Memories are funny.
I can’t remember the name of the road guy I met this morning and I have to go on an epic daily search to remember where the fuck I dropped my zip-up. I have the memory of a goddamn goldfish, it seems. And yet, the most obscure memories, moments I haven’t thought about it years, come back to me without warning.
As you all know, (if not, see below,) I recently dyed my blondish hair neon pink, a process which required much help. This was obviously not the first time that I’ve had people handle my hair; I go to my stylist every eight to twelve weeks, whether I need it or not. (And I usually do.) But somehow, this experience brought to the surface a lot of memories that a normal haircut never has…
We’re setting up in my bathroom to start the bleaching process. One of the how-to’s that I read suggested that we divide my hair into four quadrants, so that it’s easier to keep track of what’s been done and what hasn’t. This makes sense to us, so I sit on the edge of the tub and Christine sections off my head, securing each section with a hair tie.
I am in our bathroom at home, and it’s just before bed. At twelve years old, my hair is already very long; it hangs down to the middle of my back and tangles easily. To keep my hair from tangling in the night I sleep with it in a long braid, but my arms and fingers aren’t long enough to manage it by myself. My dad meets me in the bathroom, and I hand him a hair tie. Dad doesn’t have the finesse to handle all the sections of hair himself, so I hold one section of hair while he twists the other two. Then we trade, I taking the outside most section and him moving to the other side to twist the others. Trading back and forth this way, we braid my hair together. Our nightly ritual ends with a hair tie secured at the end.
I’m sitting on the edge of my bathtub and Christine positions herself to start applying bleach to my hair. She struggles to hold back the baby-fine hairs at the base of my neck while holding the bowl of bleach. “Here,” I say, grabbing the bowl of bleach from her hands. “Let me hold that.” Hands now free, she paints my hair section by section, dipping back into the bowl of blue goo that I hold up next to my head.
I am sitting in a chair in the dressing room of another theatre, the round mirror lights blasting me in the face with unnatural light. My mom stands behind me, armed with curling irons, hair ties, bobby pins, and enough hairspray to secure a cat to the wall. The first time we went through this process of styling my hair into tight spiral curls for a performance of The Nutcracker it took almost an hour and a half, but by now we’re practiced enough to have it down to about 45 minutes. Mom takes the first lock of my long hair, sprays it with the strongest hairspray commercially available, and wraps it around a thick curling iron. I take the handle of the iron from her and hold it away from my head while she repeats the process on the other side of my head with a second curling iron. I take the second iron from her and hand her back the first, which she frees from my head and traps within it a new lock of hair. Back and forth we go, trading curling irons, until my head is covered in springy, tight spiral curls. Mom shellacs my hair one last time and leaves me to apply the rest of my stage makeup.
We’re standing in the bathroom trying to examine the back of my head. Even though Christine did a badass job painting my head, there are some spots that had hidden behind the collar of my paint shirt and needed a bit of a touch up. I can’t see these spots any more than Christine could, so Kyle stands behind me and fills in the spots that were missed. He slowly works his way around my head, instructing me to turn this way or that so that he can see my hair in the uneven bathroom light, painting spots until my entire head is neon pink.
I am in our bathroom at home, primping and prepping for an event. Section by section I loosely wrap my long hair around a curling iron, trying to make sure every hair on my head joins the waves. I lay down my curling iron and pick up a hand mirror, straining to see the back of my head. I know there are uncurled sections back there, I just can’t see them and wield the curling iron at the same time. I call my brother into the bathroom. Only three years younger than me, we now attend the same high school, and Chris is dressing for the same event. I don’t even have to ask him for help as he walks in the room; we’ve done this enough by now that he knows exactly what I need. Standing behind me, he pulls out locks of uncurled hair and hands them to my blind fingers. One by one, he picks out my missed spots until my entire head is covered in flowing curls.
It’s no secret that the touch of another human being can be an emotionally powerful thing, but I’d never realized how powerful the memories evoked by this experience would be. Something about another person running their fingers through the length of your hair, touching it, playing with it, is so much more tender and intimate than a touch of the arm or a pat on the back. Each one of those moments of Christine or Kyle helping me with my hair brought me back to a warm and comforting place of feeling taken care of and loved. It took me back to another place in my life when I was younger, when I asked without hesitation and received unquestioningly. And that’s a wonderful place to revisit.