One of the things I lost when I stopped shampooing and cutting my hair was regular hangouts with my former hairstylist/now friend, Maggie. I met her after several bad experiences at Hair Cuttery and Great Clips, where I’d go for a $20 hair cut, say, “Fuck my hair up!” and the stylist would interpret that as “You want a layered bob.” I did not want a layered bob. I wanted fucked-up hair.
I think I was 22 when I started seeing Maggie on the reg. I decided I’d splurge on a $35 haircut at Regis, one of those slightly-more-upscale mall hair salons where you learn that paying $15 more for your haircut really goes a long way. It was a lot for me at the time when you counted the tip, too, but Maggie made it worth it. I said, “Fuck up my hair!” and she looked at my hair for a minute or so, decided how to artfully fuck it up, and proceeded to do so.
Maggie falls in the category of human beings that most of my best friends have fallen into: They look conventional, but they are not conventional people. She’s conventionally gorgeous: Thin, blonde, tan, tall, with gigantic blue eyes, and of course a knack for great self-presentation befitting a woman whose work mainly involves helping people with their self-presentation.
She is also much more observant than I am, which I envy more than anything. She’s quicker with a response. She’s also more willing than I am to go to absurd extremes with her humor, and will tell you some pretty graphic ways that she hopes Katy Perry will die.
I’ve put her through the paces with my hair. About a month before my wedding, I went to her and told her that I wanted her to cut my hair in a spiral that started on the left side of my bangs, went around my head, and ended on my left shoulder. She made this work, and then, when my wedding came, twisted my hair into itself around the spiral to make it look like I hadn’t just cut half of it off a few weeks earlier. A few months after that, I asked for a mohawk, and when she cut it she decided to have fun with it and morph it into a “rollhawk” with perfect circles of hair balanced in a row on top of my head. She salvaged it when I tried to dye it red after years and years of bleaching the life out of the follicles so that they couldn’t really even hold color anymore.
By that time, I was getting my hair done at her house. I was living in the suburbs with my now-ex-husband, and she lived about 20 minutes away. It was a place where I had some privacy, and one of the first places that I started unabashedly airing my otherwise very secret complaints about my ex. It would’ve been against professional decorum for her to bring up anything I’d said to him, and her job sort of necessarily instills her with a sense of confidentiality. But at some point, when you’re spending a few hours every few weeks in a person’s house, having them handle your head, and dishing about your partner to them, they’re not really just there for the sake of professionalism anymore.
I have to imagine, observant as she is, that she realized at least on some level why I was changing my hair every few weeks or every few months — there was nothing I could do about external forces on my appearance because of my ex’s possessiveness over my body. I couldn’t get tattoos, or dress in any way except what he deemed acceptable; I couldn’t buy or make foods that I wanted unless he wanted them too; I couldn’t wear makeup except how he liked my makeup, and I couldn’t not wear makeup. He tried to get me to not go to the gym and to not ride my bike.
But my hair was mine. It was my body. And my haircuts were tiny little declarations of my self-possession. When I dyed my hair red, it was a sort of final rebellion against him: He wanted me to be blonde. He said he didn’t like the way I looked with my hair red and was waiting for me to bleach it back. Everyone else loved it as much as I did, and it just demonstrated to me how badly he wanted everything about me to be under his say-so.
Maggie was my accomplice in this, and those bitch-sessions in her house while she empowered me to do what I damn well pleased with my hair, without having my ex around to ask for permission, were profound bonding experiences. She was the only friend I had at the time who was only my friend, and without passing judgment or raising objections either to me complaining or to what I was complaining about, she helped me to assert myself, to be more myself, and to take care of myself the way I needed to.
I don’t have a reason to bleach, dye, or cut my hair much anymore. Now that we live two hours apart from each other instead of 20 minutes, on the occasions that I do get to see her, I want it to be unencumbered by business. She’s getting married now, and I’m more interested in hearing what her grand plans are for her hair and her dress and her home and her life, in being her friend, than in just receiving her friendship anymore.