My Mom was born with beautiful thick red hair, but she started coloring it when she was just a teenager.
That includes the time she forgot to put her index finger over the small opening of the bottle of hair dye mix as she shook….all over the bathroom and the brand new cream-colored wall-to-wall carpet her parents had just installed two days before, the biggest purchase of their working class lives.
That put an end to that.
Not deterred, Mom moved on to wigs, and I have an image of her in the passenger seat of the convertible belonging to a beau, riding off down the street on a summer evening, her waist-length sable wig blowing in the Buffalo breeze, as my grandparents sat on their front porch watching her go, shaking their heads in disbelief and mild embarrassment.
Then my sister Molly and I ourselves became teenagers. Our normally strict (though very loving) single Mom didn’t usually make exceptions to her numerous rules, but apparently hair color was not in the same category as piercings, putting mini-skirts on layaway at the Fashion Bug in the Abbott Road Plaza, smoking, or unsupervised after-school hangouts with boys.
There was the time when Molly was 16, and Mom decided to dye her hair for the first time, a fiery red like Mom’s own (I declined a dye job after years of Perm PTSD--to this day, I can still feel each cold squirt of the chemical curl concoction that burned my scalp and prolonged the thick frizz halo-ing my head yet another month).
“Oh, one more thing,” she said after applying the dye to carefully parted pieces of Molly’s hair. “We should dye your eyebrows to match!”
A few minutes later, Molly was laid out on her back on a tarp, the toes of her Doc Martens pointed straight up to the ceiling, hands clasped at her ribcage, and Mom was crouched over her dabbing her thick eyebrows with a Q-tip dipped in the purplish-red dye.
Just as she finished, the phone rang.
And in our household, another important rule was, “Do NOT interrupt me when I’m on the phone!”
After staring at Mom balefully out from under her inflamed face and scaly eyebrows for two days, that put an end to that. Molly never dyed her hair again.
While I’m the one that’s been covering my encroaching grays for the last couple of years, for some reason I haven’t been able to bring myself to apply dye during the Covid-19 crisis and ensuing isolation period.
I’ve reflexively and reflectively gone back to my roots in other ways, too: I made the tough decision to temporarily leave NYC, my home for the last twenty years, to “shelter in place” with Molly and her family (with Mom nearby) in Western New York for the foreseeable future.
I’m mourning everything that’s been stripped away like the pigment in the hair of someone who wants to go very blonde. I’m scared that my beloved NYC, where I’ve grown up and experienced everything (including the realization that the city itself is the greatest love affair of my life) will never be back to “normal.”
This crisis has changed everything, and all of us, indelibly.
But, I suppose, some things might just grow back stronger. My family tree sure has: Mom, Molly, me, and the rest of our extended family have never been closer.
And who knows, maybe after all of this, I’ll be the one who decides to go from dark brown to very blonde. After all, I happen to know someone who can help, and for the first time in my adult life, she’s closer than ever.