Top of Head in Front of Aubergine Wall
A Nebulous Number of Days of Atomity and Memory
It was long before these past turbulent months that I first reflected on hair – my hair, other people’s hair, what’s so important about hair. Over my lifetime, I’ve had a minimal number of times when I wasn’t pleased with a haircut, and I only recall one occasion when I walked out of a salon almost in tears, during my mid-teens when I typically sported a David Cassidy-like shag. I was expecting a trim, but I ended up with a Mia-Farrow-Rosemary’s-Baby pixie cut. It was so short and my doe eyes loomed extraordinarily large behind my Coke-bottle-bottom glasses. It was not a good look which was validated by the fact that none of my friends or schoolmates told me they liked the newly shaved appearance.
It was a time in my life when, like every teen on the planet, I was overly self-conscious about my attractiveness to the opposite sex. It didn’t escape my notice that all my friends were perky, cute, and had a stream of boyfriends with me always playing the part of the third wheel. My self-esteem was so low I ended up marrying the first boy who paid me any attention and despite the fact that I wasn’t in love. I believed myself to be unlovable, and at the naïve age of 20, I didn’t think I’d ever find anyone else who would love me.
It wasn’t surprising that the relationship didn’t endure, although I managed to prolong it for an unhappy 10-year run. Divorce in the culture in which I was raised wasn’t acceptable at the time and I believed a relationship that was neither good nor bad was what all couplings were like. There were no examples in my world of people who seemed to be truly in love. That sort of thing was the stuff that romance novels and films were made of.
When I abandoned my marriage, my rich chestnut hair was past my shoulders, and I had long since exchanged the glasses for contact lenses. So, within a year of my divorce I was living with a new partner in a rather tumultuous, at times exciting, but mostly toxic interdependent existence that involved a few separations and reunions. Like so many men, my partner preferred my hair on the longer side but, at one point, when the entanglement was at risk of dissolving, I cut my hair short again. It wasn’t Mia-Farrow short, but much shorter than it had been – and he was not pleased. I didn’t care though, not that I consciously cut my hair short to irritate him, but I’m fairly certain I was unconsciously trying to be less attractive to him.
It was also during this partnership that I started to colour my hair. Grey had been insinuating its way into my crop of brunette locks for some time, and as a young woman, the thought of aging prematurely was alarming. I didn’t do anything drastic though, I simply added golden highlights that camouflaged the few silver strands. But as the years passed, the highlights became more prominent and my hair became lighter and lighter overall.
My mate and I eventually parted ways, and with all the tumult and destructiveness that preceded the final rupture, my emotional heart wall must have expanded to about 10 feet in all directions. It took some time, but I subsequently found another soul partner. Yet again, it was a rocky union. It was definitely an improvement over the previous two attachments, but this significant other also had a penchant for longer hair. I did experiment with slightly shorter styles during this time, but never anything shorter than a bob just above the shoulders. However, when it turned out that it was more time-consuming to maintain hair of that length, I grew it out again.
This partnership, like the previous two, came to an end after about 10 years. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my relationships were following astrological cycles. I had always wondered why I couldn’t seem to get past the ten-year mark with anyone, but it now makes much more sense to me. It was not long after the breakup that I deliberately and symbolically cut my hair short. It was a conscious gesture of ‘washing that man out of my hair’ and it was liberating for mind, body, and spirit.
I had reached a point in my life where I no longer cared if men in our culture preferred women with longer hair, and I was no longer interested in beguiling a partner drawn to my external appearance. I wanted everyone to experience my spirit before anything else. Or so I thought. I did go through one last attempt to grow my hair longer. There was a moment in time when I had a friend, who like me, had a short cut very similar to mine. But as our friendship developed, she decided to grow hers out. She had Farrah-Fawcett hair, although of a much darker shade, and I had convinced myself for a New York minute that if I grew mine out as well, I would have hair that could have landed me a spot with the Charlie’s Angels crew. Of course, no such miracle occurred, so I went back to the shorter and much easier, and manageable hairdo. It’s now official – I will never be growing out my hair again.
There has been one last vestige of vanity connected with my hair that I had been unable to shake though – that of allowing the natural colour to return. Although I was very aware of my attachment to making myself appear younger, I was not yet ready to embrace the telltale grey hair. I remember giggling to myself on my first date with my last partner when he seemed reticent about telling me his age – he was convinced he was a good decade older than I. In fact, I was a couple of years his senior. Over the decades, I have frequently allowed my ego to be boosted by comments from people who shared that they thought I was at least ten years younger than my biological age. The ‘compliments’ fed my narcissism like fertilizer.
Inevitably, 60 being the new 50, began to work against my favour in some ways. Living in the largest city in the country on the busiest public transit route nation-wide, where riding a streetcar to and from work involved being sardined in the vehicle and having my nose pressed against the glass of an exit door twice a day on a daily basis, I regularly hoped a younger rider would surrender their seat to me – but it rarely happened. I convinced myself if I looked my age, more people would be motivated to let me sit down in their place. Perhaps I was being fanciful or optimistic about my fellow public transit riders, but I know that I for one surrendered my seat to people who looked older than me…or who were infirm.
I finally decided to stop dying my hair and it happened to coincide with my decision to retire from my administrative career. Synchronistically, the timing of this ‘momentous’ resolution corresponded with the first lockdown of the pandemic and the long-term closure of hairdressing salons. Suddenly, it was a no-brainer to have low-maintenance hair.
Consequently, for the last year and a quarter, I have allowed my authentic hair to return. But when I initially began the process, I was convinced I would end up with a darker salt and pepper look, like my father had had (as I more closely resembled my father than my mother). To my astonishment, I encountered an unexpected outcome. What came into bloom was silver hair with a blond tone dappled with some salt and pepper. I didn’t even have to experience a stark transition between new growth and old growth.
During a very recent haircut, after almost eight months of lockdown and salon closures, any remains of the artificial colour was snipped off and the pile of shorn hair on the floor resembled sheep’s hair. Staring at the heap, I thought that couldn’t possibly be mine. But it had to be because I was the first and only client that particular day and I had arrived to a pristine and sanitized room. Those were indeed my light-coloured locks on the tile surface.
Admittedly, I felt as though I was one of those Mission Impossible characters who remove their false face to reveal their true identity. But, in my case, instead of a face, it was my real hair that was disclosed. Once again and happily, I felt a new sense of liberation emerging with yet another veil removed. And finally, I feel like I’m wearing my wisdom on the outside and it’s all part of a reflection of what I’m now feeling on the inside. As per the well-known cliché, I’m a spiritual being having a human experience.