Isn’t it strange how you can receive a thousand compliments, but it’s that one insult that sticks with you? I was thinking about one of those just the other day. I have no idea why this one possesses such a sharp, cutting edge for me when it was delivered by someone whom I never met face to face, but it’s a laceration that never quite seems to heal.
When I was in my early 20’s, I had just been brutally dumped by my boyfriend. I had long, thick, wavy hair at the time (I still think my hair is one of my best features), so in an effort to start afresh, I decided that it would be fun to get a curly perm. I wanted to curl that man right out of my hair, so to speak.
I’ve always been kind of a wash n’ wear type of girl, so doing something this elaborate was quite a departure for me. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Fortunately, out of sheer luck, I happened upon what I still think to this day was the world’s greatest hairdresser.
The perm she did made me feel transformed. Sadly, these things require maintenance, so I wound up seeing her many times in the next two years. And of course, while she worked her magic, we talked. I began to think of her as a friend.
It turned out that she had a son my age. She said we had a lot in common. He was as liberal as I am, and he was pursuing his dream to become a writer in a unique way. He was living in a tent in Denver in the winter. Not only was he writing about his experiences, but he was also saving a boatload of money so he could focus on his writing.
It sounded like a grand adventure, so I allowed that it might be fun to be pen pals. And besides, the perm hadn’t attracted a new boyfriend, and since I lived in conservative North Florida and was the only liberal (I thought) within a 500 mile radius, I was lonely. She gave him my address. We struck up a correspondence.
It was interesting, hearing how he lived, and what he did in his day to day. He really was a good writer, and could spin some fascinating tales. We did have quite a bit in common.
In those days before blogs, he wrote a newsletter which he distributed to his friends and family. I was soon added to the mailing list, and delighted in his exploits along with everyone else.
And then one day he wrote an entry about me. In it, he said, “My mom is trying to fix me up with a Florida girl. She tells me that this girl is not at all attractive, but that she is extremely intelligent and liberal. Thanks a lot, mom.”
Nothing quite like finding out that your hairdresser, the one who raves about how great you look while taking your money and giggling with you like a school girl, thinks you’re “not at all attractive.”
Nothing quite like having that put into a newsletter that is distributed to about a hundred other people. Even worse, having that be written by someone who knew it would be read by you. How callous.
I had an appointment with the hairdresser coming up. I decided to go. I sat in her chair. I looked her in the eye via the mirror as she babbled about how she was sooooo sorry and that her son had no right to say those things.
“You’re right. Neither did you,” I said. I left without getting the perm.
Needless to say, I never went back. It would have been too awkward. There would have been two elephants in the room. One named, “Your Son is a Jackass” and one named, “You Have Been Lying to My Face This Whole Time.”
Shortly after that, she left town. It was a shame, too, because I never found anyone else who could perm my hair without either drying it out like broom straw or making it look like a bird’s nest in a high wind.
But then maybe that had something to do with my altered self-perception. Hard to say.
Ever since, with a few brief experimental exceptions, I’ve pretty much stuck with the same tired hairstyle that I had in my high school yearbook. Yeah, whatever.
Me, long after the perm grew out.