Hair Care

In high school, there was a girl (I’ll call her “MJ”) who sat in front of me in whatever classes we shared where we were seated alphabetically. MJ was a gymnast with very long dark brown hair that reached her waist. I used to fantasize about how somehow a huge wad of Freshen-up gum (the kind with the squirty center) or Crazy Glue would accidentally get stuck in it, just below her ears, and there would be no option other than to just take a huge pair of shiny silver scissors and shear that sheaf of hair. I, of course, would be the one wielding the scissors. In one hand I would hold the hair taut in a ponytail (perhaps pulling it a bit harder than was necessary; I’d need a good grip, after all, yes indeed I would) and with the other I would lop it off. It would not be a neat cut. It would take several tries, because the hair was so thick. And the results would be positively ragged. So sad for MJ.
And so happy for Jodi.
It wasn’t that I hated MJ. Not yet, anyway. It was only ninth grade, after all, and the beginning of the school year, so everyone from the different middle schools was just getting to know each other and didn’t know who was who yet. MJ didn’t know I was one of them there smart girls, but I did my homework (smart girl that I was) and learned that she was a gymnast. And supposedly one of the best around.
By mid-year of ninth grade or so, MJ was unaware that I had grown to secretly hate her for her gymnastic abilities, her waist-long hair, the attention she got from the studliest 14-year-old in the class, and what she called her “wardrobe”. Every day she wore something different — she had every color of Gloria Vanderbilt corduroys! — and I imagined her standing in front of a huge armoire/wardrobe every morning, its doors sliding open effortlessly, and smiling at an incredibly long row of outfits all lined up perfectly, evenly spaced and already ironed. I used to keep a special page in a notebook where I would log everything she wore, just to see if there were any repeats. (There weren’t. At least for the duration of my observation.)
So by mid-year, oblivious to my hatred, she turned to me and said, “I’m thinking of cutting my hair. What do you think?”
What did I think? She was asking me? Well, of course she was. She still considered me something of a friend.
“I don’t know …” I said, pretending to consider it. “Your hair is so great.”
“Well, I’ve had it this way forever, and I get sick of it. It takes forever to wash, and I always have to put it up for gymnastics …”
“So what are you thinking of doing, then?” I asked. “Going really short? Getting rid of the bangs?” Wearing the same pants twice? Giving up gymnastics and getting really really fat?
“I was thinking of shoulder-length or above!” she said.
“Maybe like Dorothy Hamill?”
“I don’t think that short. But definitely much shorter. What do you think? Tell me honestly. Will I look stupid? Will it be a huge mistake?”
Of course it will, I thought. You are your hair. Yes, you have the great clothes and the gymnastics. The gorgeous boy. But the hair, well, MJ, that’s what truly separates you from everyone else. And everyone knows that boys love long hair.
“I think you’d look great with shorter hair. It’s time for a change. Especially with gymnastics and all, it’ll be a lot easier to take care of!”
The next Monday she came into school with her new, shorter ‘do.
The hair just glanced her shoulders. It had more “body”. It was bouncy. It was shiny. It improved her performance on the balance beam. It tripled her wardrobe. It made the gorgeous boy stutter. It even brought out her eyes. And everyone was quick to tell her so. Including me.
I wondered if anyone else was secretly disappointed that she looked great. I wondered if anyone else was hoping to enjoy a a delicious little snack of schadenfreude (tasty with onion dip). I wondered if anyone else was hoping she’d walk into class crying with a hat pulled over her head and an ugly pair of pants, and the beautiful boy and her balance beamability suddenly would not be hers to have anymore.
There is a “lesson” to this story somewhere, but damn it all if I want to acknowledge it.
P.S. At the ten-year reunion, she looked all right. The hair looked the same as it did that Monday morning in 1978. But I was thrilled to see that her outfit was positively matronly. (And no, she didn’t marry the gorgeous boy from our class.)