The Hair Intervention.

I have padded sock-footed on the edges of groups all my life, not so much disallowed from their embrace as disallowing myself, peering through their windows Little Match Girl-style, drawn by their golden circle of lamplight spilling onto the sidewalk.

Exception: Scotch in hand, I’d rush headlong into their fray, entering stage right, casting myself in the lead, hollering round for the others to hurry up, let’s shoot darts, let’s play “Electric Youth” on the video jukebox over and over, oblivious to the glares of the regulars, sloshing my drink on the table, wondering where my friends were when the music stopped, finding out they’d all gone bowling without me. Later, alone in my apartment, wearing a frayed gray comforter and a face mask I’d concocted from a recipe in Glamour, I struggled to position the rabbit ears on my UHF-only television to stabilize the picture for “Quantum Leap.” Snow on the screen, tears in my eyes.

Taxi-cab privacy screen locked in place, I have held myself at arm’s length from former classmates, coworkers, and even my own family, situating interstates and time zones between us. Through the magic of Facebook, I can still peer through the window, seeing law school classmates celebrating 25 years of friendship – why there they all are at the lake again this summer! Their babies now old enough to captain the boats and me, a mountain range and a lifetime away, having never gotten the hang of water skiing anyway, remembering them yelling from the dock Lean back! Lean back! as I dropped the line again and again, turning blue from cold, red from shame, pale white because I refused to wear shorts ever – hating my legs – an all-American loser in the land of 10,000 lakes.

I could say it all started with the hair intervention in seventh grade but that would be a lie. In photos from three, four years old, I’m all white-haired silkiness, my flyaway ends curling up to complete a smile my mouth refused to form, giving me away: Loner. Then ten, eleven years old: there are pixie cuts and darkening and coarsening and a horrible perm and mall haircuts, always – never at the good place that cost $18 where the girls on the tennis team went. I had no right to attempt the Dorothy Hamill wedge, disastrous as it grew out, widening, never lengthening, me yanking it down, willing it to straighten so no one would notice.

Oh, but they noticed. Four or five of them approaching in the hall at school as friends, maybe? Hi! We want to talk to you! Me thinking this would be a big moment, plans would be made, something that perhaps would not include water skiing but instead studying, and I was good at studying. But wait, what were they saying? We need to talk about your hair, you just can’t wear it like that, have you tried a curling iron, you can use mine, here – thrusting it into my hand and pointing me toward the bathrooms – no, I’ll go alone, I say, gosh thanks for letting me borrow this.

But I had no business curling my hair in the junior high bathroom. They might as well have handed me a circular saw and sent me to shop class to build shelving for all I knew about how curling irons worked. My sisters were grown, in college, and there was a curling iron at home, yes, caked with years of hairspray, but I had no idea how to operate it other than to turn it on and watch the red dot turn slowly to black, signifying danger, not beauty.

touch and curl curling iron

Alone in the bathroom, I made a valiant hair styling effort. I maneuvered the foreign instrument to the right side of my head, some confidence in my dominant hand, attempting the little sausage curls that seemed to be in style, so effortless on other girls. Then panic: What of the left side? I’d surely burn myself, the tool backward and inside out and me, already confused by viewing my mirror image – for god’s sake how was I supposed to get the left side?

So I didn’t. I waited for the iron to cool, had missed nearly all of lunch hour by this point, marched back out, overgrown wedge brushing the door on the left, failed sausage curls sagging on the right and there they were, still in a group, waiting for me. Gape-mouthed: What have you done? Why didn’t you do the left side? YOU JUST TURN IT UPSIDE DOWN TO GET THE OTHER SIDE! Laughter, me heading back into the bathroom, tears now, stepping on the floor pedal for the sinks, a waterfall springing up around me, Vegas style – those were the sinks we had, communal dancing waters so all the junior high girls could wash up at once, this considered beneficial somehow by the designers – cupping and filling my hands and wetting my hair over and over, curls on the right disappearing, unruly thicket on the left unmoved by the flood of water dripping onto my plaid blouse with the peter pan collar and the red grosgrain ribbon tied sweetly in a bow at my neck. Now attempting to squeeze the water out with the cloth towels that went round and round in the dispenser, but which, apparently, had no absorptive qualities whatsoever, because there was no disguising it: I was drenched.

And of course they were still waiting, now shouting: You didn’t have to get it wet! You shouldn’t have slicked it down! The bell ringing, fifth hour was it? Counting: three classes and a long bus ride home ahead of me. Their circle of light disappearing and me again on the other side of the window, shivering, no more matches to strike, as I parked myself behind my desk in Mrs. Maruska’s English class, intent on my notebook, my eyes seeing nothing.


About Cindy Reed

I hate pants.
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24 Responses to The Hair Intervention.

  1. katykozee says:

    This was so familiar it was achingly painful. I still can’t use a curling iron and that’s after watching hours of YouTube videos. How did we learn before then? Those packs of girls. My first instinct, even now, was to write that I hope they all grew up and lived horrible lives and died horribly but then I remembered that, thanks for Facebook, I know that most of them were also scared and unsure and grew up to be be kind people who would be horrified to remember the things they did and the effects it had. And some them grew up to be Cruz voters who continue their interventions to this day.

    • Cindy Reed says:

      It’s so interesting because almost every response I’ve gotten to this piece has been: I felt that way too. Were we all so lost, separately, even when we appeared to be in groups? Except for the Cruz voters. They seem to have things all figured out.

  2. Jen Doyle says:

    Really amazing. I too was very afraid of the packs of girls and was very very shy. You write so beautifully.

  3. Sarah Buchanan says:

    Wow, Cindy. Great writing: you really evoked the pain of junior high and I love the metaphor of the hair smiling when your mouth wouldn’t.

    What an awful thing for those girls to do. Ugh.

  4. Jody Stadler says:

    I am so sorry you went through that junior high bullshit!!! Yours is a testament as to why we need to love people as they are!

  5. Oh god, I felt every word of this. This was me in every way and, I suspect, every girl (and woman) who feels like she doesn’t fit in. So happy to read your words again.

    • Cindy Reed says:

      I think so many of us feel that way – if only there were some way to bridge that gap and realize everyone, somehow, feels on the outside. Because the more I talk to people about this, the more I find these sorts of experiences resonate across the board.

  6. d3athlily says:

    Ohhh how I remember those days. You told this perfectly. I haven’t soon forgotten those girls in junior high or high school. An awkward girl with long hair and no understanding of how to manage it except to pull it back into a low ponytail…. Actually I never quite got out of that phase. lol

  7. outlawmama says:

    I have that curling iron caked with hair. Definitely all about danger and nothing about beauty. So great to share the grid with you! oxoxo

  8. Tina says:

    Lol–things like this happened to me, but I usually reacted with anger. Oh, and I once mooned a group or two. The perils of growing up an Army brat!

  9. Stacie says:

    Yay for a Reedster post! This breaks my heart though. Middle school and high school are so hard. Thank God that’s done.

  10. Marcy says:

    Like others have said, I related to this and recalled painful memories from those packs of girls. I wonder if one of those girls would relate to it too and not realize that others saw her on the inside. Probably? (I remember those sinks so clearly too.) I liked the humorous, yet sad image of your hair half curly and half not. Great to see you on the grid! 🙂

  11. PryvateLisa says:

    What it is about young girls? This was so relatable. I mean what woman hasn’t had some sort of hair drama? Great piece.

  12. You gave me flashbacks to the bad haircut of 1985. I still have nightmares.
    This: my UHF-only television to stabilize the picture for “Quantum Leap.” Made me laugh.

  13. Meg says:

    I thought I was the only one.
    This was achingly familiar. I love your writing. You give voice to so many feelings and make me feel less alone.

  14. c2avilez says:

    “I have padded sock-footed on the edges of groups all my life” is my favorite line. I instantly identified with your writing and was drawn in based on this sentence. When you got to the Dorothy Hamill – whoa! One of my most traumatic attempts to be trendy was to try to persuade my thick curly hair into this style, willing it to transform me into her, but the cowlicks were fierce and won out over the curling iron. And those sinks! I can picture them clearly. Great piece.

  15. Sandy says:

    I do want to comment! But, first, an apology for never responding to you when you answered my fan email after you were a speaker — actually, the best speaker! — at Word Camp Atlanta. I don’t know why I didn’t answer. I meant to. Of course. But, for reasons I can no longer remember, days turned into weeks turned into months — and then it seemed way too late. Today, though, your piece, The Hair Intervention, popped up on my RSS feed. It was a better-late-than-never nudge. Thanks for coming to Word Camp Atlanta! Thanks for giving the best, most affecting and useful presentation of the full two days! Thanks for answering my fan email! Please come to Word Camp Atlanta again!

    My comment on The Hair Intervention: Thanks for enabling the rest of us to feel a little less alone! I was a shy person — the daughter of an Air Force officer and I went to 9 different schools in 12 years of school. Two of those schools were junior high schools (known today as middle schools, but still horribly the same). I had the same first name as the most popular girl in one of the middle schools and in high school, but I wasn’t. Wasn’t popular, that is. Your story about hair and curling irons (which I never learned to use, either) reminded me of watching girls in one of my high school’s restrooms tease their hair. My attempts at teasing my hair, tried at home, made my hair look like a rat’s nest!

    Thinking of middle school and high school still makes me cringe. I graduated 50 years ago and I have never been back to a single high school reunion.

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  17. Jenny Scruggs says:

    I love this, Cindy. So very much.

  18. Carrie says:

    Ughhh. I know this feeling. I don’t remember any interventions but I distinctly remember being completely at a loss at how people make themselves look nice and still feel this way. I broke a hair brush in half once out of frustration. I grew up sleeping in damp braids so luckily there weren’t too many hot curling irons around.

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