As I got closer to entering grade school, my hair started getting ever-so-slightly darker. This was simply not acceptable. Not at all. Not in any way. My mother, frantic to maintain my über blonde locks, started washing my hair in lemon juice, a treatment that was reputed to make hair lighter, but that was guaranteed to burn when it got in little eyes. I despised this ritual. But my mother persisted, and I endured, considering the fact that my hair was what made me acceptable. I learned this early on. No blonde hair, no approval. It was the only thing about me that gave me any value. The point was completely and painfully clear.
I went through years of lemon juice treatments. My hair kept getting darker. Soon, it was a dirty blonde. This was not good.
My brother had dark brown hair. He was accepted. He was a boy. Evidently, that made all the difference. Boys didn’t have to be blonde to have value.
At one point, my mother took me to a beauty shop to see about having my hair dyed blonde (in her perception, restored to the correct color). This was some time ago…back then, the procedure of lightening one’s hair was difficult and often less than successful. It wasn’t something young girls did. But my mother was so desperate to bring back my white-blonde locks, she was willing to try anything. Even more shocking, she was willing to spend the money – on me – to have it done. The women at the beauty parlor were not willing, however. They said I had too much red in my hair. That it would probably turn orange. I was saved from the nasty peroxide process. My mother’s disapproval was palpable.When I was a teenager, I thought about saving my meager allowance to buy a blonde wig, but I didn’t believe that would satisfy my mother. I opted to buy drugs instead.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I went blonde. I mainly used “Sun In” because initially, I only wanted to add some streaks and highlights. But eventually, I was applying it to all of my hair and was bleaching it out to a fairly pale white color. It looked pretty awful, but my mother loved it. My approval rating soared.
Unfortunately, the color got harder to maintain over time and the roots were looking really dark when they grew out. I got tired of the “fake blonde with roots” look and of always having limp, damaged hair. So I finally went to a professional and asked to have my hair dyed back to my natural color. At the same time, I had all the damaged ends trimmed away. This is when I discovered my hair had turned a rather dark auburn. The change was a bit shocking at first, but I came to like my natural color. It somehow suited me. Or so I thought.
The next time my mother saw me, her anger was evident. She let me know it looked absolutely horrible, that my hair was far too dark and was completely unflattering. In fact, she wrote me a 20+ page letter criticizing my choice of hair color (my NATURAL color, mind you), expressing her complete disbelief over what I had done. She considered my auburn mane to be a betrayal. A slap in the face. I was defying her. Letting her down. I was yet another disappointment in her life that was already overburdened with disappointment. Tragically, in her estimation, everything that was wrong with her life at the moment was entirely my fault and probably had a lot to do with me not being a blonde any more. I had totally disappointed her. I should be ashamed!
I tried to explain that I had simply decided to embrace my natural color, but you would have thought I told her I had murdered someone. I finally gave up trying to communicate with her on any topic at all. There was no point.I have never gone back to being a blonde, in spite of the fact that I no longer had any value whatsoever to my mother.
Over the years, my hair has actually gotten somewhat lighter again. I’m now coloring it to cover the gray and I’m using a color that is slightly darker than my current natural shade. I may switch to a lighter auburn in the future, but I’m still content to wear this color that has been mine since my early 30’s. I own it now. I have made peace with not having light, wheat-colored hair. If my hair were to turn blonde again in my old age, I fear, if she were still alive, I would disappoint my mother once again. I fear I would go darker…for the 3rd time in my life.
Ever have your parents yell at you, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!!”?
I’ve been thinking about this statement because I heard it a lot during my childhood. The crazy thing about it is this: I think I probably had a great deal to cry about. They didn’t need to do anything else to give me a reason to cry. So chances are, I was likely crying for a good reason to begin with. It’s kind of scary to think about what they planned to do to me to “give me something to cry about”.
I guess there were things they could do. Like throw me out of the house when I was a young child. Stop giving me access to food, maybe. But there were so many things they already did that were awful, whatever else they threw in might have been a bit anti-climactic.
For example, were they going to hit me? Ummm, they already did that. My mother would slap me, throw me down, drag me by my hair, push me, shove me, punch me. My father, on the other hand, would knock me across the room with one well-placed fist. Or he would send me flying with one gigantic smack. He was also deadly with a belt. So physically beating me wouldn’t give me anything new to cry about.
Neglect me? You can check that one off the list too. They barely even knew I existed until I didn’t do something the way they wanted me to do it. Or perhaps I didn’t do something they wanted me to do at all. They gave me pages of chores to accomplish every day. I tried. But with homework and those rare after-school activities, sometimes I failed. And I paid for it. Additionally, I was threatened that I had better be “sick enough” to justify the expense of being taken to the doctor, so I tended to wait until I was REALLY super-sick before I told anyone. They never once took me to the dentist, even when I split my lip open and knocked my front teeth out. I walked to school by myself from the time I was in 1st grade all the way through high school. I did most of the house cleaning. I foraged for food because my mom rarely cooked for me. I came home to an empty house and did my homework on my own because I wasn’t allowed to stay at my grandparent’s house with my brother. I learned how many times a week a person should bathe in Home Economics and I learned how to brush my teeth in the 5th grade when the guy came in with the red “candies” that stained your teeth everywhere there was plaque. I found out about women having periods when I had my first one – while I was at school – at age 10. Thought I was dying. My first bra was a size 36B (which is larger than I wear today!). They just hadn’t noticed me. Never paid me much attention unless I didn’t live up to one of their many expectations or demands and then they yelled and hit me. So neglecting me couldn’t have given me something new to cry about. Being neglected was actually a lot more desirable than some of the other options.
Sexually abuse me? Ho, hum, my father did that too. From the time I was around 4 until I was somewhere in the vicinity of 14 years old. He started off slow, but worked his way through about every sexual fantasy one can imagine. He raped me the first time when I was 11. You would think THAT would qualify as “something to cry about,” but evidently, crying wasn’t allowed, no matter what. So I shoved the emotions down my throat until I choked on them. And I learned not to cry.
Yep, I sort of feel like they gave me plenty to cry about without doing anything special to fulfill their threat to give me something to cry about. Regardless, I stopped crying. Learned it wasn’t safe. And to this day, it’s a real struggle for me to allow myself to cry.
I probably have a lot of catching up to do in the crying department because of my parents and their threats. I have years of stored up tears just waiting to be shed. Thunderstorms worth. Hurricanes of tears. Oceans of tears. Floods. Massive gushing underground streams. I’m living in a drought, but I have all this water stored up that I can’t access. Even that seems like it should be something to cry about. But I can’t. Try as I might, it is only with great difficulty that I can shed a lonely tear. Which I quickly wipe away.
I’m trying to get better…to somehow access that universe of pain I have hidden and crammed away. So far, about the best I can do is to occasionally release a slow, small drip from the facet. At this rate, it’s going to take a long time to drain all the despair and unshed tears. A very, very long time. Now that’s something to cry about…