As I walked into Trader Joe’s this week, I felt knots.
My hair was messy, and my feelings were hurt. Growing up my nickname was Messy Jessie so messy hair is my style, but when I come across a knot, it is embarrassing. I guess you could say I have issues.
My issues run so deep that I actully hiked fourteen miles on the north trail of the Grand Canyon with my hair dryer in my 20's. I stayed at Phantom Ranch for two nights at the very bottom of the canyon. My hair feels lifeless when I don't blow dry it, so I guess I felt it was a matter of life or... flat hair?
My hair issues started when Junebug was a baby. Her sister who is ten years older wanted her to have a cowlick. She wet her fingers and pushed back the same strands of her baby sister's wispy hair over and over again hoping to create a new path upwards or sideways or whatever direction a cowlick is destined.
They continued with many bowl haircuts until age eight when she felt hopeful for a moment about the popular wedge cut, made famous by Dorothy Hamill. When she looked in the mirror after a visit to the hairdresser, she was disappointed to see her hair looked exactly the same.
Maybe it is just my issue but the thing about grief is that it always feels like I have ice cream on my face or kale in my teeth. I know people see it in the dark circles under my eyes, on the dented rear bumper of my car, in the words that won't stop coming, and in the knots in my hair.
Knots are the part of grief that can be hard for me to get a brush through, making it is easy to get stuck. Feelings of resentment, disappointment, insecurity and fear become tangled as life shifts, people move on, and I am back at the grocery store on a regular basis amongst the chatter and busy of the world.
After years of bad haircuts, it makes sense why I asked my friend to cut my hair freshman year of high school. These were the days of the John Hughes movies, and I wanted to look like Molly Ringwald. I trusted my friend could do it since everyone else failed me in the hair department.
I knew my friend failed me too when she asked if it was OK to use an electric razor. After many tears and at least one, but I think two, trips to a hairdresser, the fix was to shave a side of my head. I looked more Sid and Nancy than Pretty in Pink. I was embarrassed but also probably slightly excited by the attention I knew I would receive at school.
It was my second year at a new school. My parents thought I needed a more structured learning environment. The new haircut did not go too well with the plaid skirts, saddle oxfords, and the more structured learning environment. It did, however, look the role of the stereotype I would live up to of spending Saturday mornings in detention and although I never told anyone, it fit the feeling I had of being weird after spending two weeks in a psychiatric hospital in 7th grade.
I do not like feeling different or change or people moving on without me. I always found a way to belong even if it was messy, and even if it meant leaving Junebug in the hallway outside of her first grade classroom alone so I could walk through the door with a smile. I knew it was the only way to fit in at circle time, on the playground or at lunch.
Rubbing ice cream all over my face in first grade turned into sneaking Wild Turkey with friends on the weekend the same year of my worst haircut ever. Trouble is an easy place to belong because you don't have to be smart, pretty, athletic or live in the right neighborhood, and you get plenty of attention making people laugh.
My hair turned orange in the summers when I dumped Sun-In and lemon juice on it when I laid out with my high school friends slathered in baby oil on my black flat tar roof, lying on towels taped with aluminum foil. In college in New Orleans, I went downtown to a salon on St. Charles called Najah owned by Najah who gave me one bad haircut or perm after another while I drank warm white wine.
I wanted pretty waves and curls, but I always looked more Sammy Hagar than Sarah Jessica Parker. After college, I arrived in New Olreans fresh with a perm I hated, and begged Najah to straighten it. Although he warned me it would fry my hair, he did it and he was right. I looked more Rod Stewart than Jennifer Anniston.
When I met Jay in my 20's, he fell in love with my style. I began to feel a little more confident about my hair and I finally found a hairdresser I liked. Jay had that effect on me, and everything started falling into place after a lifetime of feeling out of place. He helped me brush through so many feelings that were tangled up in knots. It's still hard to believe he left me holding the brush on my own but writing is helping me understand the stories we could not untangle together.
It is hard to look in the mirror at age 46 and brush out these feelings. Junebug assures me the trolley car heading uptown will be waiting for us when we are ready to catch up with the world, and we should not worry about who is on it. Now is the time, she says, to stay focused on our reflection. She could never see it fishing in the sewer behind her house, so we are trying to find clear water.
As I walked into Trader Joe’s this week, I felt knots. My hair was messy, and my feelings were hurt. It’s not the first time I have had issues. I have never loved my hair, and I have always been sensitive. I am attempting to create a new path for my mind to travel upwards or sideways or whatever direction it is destined. My sister may have been onto something with the cowlick.
I now sit on the floor in the hallway with words streaming down my face as Junebug brushes through the knots. I know we are making progress.
"While we might always have messy hair" I I hear her whisper, "we won't always feel like we have ice cream on our face."
Down by Marian Hill (w/ Kina Grannis) Photo: me and my dad. Can you see the cowlick in my bangs?