Posted on May 15th, 2020
I don’t know when it starts or why, when it does, but I start buying pink. A pink phone case. A pink water bottle. Anything and everything that I will touch daily like a ritual is rosy. I am alone in a house with a broken leg and I am being stalked by a man I briefly dated and my phone is like a gun next to my bed that I can’t get rid of that presses itself to my temple every morning, and I am buying pink like I just found out what a color is and it’s the only one I can see. I have never been this person. It surprises me. It surprises other people. My therapist wonders if it’s my reaction to being told, a thousand ways til Sunday, daily, that I am a creature, a howl, a thing. As if this is a shield, a proof that the man writing to my workplace’s social media accounts about the ruddy-faced obese stringy-haired hunchback who should kill herself is wrong. I don’t know. It just keeps arriving.
Four years later, standing at the end of my road and looking out over a river curving away into darkness on my two whole legs, a notion, neat and entire, sits in my brain: I think I might need pink hair. It is winter. The landscape is every shade of blue, and the sun is gone. The last idea of it is at the horizon line, and it is the softest flush. That color, there.
I am timid with it, at first, I’m not even sure what it is that I want. Maybe rose gold? Maybe the suggestion of it? Is it too late for this? Am I too old? My boss said ‘what took you so long to figure out you should have pink hair’, when I asked if it was professional. ‘I think maybe the ends?’ I tell Cora, who is excited for me, and spends the next five hours mixing and remixing and rinsing and reapplying and hunting for a shade we aren’t sure how to name but will know when we see it. At the end of all of this, it is pretty, and immediately not enough.
‘More, I think?’, I let myself text on the way home, and I go back the next day, thinking ‘this is insane, the amount of money I am blowing on this project of impermanence and for what and for why this is ridiculous’ but I do it anyway.
Being visible has been a dance I haven’t quite known how to be with, my entire life. When you’re the only girl on the swim team who wakes up to boobs in the fourth grade, visibility is something you are chosen by, that does not belong to you, immediately. Your body was yours, and then suddenly it isn’t, it is everyone else’s. I’m not sure how to dress it. I’m not sure how to perform or belong to myself, anymore, anywhere. I cry hot embarrassed tears over undershirts and training bras and the way everyone feels free to comment on the difference I can’t do anything about. At some point, alone in my room, I take every belt out of my dresser drawer (we had so many belts in the 90s, so many) and buckle them around my chest, flattening my breasts, trying to remember how it felt to belong to myself. I can’t breathe. I take them off, and look at the immediate bruises. I can’t figure out how to love you, I think, and return to my bra.
I am sixteen when I cut off all of my hair. I am more visible, and less visible, and when another friend does it, I think I see how you can be so pretty that removing your hair is like a sharpening lens, or, you can be me, and feel how it takes you out of focus, and renders you neutral. I spend all of my time in the woods, wanting to be a machine or an animal, running and climbing and losing myself in dirt. I hate the performance of things. I fall in love with college boys. Adulthood seems like a space where my hair might matter less, and I’m so hungry for it. I can see how being something else might be easier. I am only ever able to be myself, though. Day in, day out. ‘Girl’ is this one thing that everyone seems to agree on, and I can’t agree with it. So I don’t. I am Fugazi and axes and mountains and my dad’s old jeans on my hipless hips and trail running shoes I repair with duct tape and old lady cardigans. I am a growing mountain of restlessly erotic poems to a lover I’ve constructed out of a boy I met backpacking who writes me long letters from the wilderness and then from Wesleyan, whose envelopes are Annie Dillard quotes and punk rock songs. I don’t know enough to know what I even want to give him, and so I give him rivers and oceans and wind and empty places and aches. I bleach my hair. When I try to dye it back to red, later, it is pink. Don’t hate me, but, you look like a hot dog, my best guy friend says, when we come in from a run. I hate him a little.
I keep my eyes closed, the second time. I want it to be a surprise, and also, I want it to be enough, and try to figure out how to steel myself for it being wrong, or for the feeling that it isn’t something I’m allowed still, when I open them. I look at the floor, I look at the other people in their chairs, I look at the scissors, I look at the labels on the careful bottles of expensive shampoo and creams and fixatives and oils. I think about the number of dresses that hang in my closet. The lingerie that lives next to my wetsuit. The wholeness I’ve worked to take on, everywhere, letting whatever sort of woman I am be axes. Letting her be a ruffle, a scrap of velvet. Unshaven armpits. Wild rose perfume. An arm spangled in seaweed. Two wheels in the dirt. Whatever says home.
‘I think we’re done. What do you think?’
I open my eyes.
‘I think I’m myself’, is the first thing I say.
What took me so long, is the second.