I stumbled across my yearbook from my freshman year of high school the other day. Leafing through the pictures of my former classmates, all looking fourteen and awkward, I found me. Yes, there was the little black and white square of me in a Forenza sweater buried among the other black and white squares of all the other freshmen, each of us on the brink of the beginning of something. So completely clueless.
In that picture, I have a round face and chubby cheeks. Because I’ve seen the 5x7 color version of that photo, I also know that I have a fresh sprinkling of zits lining my forehead and a sad attempt at a red headband ribbon to match my sweater. The look on my face says do we really have to do this?
Also, it’s not a picture of a girl who could pull off short hair. As a freshman, I was not sporty or perky or edgy or mod. But my hair was short, shorter than it has ever been. And that’s because the summer before my freshman year of high school, I cut my own hair.
Yes, I realize that cutting one’s own hair is something most people do at age 4, not 14, but my Seventeen magazine had arrived in the mail and it had a how-to article on cutting your own hair. It looked easy enough. And I totally needed a trim.
I grabbed the scissors from the knife holder in the kitchen (yeah, I didn’t have real shears and I was using the same scissors my mom used to cut off strips of duct tape. So what?), and propped the how-to article up against the mirror on my dresser.
I leaned over, brushed my hair forward so that it hung like a curtain in front of my face, and started cutting.
After I’d gone all the way across, I stood straight, flipping my hair back behind me. I picked at it with my fingers, trying to style it. It wasn’t half bad. Some of my natural curls even bounced back up. Cutting hair was fun!
I decided to go just a little shorter.
Flopping my hair forward again, I went back to cutting. I couldn’t see anything in the mirror so I just tried to go by feel. Note: “going by feel” is not a good way to cut your own hair.
When I stood up the next time, my hair was uneven. I panicked for a second but then I collected myself and decided I had no other choice but to keep snipping.
I quickly entered the point of no return as my hair stuck out in a mish-mash of clumps.
I started to cry. Big fat tears, plopped down onto the magazine soaking through the pages, making the directions unreadable.
Clumps of my hair lay across my carpeted floor and on my dresser. The hair on my head was just bits and pieces sticking out everywhere, like a psycho ward escapee. My bangs were rounded along the brow line, almost like a bowl cut.
I’d fucked up big time.
And I was 14. Not 4.
I tried mousse and Aqua Net, trying to give my new hair some oomph but it was just too short. There was nothing I could do. I swiped the hair remnants into a trash bag, vacuumed my room and waited for my mom to come home.
About an hour later, I heard the thump of the automatic garage door shut, then the jingling of keys as my mom messed with the lock. By the time I got myself downstairs to show my face, she was in the kitchen, unpacking groceries. I stopped short of the linoleum and waited for her to look at me. She turned and froze with a carton of milk in her hand. Her mouth dropped.
“What did you do?” she cried.
I burst into tears. She yelled some more. Eventually she told me to get in the car because we had to go see a professional.
The hairdresser kind of picked and pulled at my hair as she looked at me looking at her in the mirror. She wore blue eye shadow and a sweatshirt that hung off her shoulder. Her own hair was bleached, feathered, hairsprayed and ratted high enough to look like she could be one of the girls tearfully singing along in the front row of a Mötley Crüe video.
She went to snipping bits and pieces of my hair. The last thing I wanted was to go shorter but there was really no other choice.
“We just have to even it out,” she said, sounding more confident than I was sure she was.
She tried to be helpful in a twenty-something kind of way. “You can wear big earrings to, like, draw the eye away from the face.”
Yes, she actually told me that the best thing I could do for myself would be to find a way to tease everyone’s gaze away from my hideous visage.
My eyes were swollen and rimmed with red by the time we left the hair salon. I went home and rifled through my jewelry box to find the biggest pair of earrings I had. It was the ‘80s so I easily found some huge red and black striped hoops that would’ve gotten caught in my longer hair just hours earlier. Not now. Now they just dangled off my earlobes, begging people to look at them instead of me.
That night, it was Dollar Night at the local movie theater. Every teenager in town showed up for Dollar Night, no matter how crappy the movie, so it took every ounce of courage I had to get myself out of the door that evening. I so easily could’ve faked being grounded, leaving me free to spend July and August locked up in my room waiting for my hair to grow out, but I didn’t.
Instead, my new hair and I went to the movies.
People didn’t recognize me at first. It wasn’t like I’d told anyone I was going to do it. I’d never talked about wanting to have short hair. My new hair was a surprise to pretty much everyone. And while my friends didn’t tell me it looked like shit, they didn’t tell me it looked good either. They just said what fourteen-year-old girls say to a friend with a bad haircut: it’ll grow out.
And it did grow out.
By the time the yearbook came out at the end of the year, my hair had gotten long enough to fit into a small ponytail at the nape of my neck. But seeing that picture there, from September, in black and white, brought all the horror back. I remember wishing I’d never had my picture taken. I wished that, instead, I’d been one of those names listed at the end of the freshman class section underneath the “Photo Shy” banner.
But that’s what a yearbook is, right? A constant reminder of every stupid fashion mistake you’ve ever made. It’s a log of every boy you ever liked who didn’t like you back. Proof of every sport you played but sucked at. And a collection of autographs that never really say what you want them to.
Sure, there are always those people who have their pictures on every page and the yearbook serves as this time capsule of them in their prime. But for those of us who call high school something we’d like to forget, our yearbooks get shoved into a box in our parents’ garage, underneath a pile of old newspaper clippings and trophies, as we dare ourselves to forget.
But now, as I stare at that poor girl with the bad haircut, I decide to embrace her. I’ll take all of my yearbooks, painful as they are, middle school through high school, and find space for them on my bookshelf to serve as a gentle reminder of all that I’ve overcome.
© Copyright 2012 Marisa Reichardt. All Rights Reserved.
© Copyright 2012 Marisa Reichardt. All Rights Reserved.