Every morning I saw my mother tease her hair into a floss that floated at least six inches above her scalp. At the height of it you could look through into other worlds, her hair filtering the light like a church window. So I stole the comb and sat my brother in front of the TV while Mr. Rogers was on. His disciplined voice and dogged routine, the taking off of outdoor shoes, the putting on of indoor shoes, the slow change of sweaters, were a strange comfort to us and as fascinating as an aquarium of fish, a life of quietly frantic industry that seemed exotic for being so pointless.
While we watched, I took the teasing comb and proceeded to rat my brother's fine, white-blonde hair with the furious technique I'd witnessed my mother use until it was matted to his head like a pad of mini-golf turf.
The paddle sting on my bottom was long gone by the time I discovered that the motor of my brother's battery-operated helicopter sounded a lot like barber's clippers. He ran to Mama with the helicopter dangling from his bangs, the engine still whining. After that his hair made a windy whorl at the part and my butt has forever since been marked with the mesh of a fly swatter, which could be mistaken for cellulite, but isn't. Definitely isn't.
It was about that time that Ben and I stopped sharing a room. He moved into a space the size of a "broom closet." That's what my mother called it throughout that year, as she campaigned for a more spacious home, one with a proper back yard and a separate sewing room.
I kept the much larger of the two spare bedrooms because I had a new Princess bedroom suite with a full-size bed and now that we were past toddlerhood it wasn't proper that we slept together. But he got the record player so we spent a lot of time in the broom closet listening, over and over, to a clear red vinyl record that featured the Bible story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago refusing to bow down to the idol, and 45's of Kung Fu Fighting and Angie Baby, sung by Helen Reddy with her "adorable hairdo," another phrase I remember hearing repeatedly as my mother tried to talk me into getting a pixie cut.
Mama would eventually succeed on every front. My visiting cousin exposed me to head lice and the pixie cut was secured by necessity. They sold the broom closet house and moved temporarily into a rental that had a Hollywood Bathroom while our larger house was being built. In the confined space where a bathtub separated two toilets (which is the definition of a Hollywood Bathroom), I heard Mama bathing my brother and saying to him, hesitantly, softly, "You know, Ben, you don't have to do everything Bell tells you to do."
Me (after pixie cut, in the "gypsy" outfit I wore every day for several months) and Ben. If you look closely at his bangs you can see the helicopter cowlick.
The next time I approached him, professional hair cutting equipment in hand -- Kindergarten safety scissors -- he shook his head and bolted. Newly shorn, I had lost my power, just like Sampson, whose tale we'd heard on the clear red vinyl record of Bible stories many times.
I wish I could say this was a permanent cure. Alas, the affliction returned with a vengeance when I married and had children. Shortly into our marriage my husband innocently asked if I could cut his hair, as his mother had provided expert haircuts to all three of her boys until they left home. Not to be outdone by His Mother, I assured him – Of course I know how to cut hair! Then I hacked notches into what should have been skillfully graded layers until his head was topped by a poorly thatched roof. He was too polite or too afraid to complain, but he quietly bought a Flowbee, which he uses to this day. I'm only allowed to clean up his neck and sideburns, a task I perform petulantly.
Foiled by Flowbee, I practiced hair cutting on my children as soon they were old enough to produce a proper wig, purchasing a nifty clipper set that included an official-looking cape and a set of instructions two paragraphs long. Now, I have heard that people who cut hair for a living must take months of pricey classes to receive a license, so I was overjoyed by the notion that I could skip all that, the tedium and expense, by reading two paragraphs and paying $24.99. The little boy on the package looked really happy with his haircut.
In front of the mirror in our master bath I shook out the cape with expert flair and fastened it around my son's neck, plugged in the clippers and promptly shaved a bald path from the nape of his neck to his crown. When this happened, my daughter was standing beside me, solemnly soaking up the expert knowledge mothers routinely pass to daughters, and in the mirror I watched as her eyes grew large and round to match the large round "O" of her mouth.
My son saw it too and asked with alarm, "What? What!?"
"Nothing," I said. "It's okay. You're not bleeding or anything, but we should probably go to the barber shop right now."
I wish I could say this was a permanent cure. Alas...
When my friend Ellen married her first husband (my husband's brother), the morning of the wedding I trimmed my bangs to the length of my eyelashes, and when the marriage failed I was deeply saddened but a little relieved that the wedding photos of me looking like Sadie Hawkins would be off display. There were also several occasions where my daughter's hair – thick lustrous waves in search of a shampoo commercial or a cheerleading uniform, hair unheard of in our gene pool – was chopped shorter, then a little shorter, then shorter, as I attempted to even things out, and suddenly it was a sad bad bob, shaggy and lopsided.
She did get wise, running like Ben when I got the twinkle of "makeover" in my eye, though as a teenager she set about destroying her own hair using just about every product Sally's Beauty Supply offered, including a razor comb. Clearly, we are a family of cutters. She has recovered.
Fully recovered. No one else in our family has hair like this.
I, however, have not. As the last client standing, the hair on my head remains in peril and about every six months I haphazardly section it with a comb, and angling my wrist convincingly, using my best sewing scissors, I chop chop chop, hair falling into the sink like molting chicken feathers. I wear a pony tail and ball cap most days.
A while back I experienced a divine-style intervention. We were stopped for gas at the intersection of two country roads and I wandered down a dilapidated main street and saw a fading sign in all caps -- ROCKIN HAIRS. I thought it was quite a quirky sign for a hair salon in a rural town, just before I realized the store sold rocking chairs and felt a thrilling current of electric epiphany, the kind you might feel at a tent revival, and it said – Put down the scissors. Sit. Fool. – in the voices of Charlton Heston and Mr. T combined.
So last week when my cutting hand was getting twitchy, I made an appointment at an actual hair salon. The woman was very nice, used some swishy scissors I sinfully coveted and charged me forty dollars, plus tip. When I got home, I thought the cut could use a few more layers and I fixed it.