In preparation for my 50th high school reunion, I knew I had to get a haircut. About two years ago, I decided to let my hair grow long. I think I wanted to look like those wise old women who sit around at pow-wows with little granchildren crawling all around them. But native women tend to have thicker hair than mine. My hair is fine and straight and as it gets longer, I think that I am starting to look more like a witch. I don’t want that look.
So I made an appointment with a beautician. She asked me on the phone if I just wanted a trim or if I want my hair styled. “I don’t know,” I said. “I think I need to talk about hair.” Were those tears I felt?
“I’ll allow extra time,” she said. I felt like I was making an appointment with my counselor.
My beautician’s name is Elena. She sat me in the swivel chair and draped me in the plastic cape. “What is the look that you want?”
I told her, “I want to look like a crone.” I didn’t know if she knew what that was. “A wise woman. That was my intent when I decided to grow my hair long. But my hair is so flat I think I look like a hippie-wanna-be.” Then I added, “I used to a hippie, actually.” I told her about the reunion. “I think it would look really awful if I walked in like I never left the 60’s…even though I am, in fact, in my 60’s.”
She ran her fingers though my hair and she asked me about what I use for shampoo. I told her that I use a shampoo bar because then I don’t have to throw away all those bottles. I almost added, “Our dumps are already too full,” but I really didn’t want to turn this into a political discussion. She asked me about other products I use. There weren’t any.
“I am not a very vain person,” I told Elena. “I brush my hair in the morning, usually tie it back. Then I don’t think about it the rest of the day. But going to this reunion, vanity is all over me.” I was admitting a character defect I didn’t even know I had. Elena listened with compassion. She did not judge me. She just kept running her finger through my hair.
“Do you want to be able to pull it back?”
“Yes. It took so long to get to thispoint, I don’t want to ruin that.”
“So I’ll just trim the ends on the sides. Maybe you want to be able to lift it in the back a bit.”
“Yes, that is what I want.” I suddenly remembered the 70’s, the years after hippie time, when we would tease our hair and create these big poofs on top of our heads. Then we would put on these short skirts and long white boots. My husband would love it if I went back to that…at least in his dreams. I edited myself. “I just don’t like having my hair so flat.”
She told me she was going to layer my hair in the back, then show me how to get a lift so that it would look fuller. I knew I was where I needed to be. Elena washed my hair first, massaging my scalp. It felt wonderful and I told her so. “You can’t do this to yourself,” she said, “It only works when someone else does it.”
Then she took a comb to my hair and the magic began. A conversation started among the women in the shop about reunions. They couldn’t believe this was my first. They wanted to know why I decided to go this year. “Well, fifty is pretty significant. That is one reason. But the other reason is that I can barely remember my high school years. I can’t imagine that anyone will really remember me. If they do, I want them to tell me what I was doing at the time.”
“So going back is about your own self-discovery,” the woman in the chair next to me said. Now we were moving from visiting my counselor to sitting in a support group. Elena was drying my hair and I told her about how I’d use curlers or a curling iron to try to make my hair look like it has body. “I hate it,” I said. “It never works the way I want it to.”
“I will teach you,” she said. Then she showed my how to use this goopy stuff, spray it at my roots, dry it with a hot hairdryer and then press the “cool” button. I think she was letting a secret out, breaking the beautician code. Then she teased my hair in back. It was scary to watch.”Don’t worry,” she said, reading my mind. “It will all come together.”
It did come together. Looking in the mirror, I thought I saw a wise woman. I bought a bottle of the goop and left Elena a big tip. “I’ll be back,” I said. How often does one need a haircut?
The next day, I tried the methods Elena had taught me. I had to lean against the wall because my arms were getting so tired messing with my hair. For some reason I got a charlie-horse in my hand so I had to stop now and then to massage it. But, the outcome was pretty good.
I am off to Chicago today. Hopefully, my old friends will see the wise woman. Or I may have to get my money back.