Trigger warning: Privilege; whining
I am facing myself in a flattering mirror at the salon, holding a glass of rosé under #glow-up lighting. I’m a regular, and a tiny bit smug about having chosen a woman-owned salon years ago, before it was a branding strategy. The amenities are perfect because, women.
Tara my colorist has refreshed my grey-blonde, my stylist, Stacey, has cut in layers – I always request “bed hair” – and I’m waiting on the blow-out specialist, psyched for that “fresh from the salon” feeling you see in commercials, which I can never replicate at home. It’s especially satisfying to hit the streets in Manhattan, no car, I can strut the avenue with my new hair. Which will cost north of $500, including tips for the kid who took my jacket, Tara and Stacey, Tara’s assistant, Stacey’s assistant, and the blow-out specialist.
Don’t bother hating on me for this, I’ve got it covered.
I sip and compartmentalize the five hundred plus, what can I do, upkeep’s a bitch, wine helps. I people-watch inside the white noise of droning dryers and loose laughter of the young, looks-obsessed staff. Stacey is busy along a far wall, taking pics of her last few clients for her poppin’ Instagram feed. A mermaid, a lob and a shag are lined up. I’m a lob too, but shorter. I make a joke to myself, Maybe I’m a shlob, but that feels more like a jab, and I’m working on being nicer to me in my head. A little less judgey-mother, like my mother, and a little more supportive friend, like my friends. I’m 63, it’s about time.
Stacey comes over and we fall into our ongoing conversation, the kind women have with each other – immediately intimate, basically besties. And yet. I have not been invited to the Instagram wall for a picture. Is my hair too old? A social media buzzkill? Shlob pops into my head again. Aging is a daily, grim pile-up of micro-losses and micro-disappointments, followed by shrewd adjustments in the mirror and in the mind. I’ll never get ahead of it, it’s exhausting work that doesn’t actually work, and I’m trying to live my life here.
My first hair memory comes from a photograph. I’m four or so, in a plaid shirt and droopy shorts, sitting on a lawn chair in the backyard of my childhood. A big barber – he could have come from the cast of The Godfather – to whom I must have been related, stands next to me. He’s waving shears and wearing a smile. My hair is chopped into a pixie so short that the hairs at my crown stand straight up, no product necessary (nor yet invented). What possessed my glamorous mother to submit me, back in the gender-rigid olden days, to this haircut? She’s not around anymore to ask.
I grew up a little and fell in with the blonde clique and we were called – yes, I’m embarrassed – the blonde bombshells, a label given to us by the boys we stalked in middle and high school. In college, the mid-seventies, I was a hippie, and somewhere there is a photograph of me with an actual wildflower crown, just like the Manson girls wore. I grew up a little more and got a job in New York. For the next forty years until I was this-many-years-old, as the kids say, it was/is a variation on bed hair. I got the fancy haircuts and good color and I assumed $500 bought me not having to think about it, until my hair got old and we were not invited to the Instagram wall. At check-out I add $100 worth of gourmet shampoo, to the bill. I walk to the subway, no strut.
Trigger warning: A sex thing which occurred without consent, but was entirely consensual.
In the olden days, young women called fucking “making love” in order to hide unseemly desire. The consequences of that was nonsense at best, disastrous at worst, including, according to my highly informal poll, some women marrying men who were stellar at neither. A trade-off for a good provider, a stable father for the someday-kids, maybe? Shrug.
At twenty, I was one of those dopey girls, but this time, with this boy, lust and love aligned. I’d slept with all his friends to try and capture his attention, and I did, and the rest is cherished history. Dirty, sexy fucking absolutely was lovemaking, a revelation. We spent days in bed over the course of years. I can only hope you know what I’m talking about.
We reunited in our forties, a story for another time, but here’s a photograph he took of me with my bed hair. He liked to grab a fistful (no warning, no consent, no problem) and give it a hard, eye-watering pull. It was electrifying. The surprise of it; the release in the scalp, (not previously known to me as an erogenous zone); the delicious mix of pain up here and pleasure down there; and the deep satisfaction of, in my case, a man (boy!) knowing what to do before I knew what I wanted him to do. Out of bed, too. The hair-pulling, great; being seen, being known: rare. You don’t get a lot of those lovers.
We went to the indie cinema, The Story of O, and I’ve got the 1975 journal entries to prove it. The beautiful O liked having her hair pulled. In the theater, he grabbed my ponytail and yanked my head back and moved his mouth over mine. My scalp tingles now, writing, and over the days of making this essay, I’ve dug through photographs, and so, no surprise, I woke up this morning from a dream of us making love, and longed to ask him: Who was I? Who am I?
He’s gone now, too. I lingered with his aura and my desire, I don’t know how else to say it. It’s not the first time, me in my yearning body, him, a ghost. The pulling of my hair and the dizzying kiss are always the opening shot of the fantasies.
I haven’t been to the salon in six months. I might let it go grey, grow long, maybe a braid, maybe a twist above the nape, tugged and held tight, a private reminder of my unseemly desires. Oh, and here again, another story for another day: As I looked through the photographs, I realized for the first time ever that for the two weddings I had – neither to him – my hair is cut pixie-short. I kid you not.