I Look Like I Live in a Halfway House

I cut my own bangs. The result can be described in two words: Witness Protection.

I should be pleased to look like a different person as I’ve been on a quest for a new appearance for some time now. I’ve played with the length, dabbled with layers, and transitioned from the blonde hues to the brunette ones on that disturbing hair color wheel every colorist tucks in her apron. All of these adjustments were calibrated against looking exactly like Jessica Biel, or Jessica Alba, or just Jessica who has good hair at the YMCA, but each trip to the salon ended in disappointment as I exited looking much the way I had entered. I would trudge to my car wondering why it is so difficult for a trained beautician to transform my hair into the sort of ethereal coif that makes people pause in places they shouldn’t, like while jogging or over a public toilet partition, just to point out how wonderful my hair looks.

I have never been interrupted so that a stranger could interject a spontaneous compliment about my hair. I’ve been told on several occasions that there is some kind of inorganic material in it or that from behind it made me look like someone else. I’ve been told to stop twirling it and pay attention to the goddamn traffic signals. I was once asked at a concert if I might tie it back because it was blowing in the face of the person behind me. No commentary vis a vis my hair has included a single flattering adjective unless we consider the time in 2nd grade that Erik Booker barfed on my hair to which the nurse clucked, “What a shame; I bet your mother just washed it last night, too.” While dampened by her disapproving tone and crinkled nose, there was still the suggestion that my hair had been clean, which may not be the most effusive of compliments, but I’d be perfectly happy today if a person stopped in his tracks to remark on the cleanliness of my hair.

My brother was bestowed most of the family genetic jewels, but good hair was my auspicious gift given as compensation for an ass that absorbs not only the fat that I consume directly but also the collective fat consumed by everyone at my table. My hair is thick and straight and requires scant maintenance other than color applied to its graying roots. I don’t brush it nor blow-dry it. It usually falls neatly around my shoulders until I notice sediment in it and promptly whisk it into a ponytail. The tips remain blunt for a long time, which prompts everyone to ask if I’ve had it cut recently.

The problem is that it always looks this way whether I want it to or not. If headshots were taken of me at a toddler’s birthday party and a black-tie gala, the photos would be identical. No matter the measures taken to give my tresses elevation, decoration, cultivation, it reverts to its preferred state hanging straight around my face. Elementary school girls always thrilled at my permission to braid it during circle time. Halfway through they’d beg off the job, pleading I take the dessert in their lunchbox or their boyfriend instead. At the prodding of friends and family, I agreed to have it professionally tended for my wedding. I’ve watched women have their hair sculpted into updos before, and my own experience was nothing like it. This was like watching a crew of sailors batten down the hatches. There was rope, and vinyl, and swearing involved. As they swung the jib of hair into place, I even heard the faint rumble of thunder. By the end, I was handing the hairdresser bobby pins and fruit snacks to keep her blood sugar stable. Moments before gliding down the aisle, my mother frantically pulled out the reinforcements as the ship was going down one way or another. If you were to scroll through video footage of the ceremony, you would see the dramatic arc of my flattening hair overlap with that of my husband’s expanding underarm sweat rings.

Having reached my breaking point with my hair the other day, I stood facing my reflection in the mirror, with a pair of work scissors poised to cut just above my eyebrows. The two toddlers huddled at my ankles, interjecting protests on the basis that I strictly prohibit the cutting of one’s own hair. I gathered a fistful of hair in my left hand and screwed up my courage to send the sharp blades across my forehead, assuring myself this is exactly how Nicole Richie cuts her bangs. I registered the sound of clipped hair before my eyes took in the image of it. I stepped back from the mirror, awed by the transformation. “You look weird,” my son whispered as he fingered my face, making sure it was still his mother underneath the fringe of hair. It wasn’t the compliment I was seeking, but it felt oddly reassuring to look weird to someone so accustomed to my presence.

There’s a mystique to bangs. A little danger to bangs. People are unsure about who you are and where you come from when your eyes are enshrouded by a curtain of hair.  They assume you have an eclectic taste in music and have ridden a motorcycle. They imagine stamps in your passport and illegally imported spices in your cabinets. They presume your name is something like Veronica.

Or maybe they think you shouldn’t be left alone with pinking shears. I can’t be sure. But what I do know is that bangs are a hell of a wrinkle concealer.