and yelled, “Mama! I need help!”
It is only a really bad thing you’ve done when you have to tell on yourself.
She hurried in. “Oh my god, Ali.”
She pulled and tugged at my head until tears dribbled down the sides of my face, wiping off the translucent Mary Kay powder in streaks. Ivory 2. Great Lash Mascara everywhere.
I suggesting putting melted butter or peanut butter on it because I’d heard that worked for gum in hair. Or maybe she could strap a potato to my foot? Wasn’t that supposed to help something? There’s also that lady in town who could talk the fire out of a burn over the phone. Maybe we should call her.
The minutes passed but finally with my mother cussing under her breath about her decision to be a mom and a near bald spot on my head, the brush was released.
Mama fluffed hair from the right side over to the left and made it bigger so as to cover my skull.
Having short hair meant freedom from ever having to deal with recital altercations. Or ponytails with ribbon. It stated, “This is who I am. Not a cheerleader. Not a girlfriend. Just me.” Plain and bald.
To my surprise, the big revealing of the newly coiffed and cut hair caused a contrary reaction. She didn’t cry. She didn’t yell. My mother said she loved it.
Recently I did something every woman has a right to at some point in their life, good or bad. I went platinum.
I traded in my brown mop for the dream come true of looking like the love child of Michelle Williams and Annie Lennox. I wear it proudly, even though an old lady I don’t know told me she didn’t like it. Even though some coworkers still haven’t mentioned it yet. (Silence, a sure indicator of opposition.) But my mom? She is still on the fence.
Because if not for dyed hair, what would we fight about?