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Growing pains

portrait“Great hair,” Linda exclaimed profusely, elongating her words the way I wished I could lengthen my hair. “Greeeeat hair.”

“You know?”  I caught the stylist’s eye in the mirror.  “I just wanted a trim?”

“Such body.”  Snip.  Snip.  Snip.  She continued the assault on my head.  Scissors whisked efficiently around me in a whirl; a flurry of hair thickened the air.  “Must be nice.”

I watched with dismay as heavy locks of hair thudded to the floor.  “I’m kind of trying to grow it out a little?”

“Just. Terrific. Hair.”

For more than 30 years, I’ve been trying to grow out my hair, this latest attempt all gone in a poof.  Or rather a series of snips.

* * *

One bright afternoon in May — I was no more than 10 — I took a chair to the patio and handed my mother the scissors.  She lifted one of the long braids, plaited tightly in the style of my heroine, Laura Ingalls.  “Are you sure?”

“Yep.”  I pictured the new me, older, more mature, a sleek bob replacing the braids; city replacing the country.

Mom held the scissors to my hair.  “Ready?”

“Yep.”

Snip.

Boing!  Yes!  My hair actually boinged!  Released from the heavy curtain it’d been toting around for years, my hair suddenly sprung to life.

In a flash, my mother cut off the next braid.  “Do you want to keep them, to remember your hair by?”  She held up the headless braids, still bound up at one end in elastics.

“No.”  I stood from the chair.  “I’ll remember it when it grows back.”  My hair and I boinged our way into the bathroom to inspect the new me.

The new me didn’t have cute, straight hair.  The new me didn’t have a sleek bob. The new me had weird hair, insane hair: The area just above my forehead suddenly developed millions of spare follicles, causing an extra acre of hair to grow there. Hair spiked this way and that, no two pieces ever united. And no amount of styling, gel, hairspray or cutting could tame the beast upon my head.

I resorted to tears.  My mother took me to a salon. “I’m thinking,” the stylist said. I could tell she was trying not to laugh, “a Dorothy Hammil?”

Snip.

Dorothy Hammil.  Nice cut, when you’re spinning in circles at about 100 miles an hour.  But not nice for someone with a hump of spare hair sprouting from her forehead.

“You’ll appreciate it when you’re older,” the stylist told me, pushing the hump into place and securing it with industrial-strength spray.

Eventually, after several years of hair despair, I abandoned Dorothy and settled into a style of my own: the “cut it all off” pixie.  By effectively mowing down the shrub that was my hair, I had won the battle.  But the victory was hollow: Ever since that day in May, I’d imagined myself with long, silky tresses flowing down my back.  With long hair, I’d be elegant, stunning.  I’d look like all of my friends, who’d kept their hair long throughout the fourth grade and into middle school.  With long hair, I’d be able to casually toss my locks over my shoulder, thus attracting the attention of the boys around me.

But instead, I had…elf.  A tallish elf, to be sure.  But an elf nonetheless.  Elves are cute.  Elves are mischievous.  Elves are not stunning.  Elves wear funny hats and funny clothes and have bells on their shoes.  Elves are…well, elves.  Who wants to look like that?

So at least three times a year, when I’m feeling especially adventurous, perhaps crazy is a better term, I try to grow my hair out.  Strange times.  Strange times indeed.  As my hair grows, it passes through some of its own, unique styles.  Caution: Do not try these at home…

Three or four weeks past the scheduled “cut it all off” date, I’ve got the basic Heat Miser look going on.  In the mornings, I get out of bed, fumble for my glasses and head into the bathroom only to discover that I’ve gained 4 inches during the night.  I put out the flames with water and gel and hairspray and a couple hundred swear words.

After the Heat Miser stage, I get to the Baseball Cap.  In this gorgeous style, that extra acre of hair sprouting from my forehead grows forward, not down, and melds itself into something resembling the bill of a baseball cap. Convenient at ball games, and stunning, I suppose, but not in an attractive way.  In this stage, I resort to wearing an actual baseball cap or stay indoors until I grow into the next stage, the full-blown Einstein.  At this level, my hair explodes all over my head in some cosmic detonation that I’m sure has something to do with the mass of my hair.  Here, I make lame jokes.  “Yeah, I look like Einstein, but I’m not smart like him.  Haw haw.”

At 13 weeks, my hair rivals Medusa’s.  If anyone laughs at me, I’ll turn them to stone.

As my hair grows and reasserts it independence, even demanding its own pillow at night, I swear it’s laughing at my folly.  And all those teenage feelings of hair ineptitude come rushing back in.

My hair needs help.  My hair needs a magic wand to make it grow out all at once.  My hair needs some pixie dust.

My hair needs a grow button.

* * *

My mother wouldn’t allow my sisters and me to have Barbie dolls.  Her reasoning, rightly so, was that Barbie dolls set for girls an unattainable standard.  But we still had dolls, plenty of them.  I had a Kiddle doll, which, soon after acquiring, I fed to the dog.  Thereafter, poor Kiddle limped around on half a leg, a permanent dazed look in her eyes.

But my sisters, being older, had Crissy dolls: those magical dolls with the growing hair.  There was a painful-looking plastic dial planted in the center of poor Crissy’s back.  To shorten her hair, you spun the dial clockwise, thus drawing her locks through a hole into the top of her head and into her body.  Stab poor Crissy in her belly button, give her short hair a good tugging, and voila! Long, flowing tresses.  Instantaneous beauty. For a working-girl look, you could take Crissy’s hair to about shoulder length and then for a night on the town, just give a yank and she’d have hair down to her ankles.

Wow.

One of my sisters, she must have been in an industrious mood that day, decided to actually wash poor Crissy’s hair.  And, predictably, Crissy’s hair melted into a thick tangled mass of black piled upon her head.  No matter how much my sister spun that dial, no matter how hard she pushed her belly button, Crissy’s hair situation could not be resolved.  Crissy had horrible hair.  Crissy had my hair.  Yes, Crissy’s reign of beauty had suddenly come to a startling end.  I swear my Kiddle doll stood just a little bit taller on her gimpy leg that day.

* * *

Only once did I succeed in growing my hair out.  I proceeded through the various stages: Heat Miser, Baseball Cap, Einstein, Medusa.  For months, I pinned that hair back, watching it grow bigger and taller, a volcano threatening to erupt past the thousands of pins and combs and gallons of hair spray required to keep it in position.  Eventually, it evolved into a new stage, a stage whose name was coined by my sister: The Aunt Bee (think Andy Griffith) Look.

But finally, after over 18 months, my hair flowed past my shoulders again.  I was triumphant.  I could flip that hair behind my shoulder.  And did.  Often.

But my newborn son yanked at my hair.  He spit up in it.  He rubbed cereal into it.

After a year, I cut it all off.

“How does this look, hon?”  Linda held the scissors above my head.  I glanced at myself in the mirror.  I had reverted from Baseball Cap to the Heat Miser.  Who was I kidding?  I would never have a grow button to magically turn my hair from spiky to long and flowing.  And did I really want to go through those stages all over again, all the way to Aunt Bee?

No.  It was time I learned to accept myself.

“Just cut it all off,” I said to Linda.

Her hands fluttered nervously about my head.  “You sure, hon?”

“Yep.”  It was time to embrace my inner elf.

Linda resumed her snipping, cutting the Miser down to size.

Fully shorn, I paid Linda and left, repeating the mantra to myself: Accept myself.  Embrace my inner elf.  Accept myself… Once outside the salon, I fluffed my hair, ran my fingers through it, the way you can’t in front of a stylist for fear of giving offense.  I stopped before a shop window to glance at my reflection, to stare at my 43-year-old elfish self.  I turned to the side.  Glanced at the…

Wait a minute.  Was that my BUTT?  How did it get so big?

Hell, I don’t need a grow button.

I need a shrink ray.

— Kelly Garriott Waite

Kelly Garriott Waite‘s essays have been published in The Globe and Mail, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Christian Science Monitor, Thunderbird Stories Project, Volume One, Valley Living, The Center for a New American Dream and in the online magazine, Tales From a Small Planet. Her fiction has appeared in The Rose and Thorn Journal (Memory, Misplaced), Front Row Lit (The Fullness of the Moon) and Idea Gems Magazine  (No Map and No Directions).  A work-in-progress has been included in Third Sunday Blog CarnivalThe Contours of a Man’s Heart  and Wheezy Hart.  In 2013, she self-published two short books, The Loneliness Stories and Downriver.

Reflections of Erma