Friday, October 17, 2008

Redheaded Hellcat

My fascination with red hair began back in junior year of high school. That was the year I met a boy--Curtis--from a neighboring school district who would eventually become my cousin's boyfriend. But when we met, Curtis was as single as they come. He was so in love with my cousin and wanted to break her down, wear her down, make her his own, but my cousin was having nothing to do with that. She had a football star in her life at that time, so she kind of hefted Curtis off on me at a summer bonfire party she was throwing.

Curtis and I hung around that night at the bonfire. He pouted quite a bit. My cousin was off charming her football boyfriend and he'd been stuck with her not very cute cousin, so he wasn't quite a fan of the way the night was shaping up. Of course, after a little while I did a little breaking down, wearing down of my own and suddenly there was something going on. We had rapport. We had wit. We had a thing. But none of that was enough to turn his attentions. And, unluckily for me, my cousin would eventually get tired with the football player and move on to Curtis, who had been biding his time and following her around, thinking, She'll snap out of it. She'll snap out of it. She'll snap out of it.

She snapped. She snapped right out of it. All the rapport, wit, and things in the world couldn't win against my cousin--willowy, blond, beautiful eyes--and so they went off together, and I went on being the only thing left for me to be: mousy friend.

Except Curtis didn't really think I was mousy. He thought I was pretty funny, pretty badass. He thought my friends and I--girls who ran around like a little squealing gang, doting on him, telling him how sweet we thought he was, asking him to sing us another song, asking him to do the Usher dance for us--were something as close to superheroes as he'd ever know. He nicknamed us The Superchicks and gave us each superhero figures that embodied our personalities. Patty was a patriotic red, white, and blue-spangled figure with boots up to her thighs. Amy was a vamp in a couture dress and spike heels, and her leg snaked out of a slit that went to heights impossible for us to wear at that point our lives. And me? Well, I was slim and slinky, with red hair that necessitated a description with the verb tumble. It was all pretty fantastic:

I loved that that was how a boy saw and thought about me. The picture was everything I wanted to be but felt I wasn't: powerful, tough, beautiful, sassy. And I thought the first step to making my real self more like my superhero self was to morph into her the best I could. The catsuit would be a problem, but I could do a little something with my hair. I could make it red. And so I did. And Curtis? He loved it. He thought it was absolutely brilliant, which made me feel brilliant and clever and capable. Suddenly I was a whole new girl. I had a whole new bounce to my step.

Of course, the whole Curtis thing was destined for ruin. He said he liked my cousin, he liked me, he liked my cousin, he liked me. He also liked several other girls from his school district, but I didn't find that out until much later. He was the worst type of boy. He built me up, he made me think I was really something, he made me feel like I was bigger and more powerful than any other girl my age, but he was doing the exact same thing for lots of others, which meant I wasn't special. I wasn't anything like my superhero.

But even if I wasn't tough, even if I wasn't badass, even if I wasn't powerful, I was a redhead, and I could walk my shining red head past him every chance I got. I could throw my hair over my shoulder and send him a look that said, You screwed this up, buddy, and don't you ever forget it. There was power in that hair. There was power in that color. It was what he had wanted, what he had loved, and now I had made it my own. I had taken it away from him. It was no longer his.

And since then, I've used red hair as a sort of marker, as the first movement from one stage to the next. After Keith and I broke up, I dyed my hair red. After the Wily Republican broke my heart the first time, I dyed my hair red. After the Wily Republican broke my heart the second time, I dyed my hair red. It was always something I felt I needed. It was a way to measure heartache and healing. It was a way to show the world that I wasn't going away quietly. I was going to go loudly and with a fuss. I was going to throw my red hair over my shoulder--I was going to let it tumble behind me--and I was going to be the wildest girl they'd ever seen.

Today I dyed my hair red again. I sat in my hairstylist's chair and said, "Do whatever you want to me, as long the hair is red." I said, "Do what you think is best." I already knew what was best for me. I needed to shake some of the sadness from my heart. I needed to move myself toward whatever is waiting around the corner for me.



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