I came of age during the first season of "Charlie's Angels." With Farah Fawcett's golden mane sleeked into a perfect face-framing flip, girls coast to coast heated up their curling irons. All of my friends had feathers and wings, but my hair curled wildly and frizzed. It was simply a nest. And tomato-soup red.
For all of my 30-something years, my hair has been the crucial defining factor that has identified me, horrified me, mystified me, and, ultimately, liberated me.
Growing up, I knew I was different. My brunette family marveled at the genetic lottery that produced a red-headed child. Strangers stopped my mother and asked her where I got my carrot curls, as if they had been specially ordered. My sister convinced me that my parents found me on the doorstep swaddled in the morning newspaper. Fifteen years later, when a long-lost cousin from Chile arrived sprouting a red beard, Mom had her response.
My childhood taught me patience as I sat statue-still while my mother spritzed bottle after bottle of detangler - my head picked upon by a wide-toothed comb and a woman with a mission. During my grade-school years, my coif of choice was two ponytails fastened by colorful rubber-banded balls. My ponytails looked like enormous wads of cotton candy and attracted my classmate's taunts. "Jealous," said Mom. "They just want to look more like you." I didn't buy it. One boy named King commented that my hair was so fluffy I didn't even need to sleep with a pillow. I cried into mine that very night.
Then came the roller years. My mother sectioned my wet hair into zones and smoothly rolled my hair onto orange-juice cans, held in place with bobby pins. I then wedged myself under the dryer bonnet and envisioned the feathering, flipping hairdo that would result. As the little metal clips branded my scalp, I melted and surrendered before my hair did.
Foul-smelling chemical relaxers did nothing to calm my curls. Nor did wrapping, thinning, or reverse-perming. My frizz fought back. Sonia, my mom's friend, swore by ironing. She had Cher-hair. So I turned the iron setting to "cotton," and put my head down on the ironing board. I singed my ear - and my hair.
I met my fairy godmother, years later, at "Tina's Shear Luck." Her magic wand was a blow-dryer brush with a cylinder the size of a tree stump. With biceps like Popeye's, she blew and shellacked and sleeked my hair into a smooth, thick mane. Finally, I had flippable, fingerable hair.
For years, I locked myself in the bathroom, and, with my blow-dryer set on high, painstakingly blow-dried my hair and emerged, 53 minutes later, straight. I blissfully walked around, a curly-head incognito, until it rained. Rain melted me like the wicked witch of the West. "I'm frizzing, I'm frizzing!" I'd shriek and dive into the safety of the nearest bathroom.
As an exchange student in graduate school, I landed in Sweden, the country of silky blondes. Armed with a blow-dryer converter, I knew I could survive - until my Swedish boyfriend invited me to go sailing for two weeks. When he saw my blow-dryer, and then informed me of the boat's lack of electricity, I realized I'd have to acknowledge the mane that was truly mine. It was time to "come out of the bathroom."
I observed in horror as my boyfriend saw my hair dry in the humid sea air. Wet ringlets became increasingly springy curls, wisps turned to frizz, and my middle-of-the-back hair shrank to shoulder length. I metamorphosed into a wigged-out wild woman, hair ablaze in the setting sun.
"I love it!" he shouted with such honesty and amazement. "It's great, never blow it dry again! It's you." It was at that moment I made up on my mind to marry this guy. And I did. Only years later would I realize the value of the gift he gave me. His acceptance paved the way for me to be more loving of my true self.
Ten years later, our daughter Maja was born with the most velvety fuzz crowning her head, and one peculiarly long curly lock. Everyone wondered - would she have curly hair? I hoped so.
Now she is 5. There is no doubt she has been blessed with my mess of curls. Her hair is a child's scribbles flecked with gold glitter. Yesterday she grabbed a strand of my hair and put it next to hers and said with pride, "Look Mommy, we're the same. You have curly hair and I do too!"
In the morning, Maja's tangled tresses thickly veil her face on the pillow. After her bath, I gently comb out the wet tangles while she sits in my lap, and I am reminded of the way I sat ever-so-still on my mother's lap. On special occasions, I pile Maja's curls on top of her head, tying the topknot with a scarlet ribbon. Maja's hair is as effervescent as she is.
Together, we hold our heads high and celebrate the rain.