22 May 2018

Short Thoughts on Hair Colors

This time last year my dad had been dead for two months, it never stopped raining and all I did was cry. My body physically ached from sun up to sun down and had so much rage that I can't believe I didn't telekinetically smash buildings together. I took the red line home every day from the Wrigley building and I'd grip the seat thinking: don't cry don't cry don't cry, but I always lost.

The first time I heard an ambulance back out in the rainy world, I was so triggered I jumped off the train at the first stop I could and sank against a railing, sobbing into my hands. Someone even touched my shoulder to ask if I needed help and I wanted to turn around and cry in their arms, someone's arms, anyone's arms. I was so delicate, a girl made of the thinnest glass. One wrong move and I would surely shatter.

A receptionist from work gave me the phone number for a grief center in Rogers Park and I called the first afternoon I could to interview for a spot in a group. I paced my living room, my hand on my chest, hyperventilating while I told the story of my life derailed. Pink spots rose along the ridges of my fingers and crept across my face.

When I finished, she quietly sighed.
"Lisa, I think that you might be a little too raw for a group right now. I think you should focus on individual therapy and then in 6 months we can reevaluate."

I sat down on the floor, too broken even for a group.
"Please tell me this ends," I moaned into the phone.
"It ends," she said. "And you will be so much stronger."
"But what is strength even worth?" I cried back. Strength was a small and stupid thing to me then. A word I had no connection to. A meaningless trait.
"My dad died when I was your age," she told me. "And I promise you, you will much more resilient when you get to the other side."
"How do I get there though?" I ask.
"Start seeing a therapist," she said. "Put in the work now."

So I did.


I started to dye my hair red almost immediately. It was a long process, but it was something for me to do. Every week I applied a different paste and my bathroom filled with eye-burning chemicals, but once the ink had washed out, I looked different. A new version of myself. And each time I could think: maybe this girl can deal. Maybe she'll be the one to get through a day at work, maybe she'll fix her marriage, maybe she'll be able to climb the mountain, swim the sea. Maybe she'll figure it out.

It never felt right though. Some days it looked so bright, so different than it was supposed to, that I would catch myself in the mirror and think you look like a girl whose dad has died. I looked wrong with red hair, but I was too sad to put it back to normal. Too sad to do much at all. 


I read Macbeth. I read Hamlet. I finish Harry Potter. I read the good parts of The Odyssey. I felt lucky that I am a reader of books because books never actually change, only you do. And if you read enough books, you have plenty of homes to return to. You are always safe somewhere. 


The thing with grief, with my grief, is that mostly I actually am very strong and I am okay, but then the wind goes the wrong direction and suddenly I am not and I really want to crumble, on the street, on the sidewalk, but I can't because I already told you I was doing fine and the truth is people don't want you going back on something like that. So after a while you are just walking on your own and no one is around to hold your hand or see you stumble and you need to figure out how to live with that. I wouldn't even know how to tell you how to believe me. 


After a year I look in the mirror and my hair is nice and long and wavy and perfectly orange, the color I had wanted this whole time. Everyone has been telling me it looks good and I think that it does too, but I am finally done.

I feel better.

My friend and I use our lunch break to walk to Walgreen and buy dark brown box dye and I tell Ben I'm going to do it when he gets home. He stands at the edge of the bathroom drinking a glass of water as he watches me prepare myself.
"I'm here for moral support and to get the back," he joked, referencing the years of me sitting on the edges of sinks with half my hair dyed only to scream to him from the other room to come and help.

But I didn't need help this time because I am different now. I mixed the chemicals in the bottles, put on the plastic gloves and stared at myself dead in the mirror. I had made my long hair red and now I would turn it back to brown. I am not the same as I once was. I am so much braver now.

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