I Am Not My Hair (excerpted from my Novel, “Eighteen Months”)


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We arrived at the hairdresser. Rina made me lead her inside. I fumbled some but I don’t think I made a big fool of myself. She made me find the front desk – it was a large, full-service salon and I didn’t know where to go.

“May I help you?” A girl called from my left.

I made my way to a counter where the voice had come from. “Sorry, I’m blind,” I said. I was embarrassed, though there wasn’t any reason to be.

“Oh, I can help you; I’m right here,” the perky voice said. She was directly in front of me. I had no idea where my eyes were pointing. My left was probably pointing down, while my right turned in. What a peculiar sight I must have been.

“I have an appointment with Kirsten at 4:00.”

“Okay, you must be Alie?”

I was wondering if I’d ever be Natalie again. “Yes.”

“Let me take you to a seat. Kirsten will be out here to meet you in a couple of minutes.”

She must have come around and touched my arm. I found the position to hold onto her arm, right above the elbow, and she took me to a seat. I heard her ask Rina if she needed help, and Rina saying she was with me.

“Alie?” I heard a pleasant, friendly voice call.

I stood up. “I’m Alie,” I said. I heard the click of heels on the hard floor as someone approached me from the right. “Kirsten?”

“Yes. Glad to meet you.” I put out my hand and she took it right away.

“In case you didn’t know, I’m blind,” I said. It wasn’t so embarrassing this time.

“Yes, Rina told me. I understand that you lost your sight recently?”

“Yeah, I’m still new at this blind thing.”

“Let me lead you back to my room. Do you want to take my arm?”

“That’d be perfect.” My hand closed around her arm, above the elbow as I’d been taught.

As we walked back, she asked, “What’s your prognosis? Can the doctors help?”

“Sadly, no. There’s nothing I can do. I’m sightless for the duration.” I left it at that.

“Well, let’s at least make you look great.”

“I hope so. I’m nervous. Rina thinks I need something much easier to style. If I’m honest with myself, I know she’s right. Unfortunately, I love this style I have – the slightly more than chin-length bob – which I only got recently – but I can’t fix it right. Worse yet, I can’t tell if it’s right or not.”

“It’s a little … irregular at the moment. I can see where it would be a dynamite style on you under other circumstances. But I think we can come up with something equally hot.”

“I don’t feel very hot.”

“She says that,” said Rina, “but you should have seen her dancing at the club two nights ago. She was unbelievably good: smokin’ hot, hot, hot … and sexy!”

Up until she spoke, I didn’t know Rina was tagging along.

Kirsten laughed. “Then I’ll really have to come up with a killer cut.”

“Maybe I could just shave my head …” I joked, weakly.

“You could, but I’d save that for when nothing else works.” Kirsten had taken me seriously; I’d been joking. There was no way I was losing all my hair along with my sight.

She sat me in what felt like a typical salon chair and proceeded to run her fingers through my hair, pulling it this way and that. “Your hair is pretty straight, does it hold any curl?”

“When it was really long, I’d curl the ends with a curling iron after adding a little gel or mousse. Now, I’m pretty inept with a curling iron, or even with a blow dryer. For example, when I tried the dryer the other night, my left side poofed out and my right side was flat and flipped up instead of under.”

“Yeah, I understand. You probably need something that you can simply run your fingers through and enhance a bit, but which mostly goes right into place after you wash it.”

“How would that work unless it was short?”

“Honestly, Alie … it wouldn’t.”

“In other words, you want to cut all my hair off.” I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.

“That’s what would work. You can’t have it long and make it look great, like it should. In a different style, though, it can be even better for you, even more exciting. If you still want to keep it fashionable and edgy, what you need to do is cut it short. Consider it an opportunity, not a problem. In the end it’ll be better. You’ve already determined that hair this long isn’t going to meet your needs.”

My needs, I thought. My needs as a blind person who can’t even style her own hair. This was going to add to my cruel, unfair punishment. I sat there, not knowing what to say.

“Here, take this cigarette,” Rina said, “It’ll help. You can smoke here, right?”

“Sure,” Kirsten said. I held it to my lips and puffed as, I assumed, Rina lit it. I held an ashtray in my other hand as Kirsten went on.

“To keep your hair youthful and exciting, I’d suggest you pick from one of three styles. Style one is a modified buzz. I’d cut your hair to about five-eighths of an inch on top and the upper sides, shorter below and in the back.”

“Whoa!” I said instantly.

“Wait.  Before you reject it out-of-hand, let me tell you the advantages. One, it’s very chic, very fashionable. Only a few women are beautiful enough to pull it off, but you easily are. It requires no work at all. Wash, dry, wear. You could add a little gel if you wanted to make the front stand up more. You would need a trim every two to three weeks.”

“Uh …”

“The next style would be longer on top, one-to-three inches long, and short on the sides – up over your ears and tapered down in the back – but the sides could be a tad longer than with the buzz. You’d gel it and use your fingers to muss and spike the top. You could easily do that without seeing it.”

“One to three inches sounds pretty short.”

“Any longer and it wouldn’t spike, it would fall over. Even if you used enough gel on a longer cut to make it stand up, I think it would look kind of odd. It should probably be closer to one than three inches. You’d need a trim every three or four weeks.”

“What else could you do?” I wasn’t happy with what I was hearing, even if she did think I was beautiful enough to pull these off. I’d never had hair shorter than mine was right now. This was awful.

“The last idea is to cut you to about three inches all over, then give you a very tight, very curly perm. After you wash it, you add a little mousse to avoid frizz, and fluff the curls a little with your fingers. Voila, you’re all set and it dries naturally. If you did that, I’d suggest you go darker – at least medium to dark brown. I personally don’t think blonde hair and tight curls go together. You’d need a trim after about five weeks, and a re-perm every other time, which is often, but keeping it short will avoid any re-perm damage.”

“None of your options leave me with much hair.”

“Sorry, Alie, but any of those would look great on you. You’re a very lovely woman. Oh … yeah … there is one more thing. Those eyebrows have to go.”

“Go? You mean …”

“They won’t look right with short hair. They’ll have to be thinner – a lot thinner. Otherwise, they’ll overwhelm your face and draw attention from your hair.”

Rina chipped in, “They’ll also call more attention to your eyes, and I know the misalignment bothers you anyway.”

“Oh … maybe you should just shoot me now! Consciously or subconsciously, I’ve tried to develop and nurture a certain look for myself since I was in junior high. Now you’re telling me that it all has to change …”

“If you mean that innocent look,” Rina said, “you’re right. It’s going to go. That doesn’t mean you won’t look fantastic – beautiful AND sexy – if you go with one of Kirsten’s ideas, though.”

“Except for my googly eyes.”

“I’ve told you, they’re charming. They do need some liner, though. Kirsten, don’t you guys do permanent makeup here?”

“Yes. Eyeliner, brows, and lips mostly. I think they’re here until 9:00 tonight.”

“Just what the rehab ordered, Alie,” Rina tossed out.

“Gee, that’s great,” I replied, deadpan.

“Okay, Alie,” Kirsten said, “what would you like to do?”

“Honestly? Run away and hide. But I won’t.  I don’t want to be buzzed, but I get the easiness appeal. Spiked would make me kinda punk, but maybe that’s okay. The perm leaves my hair longer, especially at the sides, even if it is all curled up. I get what you said about the color though, but I’ve never had darker hair than my natural dark blonde, let alone real brunette.

“I guess I’m resigned to doing this. What the heck – I’ll never see it anyway. If enough people tell me they like it, maybe I’ll come to believe them. I wish we could flip a coin – but I don’t know any three-sided ones.” I tried to smile and giggle but it fell flat.

“I have an idea, if you really want to pick randomly,” Kirsten offered. “I’ll call up a random number generator on my iPad and let it pick. We’ll number them one to three. One is the buzz, two is the spike, and three is the perm. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Let’s see. Here it is. Generate one random number, between one and three. Okay, ready?”

“Yes.”

“You’ll abide by the random call?”

“Yes, just do it.”

“It’s a three, right Rina?”

“Yep, it’s a three, you’re gonna be a curly brunette.”

In moments, she began to cut away my beautiful, light blonde hair.

After ten or fifteen minutes, she began to roll it up on tiny perm rods. I knew they were tiny because she let me hold one. I’d never had a perm, but I’d seen the rollers before … when I could see. These felt a lot smaller than what I’d seen.

Rina lit another cigarette for me. I smoked it and two others while Kirsten worked.

Rolling took a long time. While it was going on, Rina took the initiative to schedule me for a manicure, pedicure, eyebrow waxing, and permanent liner and lip color, after my hair was done.

“I don’t know if I want permanent makeup.” I told her, though at that point, I really didn’t care. My hair, which had been my pride, was gone so what did it matter? I was trying to be difficult out of frustration with what my loss of sight had done to me. Yeah, self-pity again.

“Sure you do, you’re just struggling with the changes,” Rina responded.

“Well I’ve had a lot of them!” I said, exasperated. Rina was pulling me down the tracks like a runaway freight train. She was almost irresistible in her logical, practical, prodding way of getting on with things.

“So you have. But you’ll come out of this a better person.”

“If uglier is better …”

“Alie, you couldn’t be ugly if you worked at it with a crew of twenty-five others. You are inherently pretty, stunningly beautiful actually. Sometimes I think you have this need to have that reinforced by the people around you. So I’m reinforcing it.”

“Me too,” said Kirsten. She’d put a long, cotton strip around my hairline to catch drips. I could feel the cold liquid being squirted onto the curlers in my hair. More chemicals, this time determined to kink up my short hair.

After about forty-five more minutes, and three additional cigarettes, the perm was done and my head was covered with tight, springy curls. I ran my fingers through the wet mass.

“Oh my God!” I exclaimed. “I can hardly get my fingers through them!”

“That’s the way they’re supposed to be,” Kirsten noted. “I used the ultra-strong hold perm so they won’t relax any either. That way, the style will hold until it’s redone in ten weeks. Time to color. I think we should go with a level-three, slightly warm dark brown. Okay?”

“Yeah, whatever you think might look right. It’ll be invisible to me anyway.”

And so that’s what she did to me. Now I was a brunette – a very dark brown one according to Kirsten, as my hair had sucked up the color – with my kinky-curly hair trimmed to an even length all over. She showed me how to fluff it up, and flick some of the curls so they barely touched my forehead.

Rina had apparently returned to the room then. “Wow, Alie! You look great! Honest.”

“Even my brows?” I said hopefully.

“No, I was talking about your hair.” She and Kirsten proceeded to congratulate each other and me for looking so great. Whoopee.

They led me to another room where I was introduced to the manicurist, who sounded really young. While she did my pedicure and manicure, someone else entered and started on my brows. I let Kirsten, who’d apparently decided to hang out with us for a while since her day was now over, tell the eyebrow girl what she thought should be done. I felt the warm wax and the paper applied as my Madonna-like brows were ripped away.

After one round, Kirsten suggested they should be reduced in thickness further, and so she waxed me again. “How’s that?” The eyebrow artist asked. “Thin enough?”

“Yes, that’s plenty thin,” Kirsten answered as I gulped. I reached up to feel them and all I could detect with my sensitive fingertips was a thin line with slightly less arch than I’d had before.

“What do they look like?” I asked, afraid of the answer. I suspected the artist had gotten impatient with Kirsten wanting them redone thinner and took it out on me.

“Very slick, very sophisticated,” Kirsten said, with no detectable doubt in her voice. “They complement you and balance your face perfectly.”

“They’re stunning,” Rina offered. “And they draw attention to themselves and away from where your eyes are pointing. This was a really good idea.”

They seemed so positive that I relaxed some. I was as I was. There wasn’t anything I could do about it. At least I couldn’t see my hair or brows. For one brief moment, it was good that I was blind.

Of course, if I hadn’t been, none of this would have happened in the first place.

According to Rina, my nails were a rich, deeper red. I normally wore my fingernails and toenails medium length, with a reasonable amount of white showing on the tips if they weren’t polished. They were both cut very short – as short as possible – a length the manicurist had chosen as best for me. I didn’t care. They probably looked alright. I do have pretty hands and feet. Now my nails were short. That was fine by me. There’d be nothing to break off if this blind girl banged into things.

I took a break and lit another cigarette. They were going to do my eyelids and lips next. That meant tattooing both of them! Oh my God!

In an hour I was done. Apparently I had medium-thickness, sable liner on both my upper and lower lids. My lips, which hurt like the devil when they were essentially tattooed, were a blood red, according to Rina, but not as dark as my nails. I wondered how they’d look when I became a blonde again, after my vision returned. Who knows? I’d always worn dark coral colors before, not very exciting, but pretty. Maybe I’d stay a brunette. I wondered if I’d like dark brown hair, once I could see it.

You’re still Natalie, I kept telling myself. Or Alie. I guess I was Alie. I didn’t have much in common with Natalie anymore, and I certainly didn’t look like her. But I was still Natalie, right? I am not my hair.

I hoped.

We left. Rina wanted to go clubbing again. She kept absolutely raving about how great I looked, almost to the point that I started to believe her. At one point, I thought she might actually be hitting on me, but I rejected that as ridiculous.

Since I could feel that my lips were kind of puffy and they definitely were sore, I told her no, not tonight. She made me promise to go with her tomorrow. I tentatively agreed.

When I got home there was a message from Rod. He’d called! I called him back and we agreed to meet at the club where we’d first met, tomorrow night. I told him he wouldn’t recognize me, and to be prepared to be surprised. But I made him promise to give me his honest impression.

As I sat there in my darkness listening to music, the thoughts of this whole day and the sort-of-date for tomorrow made me anxious. So I did what I’d been taught to do – I lit another cigarette. By the time I’d gone to bed, I’d smoked 21 for the day, several of them not even from my private stash.

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