Every girl has something about her appearance that inspires intense anxiety. For me, it is my hair. It’s not that I have bad hair. Quite the contrary, women have been known to dole out hundreds of dollars in one sitting to have their mane teased into the chemically-induced altered state that my own mop occupies naturally. I wash and condition my hair, and wet ringlets dry in perfect, frizzles formation. Sorry ladies, but it’s true.
I don’t know if there is an official, psychiatrically-sanctioned Greek term for the terror that plagues me. What is the name of that thing that brings the cutting nightmares that wake me amid a tangle of wet sheets, clutching chestnut locks between clammy fingers? I call it Short Hair-O-Phobia. I have had it ever since I can remember.
One summer morning when I was only five, I was kneeling on a stool in front of the bathroom mirror. Mama pulled my hair back into a snug ponytail, which she secured with a band in the middle-back of my head. I lamented the fact that I could not see the pony tail. I was sure I looked like a boy. Looking at myself head-on, it looked like one of those old-fashioned really short boy cuts. Almost a buzz cut, but not quite.
I looked in the mirror and made faces at myself and Mama. “Mama, I look like a boy!”, I said in the most pitiful voice I could muster.
“Oh, Lucy, stop it. You could never look like a boy. Not with those delicate features.”
“Yes, I do! I look like Leave It To Beaver!” It was the only way I could think of to describe what I was seeing in the mirror. Standing behind where I was kneeling, Mama just wasn’t seeing things my way. She was looking at me through perfectly good eyes, but they were eyes attached to a body that was trying to get to work on time. This was one showdown I was not destined to win.
That morning, I cried and complained all the way to Sutton’s Daycare, a little red house on the southeast side of town with a stellar reputation, two playgrounds, a pool, and the best people Mama could have hoped to leave me and Biz with while she went to work. Miss Lulu was waiting for us at the atop the hot, asphalt drive. She was a dead ringer for Angelina Jolie, with an equally beautiful heart. She opened the passenger door of Mama’s white Mazda and disengaged the seatbelt that had left angry marks across two halter top-sporting, baby tummies. It was the 1970s, long before seatbelt safety laws. Biz and I were pint-sized outlaws riding shotgun into the sunrise with Mama.
“Well, it sure looks like somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” Miss Lulu lifted my chin, looking into my puffy eyes.
“Oh, Lucy thinks the way I did her hair makes her look like a boy.”
“Oh, please! She could never look like a boy. Not with those delicate features.”
They had double teamed me. But I accepted defeat and Miss Lulu’s hand as she led me to the kitchen for a clandestine meeting, complete with a butter cookie and an extra hug to get me through the day. I was constantly being snuck into the kitchen by any one of numerous teachers for extra cookies. It must have had something to do with my delicate features.
The kitchen was hallowed ground at Sutton’s. Children were not allowed in unless by express permission, or if they were helping with the lunch dishes. I didn’t know doing dishes was a chore until Mama made me start doing them when I was nine years old. At Sutton’s, doing dishes was a way of getting into the kitchen and out of naptime.
Speaking of hair and the kitchen, I got to spend a good hour in the kitchen one day, as Miss Judy, another of my favorite teachers, slathered my head in Creamy Jif, trying to loosen a discarded wad of bubble gum some kid had left on the fence. As I leaned against the fence, standing on the snack line, the gum sought the sanctuary of my hair like a blood-hungry leech. Miss Judy was on the phone with Mama, “I have spent an hour trying everything I can think of to get the gum out of her hair. Do you mind if I just cut the gum out? I can even out her hair while I’m at it. I cut my boyfriend’s hair all the time”. Oh, my. There’s that word. Cut. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.
That brings me to the raw deal Mama cut with me when I was seven years old. I had asked Mama several times if I could get my ears pierced. Each time, she said no. “Maybe when you’re older,” Mama would say. Then Mama got an idea. She decided I could get my ears pierced if I would agree to a haircut, and I mean short. Uh-uh. No way. No how.
“Ok, Mama. I’ll do it.”
Now where in Sam Hill had that come from?
I attributed my momentary lapse in judgment to the round studs on the sale rack at the Ear-y Emporium, a gothic-styled kiosk set up in the JC Penney wing of the local mall. It was all blood-red velvet furniture and display cases, with an aloof-looking technician. I haven’t seen a piercing parlor in open space in years. I think merchants finally realized that the blood-curdling screams of small children on the receiving end of stainless steel bullets were just not good for surrounding businesses.
Biz was first on the bloody stool. The technician ─ who had at least one visible tattoo, but no pierced ears, I might add ─ cleansed my sister’s left ear. I saw Mama breathe a sigh of relief. The place had come highly recommended by one of Mama’s friends, but Mama was somewhat conservative, so I could tell she was put off by the place’s ambience. It still surprises me that she didn’t just take us to the doctor. Then again, maybe it was all part of her plan.
The technician aimed the piercing gun, and fired the first round into my sister’s left ear. My five-year-old sister, who had jumped into the pool at aged two while I cowered at the side, went completely ballistic. She held both ears in a death grip ─ the left ear because it hurt like Hell, and the right because it didn’t. Even at the tender age of five, somehow Biz knew that some things just aren’t better the second time around. It took Mama and the sadistic, virgin-eared technician a good half hour to get Biz to relinquish her right ear to the wrath of the gun. As for me, I did not get my ears pierced until just before my 14th birthday.
I did, however, get my hair cut because Mama eventually made me do it. I have elected twice since then to get my hair cut into a short bob so as to be in line with the fashion dictate of the time. I regretted each cut in much the same way that I regret high-waisted jeans. I will never again wear them. No matter that famed fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi says they are coming back in style. Visions of pixie cuts and the dreaded “Mom Jean” are the stuff of frequent nightmares.
, you may ask - or not.
More on the subject later. . .