The summer I turned 13 years old, I made a bold move, as far as junior high attempts at self-expression are concerned. Having been born with otherworldly pale skin, green eyes and freckles, I decided that my naturally golden brown hair was a mistake of nature. I corrected this error by walking to the neighborhood Osco Drug store, selecting a box of Ms. Clairol in the brightest shade I could find, and dyeing my hair red for the very first time.
My father was not amused. My mother, an imperfect figure to be sure, but bred with a little hippie in her, was reasonably supportive of my attempt to individualize. The outcome of that first DIY dye job was more purple, at least initially, than the Angie Everhart deep red that I coveted, but when I looked in the mirror, I felt more like me, even if I lacked the vocabulary to articulate the sensation.
Except for a brief Kurt Cobain-era foray into black (a horrendous choice) and a 2007 flirtation with blonde highlights (the things we do for love), I have been known for my ginger locks ever since. Though my chosen color (see picture above) is not exactly natural looking, the complementary physical attributes I enumerate in the first paragraph conspire to fool more folks than you might suspect. Though I am a German-Italian mix by cultural heritage, I have a great time high-fiving drunken well-wishers every St. Patty’s Day. I don’t have it in me to break their little inebriated hearts with the truth, and besides, who doesn’t enjoy free beer and kisses?
Much of my life is built around trying to overcome spiritual insecurity and meekness. Nothing says “I am a force to be reckoned with,” even if in reality, I am nearly paralyzed by my own second guessing, like a shock of big red hair. When your locks draws this much attention, it allows for a lot of other physical imperfections and subtle mood deficiencies to slip by unnoticed. It’s aesthetics and convenience rolled into one colorful package.
As I rode my bike (red, naturally) home from the hair salon early this afternoon, I caught myself wondering if there is a way to dye my soul red, so to speak. Like the head of hair I saw in the looking glass as a teenager, my spirit is a little deflated. Unemployment, divorce and cancer in quick succession tend to take the wind out of one’s sails. But I am in good health once again, having beaten the “Big C” into remission. I have been happily ensconced in a satisfying day job as a ghost writer for four months, and for half of that time, I’ve had the opportunity to start getting accustomed to living alone. There are days I actually enjoy it.
I am taking small trips, accepting new physical challenges and learning to be kinder to myself in every sense of the word. But nothing yet has felt like the sort of clean break from my confused past, an assertion of a bold and adventurous individual, which a box of hair dye provided in 1991.
So this summer, I am searching for red.