"My Hair Dresser Stole My Mojo"
The whisk of the scissors drops chunks of hair to the floor. My mind races for a possible do-over. Can you glue hair back on? I can’t look at myself in the mirror or meet Melissa’s eyes. I don’t want her to see my regret.
This is happening because of a question asked of me in a hot tub, the place where many thought provoking conversations begin.
“Who are you?” My brother-in-law asks. “I’ve known you for fifteen years and I still don’t have a clue.”
I am puzzled. Everyone knows who I am. I am the wife of a brilliant, successful, and daring man. I am the mother to three kids that are my miracles. I am a fourth grade teacher to thirty-two students who teach me as much as I teach them. I love to read. I chatter away, relating everything my brother-in-law should already know.
He isn’t convinced.
“I’m a nice person. I have always been told that I’m beautiful. I won’t even get the mail without make-up on. I don’t like my face to get hot, so I try to avoid sweating. I fear water, heights, large crowds, risks, mice, dying, and going anywhere fast. Did I forget anything?”
“But who are you? I feel like you’re fake--an actor playing the part you think people want you to be.”
The conversation haunts me for months-- something Melissa and I hash over while she washes, massages, blow dries, cuts and styles my hair. Always in shorts and tank tops that show off her tattoos, Melissa is an eclectic mix of facial piercings, make-up free features and wavy, air-dried hair, certainly not what you’d expect from a stylist. She is a carefree wanderer who travels the world and tries everything, but her hidden talent is the way she easily coaxes secrets and hopes from even the most reluctant. I’m guessing therapists go and see Melissa when they have something on their mind.
“I don’t think who you hang out with, your past, or what you look like defines a person. So how does anyone know who they are?”
I shrug, “their actions?”
“How have you been acting lately to bring up such an interesting question?”
“The same as always.”
She turns my chair away from the mirror, getting down to business by securing the black drape at the nape of my neck and fingering my hair.
“Are you ready for a change?”
Maybe it was the hot tub questions, but it spurred something irrational in me.
“Yes, I think I am.”
I can tell she is cheering inside, but she cautiously searches my face.
“Do you mean it?”
“Do you want to know what I’m going to do, or should I surprise you?” she asks.
“I trust you.”
And I do trust her. Who knows why? I am a scar. I suspect we all are from the wounds of life. In my case it was sexual abuse that ravaged through my entire family leaving behind barely living ghosts. My six siblings learned to survive by being quiet, distant, untrusting, and fearful.
I was one of the lucky ones. The abuse ended for me on my ninth birthday, not because someone saved me, but because I was diagnosed with Type I Insulin Dependent Diabetes. As deathly ill as I was, I remember comforting my doctor and my parents simply because I wasn’t in the habit of believing adults, especially ones who tried to scare me with stories of young deaths and horrific complications, as often happened historically with the disease. Although it meant shots, a very restrictive diet with no sugar, controlled portions, monitored activity, and constant testing of my blood, I felt fortunate. I got to live, and my abuser was forced to turn his attention elsewhere. I was never alone for a single second after that. Baby monitors were put in the room I shared with my two sisters, and they were forced to shadow me my entire life in case something bad happened while horrific stuff continued to happen to them. Everyone was fearful of me and I misunderstood their resentment.
I became fragile and used my disease to get out of doing things. Falls, seizures, comas, and a near drowning made me more fearful. I didn’t trust myself. My family worked very hard at keeping the abuse a secret. People envied our perfect family, never knowing the chaos reigning within. I was the family tragedy to put on parade with my disease and seizures, but really no different, hiding my insides with my long brown hair, a pretty heart-shaped face and hazel eyes.
My outer beauty kept people at a distance. People mistook my insecurity as stuck-up superiority. I worked even harder to make sure I was always perfect, never letting anyone see me as anything less. My hair always curled, I never went anywhere without makeup, my clothes carefully chosen to be a hint more formal than what everyone else was wearing. The only people who didn’t fear me were the loud and proud type A’s that anger people with their boldness. I found comfort among them while they did all the talking, protecting, planning, and executing. I felt relieved to fade into the background.
I became an actor, drawn to plays and the stage. I excelled, perhaps because of a deeper emotional well I could tap into, but more likely because I developed the ability to become someone else for a little while. But it came at a great cost. Every time a play ended, I felt like a part of me died and I would mourn for months. The stress of a school year full of character deaths was enough for me.
I used acting to get through interviews, school, conferences with parents, going to the store, even attending parties with friends. I gave speeches, I took on projects. People at work saw me as talented and flexible because I could so easily slip into someone else’s personality who was a fit for the situation. It was exhausting, and I would be forced to retreat for days at home like a hermit until I could slip back inside myself. I congratulated myself as a con artist would. But maybe I wasn’t as good a fake as I thought. My husband indulged my coping mechanisms, but now that my brother-in-law was beginning to see the flaws in my carefully crafted façade, it made me wonder who else did.
It bugged me. A lot. I knew there was a little piece of the real me locked up inside somewhere with security tighter than Fort Knox, but even I don’t know what’s inside there. The thinking made me miserable. I began to feel in my bones that I was meant for something greater than the sleepwalking I called living.
I made half-hearted attempts. I ditched my life-long religion and dabbled in the metaphysical. I went back to school and got my degree. I finished a book. What would it take to make me happy? A boob job? Botox for those lines appearing? Dropping a few pounds? I was no closer to a breakthrough discovery than before. But I was still the same, frightened me inside.
So why not cut my hair? It was bold and rash and Melissa’s scissors fly across my neck before I can whimper a protest. When she turns me around, I can sense that the whole salon has their eyes on me. Sleek browns and golds barely touch my chin. My long, enviable hair is lying on the floor.
Melissa finds my eyes in the mirror, but I have to look away. I don’t know that person. My eyes have changed, my face doesn’t look like my own, even my posture is different. I feel naked. My head feels lighter. I can’t pull the strands around my face to hide or curl it around my finger. There is no more sweeping it over my shoulder or tossing it around. It isn’t sexy. My mannerisms are gone. I am in shock.
I stumble home.
“What did you do?” my husband says, not even trying to hide the horror in his eyes. My daughter defends me, but only because she is protecting me. She admits she hates it.
“It will grow back.”
I go to my room and cry. But not for long, we have a party to attend. Women ooh and ah, telling me I look sassy, but I see the lie. Men prefer to say nothing. I hear a conversation where my husband confesses to his sister that my hair makes him feel old because a man is only as hot as the woman on his arm. He’d sent his smoking hot wife to the salon and got back an old lady with old lady short hair. The next night, I curl it up like Marilyn Monroe just to show him, but I can’t fake it anymore. Whatever Sampsonlike strength I’d taken for granted is gone. If anything, my lack of hair just punctuates how bad things are. Depression sinks in. I’ve made the worst mistake of my life.
My hairdresser has taken my mojo. And yet, I realize I am free.
It didn’t happen overnight, but somehow I soak in the realization that I don’t have to hide my inner chaos with a perfect exterior anymore. There is no one to impress, not even those who love me the most. It is just me, stripped of approval and vanity, naked and flawed and I realize I love it. I am free to let my outer chaos mingle with my inner chaos and I feel like a giant weight has lifted off my shoulders. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel like I’m in a fish bowl with everyone watching me, waiting for me to mess up, look back, or do something stupid. If ever I was or will be judged by anyone, I simply don’t care anymore.
I start running, something I’ve never even tried because you can’t be beautiful when you sweat. On day one, loaded down with at least a pound of glucose tablets, I can only run for sixty seconds before I am winded and hurting, my face beet red. I look like death, but for the first time in my life, I am determined. Within two months, I work up to a 5K. It isn’t fast or pretty. I sweat like mad and I probably don’t look good in running clothes. I find something amazing on my runs. Instead of the judgment of others, I discover I have cheerleaders. My husband the running pro tells me he’s proud of me for not giving up when it’s hard. Complete strangers wave to me as I trudge past them and I wave back. My brother and sister-in-law invite me to race with them, even knowing my time will set them back. No one has even noticed that I’ve blown my perfect exterior to hell. Whenever cool air blows on the back of my neck, I feel strong. Amazing.
I strap on roller skates and glide around the rink with my kids. I get into the pool with them to splash and play for the first time in their lives. They are pleased that I’ve left behind the women tanning themselves in deck chairs as far from the water as possible. Wearing teeny bikinis, those women pretend they will get into the water, but they won’t because of their make-up, carefully done hair, high heels, fake nails, fake boobs, hair extensions, whitened teeth and perfect bodies glistening. They appraise every woman with their eyes, and should they find themselves falling short, they will vomit dinner for three weeks and pay their cosmetic surgeon obscene amounts until they can compete again. I’ve been that woman. I get out of the pool basking in how good it feels to put my body to work while enjoying time with my kids. I slather on more sunscreen under the shade of a wide umbrella.
Later, my husband and I take the kids to a ski slope that has an alpine slide, zip line and coaster that zigzags down the face of the mountain. My husband reminds me that he brought me here on a summer day just like this one twenty years ago, and that I had a full-out panic attack, crying about the heights and the speed while riding in the chair lift. I have completely blocked it from my memory. I would swear I have never been to this place before.
We take the ski-lift. This time I enjoy the trees, the sky and birds like I am seeing the world for the first time. My kids laugh when they point out the underwear tree where mischievous people throw their bras and underwear. Yep. We saw some delightful blue panties perched in the branches. I secretly vow that some article of my clothing will someday find its way to that tree. We walk to the edge of the hill where I climb into a small wheeled sled. Heart pounding, I feel like I’m going to pee my pants as I get closer to the edge of the slide. Then the attendant tells me to go. If I die today, it will be okay because at least I died trying. I plunge over the edge, pushing the stick forward to accelerate. I zip down the side of a mountain in a tiny little sled. The rush is incredible. Not from the speed, but from doing something I’d thought impossible. My husband beats me to the bottom, but I’m not far behind.
We ride up again, this time to climb into a harness for the zip line. My only scream is a loud “Woohoo” out the gate. I tuck into a tight position, my aerodynamic body going faster down the line. I reach the end in triumph.
“That was amazing,” I tell the ride operator and I mean it.
Last is the coaster. My youngest is pouting because she has to go with me. She wants to go fast with Dad because he won’t use the brakes. I promise her that is how it is going to be with me, but after ten years of living through my fears, I know why she isn’t my biggest believer.
We climb in and buckle up. As we ride up the long ski hill, my daughter quizzes me to test if I know how to activate the brake versus letting the wheels roll freely. We reach the top.
“No breaks,” I promise her.
I’m pushing the level as far forward as I can to accelerate our car. The car picks up speed. Around the first curve my mind is screaming as we bank high and plunge up and down into a tight corkscrew. I realize that I’m not thinking about the brake, or dying or going fast or being up so high. I’m laughing. My daughter hugs her body to me, squealing with delight. We fly down the track, loving every glorious twist and turn until we finally come to a stop at the bottom. My family is waiting for us, and as we climb out, I know my hair is sticking out everywhere, but I’m grinning from ear to ear.
“That was incredible!” I shout and hug everybody.
My husband hugs me hard and takes a long look.
“Who is this woman I’ve been married to for twenty years? I really didn’t think you would do any of this.”
“It’s the hair,” I tell him, patting down my crazy mop.
“Then I love your hair,” he dips me into a kiss, “If I’d known that, I would have had you cut it a long time ago.”
This week I quit my teaching job to take on the new adventure of writing. It is no longer a forgotten dream to be a writer like my dad. The stories pour out of me. I feel something coursing through my veins that I’ve never felt before–me. I am excited to get a do-over on all the things I chickened out on. I’m looking forward to winter so I can try snowboarding again now that I feel fierce and ready. Maybe we’ll move, travel, and see the world. I still run and I get faster and more confident every day. I rode a bike for the first time in twenty-eight years. Okay, so I did have my hands on the brake constantly, and I ran into a tree, and then fell over and skinned my knee. But it made me feel good to know I tried, and I will try again until I conquer the evil contraption known as clipless pedals.
So who am I now? A scar? No. I am an inventor who can create anything, even a person. If you had to judge me by my actions, then I’d say I take baby steps every day to leave my mark on this world and make a difference, daring to be who I was meant to be. I am finally able to see myself with kinder eyes, and be patient. Gray hairs and wrinkles will come, but I am beautiful on the inside and becoming more so every day. It is something I can take with me when I leave this world.
I had my final hair appointment with Melissa last week. She sold her stuff so that she and her boyfriend can pedal across the country on their bikes for two years. I wonder if she’ll say, “My work here is done,” as she pedals away.
“Are you going to grow your hair out now?” the new stylist asks.
Not a chance.
Misti Shupe is a former elementary and high school drama teacher turned writer. She is a 2nd round finalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, 2013 for her Young Adult Manuscript. She has written and produced several musicals and plays. "My Hair Dresser Stole My Mojo," is her first creative non-fiction publication. Misti, a type I Insulin-Dependent Diabetic, lives in Utah with her husband, Tim, and her three children, Timothy, McKinley and Aspen. Her website is .