The Embarrassing Reasons One Girl (Me) Can’t Stop Dying Her Hair

I’ve always been an impulsive girl. I chain smoke. I drink heavily when I’m sad. I speak too loudly at times, unaware of who can hear me. Two nights ago, a drunk guy said he resented how many opinions I have. At 9 years old, I’d play acoustic guitar in my underwear every Saturday morning and talk about how I would never read Harry Potter. “I don’t do what everybody else does,” I wrote in my diary. “That’s why I won’t ever dye my hair, or be like Britney Spears. I just want to be natural!!!!” My youngest sister and I inherited our mom’s wild curls, the kind everybody compliments, but no one really wants to have. I inherited other things from my dad.  

When I was sixteen, I came home one day to find my mother crying. She sat my sisters and I down on the couch, explaining that dad was diagnosed bipolar and she was tired of being screamed at. She was leaving him. “I’m mean and complicated, just like my daddy,” I wrote in my 1st grade-era diary. I knew that dad’s darkness was scary, that any yogurt cup abandoned in play might throw him into a rage and run my sisters and mother into hiding until he emerged, cheerfully offering us ice cream and rollerblade outings. I knew I had to protect them from him, but that’s all I knew. I thought my intensity, like his,was beautiful, but if that was true then why was it breaking our family? I decided that everything I liked about my dad and myself was wrong. I’m mean and complicated, just like my daddy.  


My signature ‘attitude face’, age 13

My newfound realization quickly lead me to my first boyfriend. He was ugly, but he went home early to his mom on the weekends, and that felt safe.  

“You’ve got a good personality, but you’re not the kind of girl I usually like to kiss.” He told me after the first time I kissed him in a subway train. 

I begged him to explain. “I mean…look at you,” he told me, then left on the subway to go home to his mother. 

“You’d be beautiful if your hair was straight, you know,” he suggested later on, matter-of-factly. “Also, all girls with blue eyes should have dark hair. Like Megan Fox.” He walked me to the hairdresser himself, but refused to go inside because they were Israeli. A Polish-American, he also displayed a casual anti-semitism that I didn’t recognize as a 16-year-old. He eagerly presented me with printed pictures of girls he wanted me to look like, then left me to the Jews. 

I guess I did end up kind of beautiful. I spent hundreds of dollars on hair straightening treatments, regular bang trims (we modeled my look after Katy Perry), push-up bras, airbrush tans, and solid colored H&M sweaters that I fucking hated. I lost 40 pounds. 


Me in my bedroom, circa 2009

“I made you,” he told me proudly after our senior prom, while we sat on a bench under an overhang to avoid pouring rain. I watched my spray tan drip down my legs. I remember watching him through windows of house parties, wondering which girls he was talking to, terrified that he’d leave me at any instant. I drunkenly begged my friends for the truth, for them to tell me if, honestly, it seemed like he was sick of me. “He’s not,” Eliza told me. “But I’ve never seen anyone speak to you the way he does.” Her reassurance relieved me. I was learning how to compare myself to other women.   

My boyfriend and I had a weekday routine. I was forbidden to eat. We rode the train to my house together, where I’d then order and pay for his after-school meal delivery. I’ve blacked out a lot of it, but there are fragments I recall of our time spent together—Google searches of Cameron Diaz, his fingers tracing the lines of her body on the screen, urging me to look on and enjoy as well, our fights when I told him I didn’t want to watch Girls Gone Wild, him hurling my body onto my bedroom floor as punishment for wearing blue jeans because I should have known I don’t have the body for those, combing through his Facebook messages late at night, screaming hysterically for hours alone after discovering the messages he sent to friends, citing profile pictures of girls’ he’d ‘actually like to fuck’. My hair was slick and shiny, almost black. I learned how to cry in public.  


“You don’t look like you,” my male friends berated me, creeped out by my Jersey Shore transformation. But subtly, I noticed them grabbing for my body more often, circling their arms around my waist whenever they could. “Is he hitting you?” There were rumors going around. 

No. I lied about everything. Then one day, I took a boy I babysat to his baseball practice. “You seem really sad, Abeline,” the 10 year old told me, reaching out to hold my hand. Startled, I excused myself to the bathroom to cry, after mumbling, “I’m okay, Jesse.” I washed my face and walked back on to the field, where another babysitter was sitting. We started talking. He was  short and nice. He told me where I could eat soup dumplings in Queens, about places in New York I’d never eaten before. I called my boyfriend the next morning to let him know that it was over. I learned what I already knew, that relationships can feel like they end overnight. 

A few years after that, I learned that sex feels good. I fell in love with someone who knew me as a little girl. There are old disposable camera pictures of us, my curls, David’s dark preteen dreamboat hair, our cheeks pressed against each other. By the time we reconnected, at a Lower East Side bar one night in June, I was styled like a Kurt Cobain wannabe in a bluntly-cut bleach job. He played the guitar in his underwear on Saturday mornings, so I felt everything inside me wake up and scream, and when he let me sing for him it was like he was touching me, and every time he touched me, I couldn’t keep in words about how I loved him inside me. “You can always trust that I want to know what you need,” he told me one night, “You can tell me what makes you feel good.” I sobbed uncontrollably for hours, unable to understand what the fuck he was talking about. He moved to Boston in September.  


David and I that summer.

Terrified of the space, I asked him if he wanted to break up. “I guess that makes the most sense,” he said, more focused on the stress of his own transition. I helped him move into his Boston apartment, unpacking his belongings, staring at his newly unwrapped mattress, picturing all the girls he’d kiss on the bed. He mentioned a crush on Taylor Swift, so I drank vodka until I was sick, throwing up bile for hours. We made a pact not to speak to each other for a month. He drove me to the train station, and I left, shaking, unable to see outside of what felt so ruined. I stepped out of Penn Station and into a random hair salon, begging ‘Francoise’ to get rid of the platinum color David loved. I walked out an hour later, with a new head of very, very short, unevenly cut brown hair. I’m no one now, I thought on the ride home. I’m so ugly that I can be sure he’ll never speak to me again, and I’m happy to be no one.  


I’m 24 years old now, and I’ve read all the Harry Potter books. After the 6th installment came out, I read it within 12 hours and immediately made a shirt, with the climactic spoiler marked up in sharpie—”Dumbledore dies!” I wore it everywhere, manically and gleefully enjoying the public upset that I could singlehandedly cause. My hair has finally reached a length where it’s able to graze my shoulders. I’m not nobody anymore. Any time my mother has a few glasses of wine, she talks about my father. I see my dad Wednesdays and Sundays for dinner, and half of the time, he runs out of the restaurant before we can pay, screaming about how we don’t love him enough, how he’s going to die alone. I squirm at the sight of attractive women on television, unable to separate physical attraction from what it means to be in love. I dyed my hair dark brown again last week. I have to remind myself that I’m okay, that I’m not ruining anything, that I don’t need to anxiously scratch my skin until it bleeds. I constantly have nightmares about images of girls who can make Saturday-morning-underwear-guitar-boy happier than I can, but when I wake up, I still only see him. I never write like this, like an extended monologue where I’m basically explaining who I really am to people, because I assume nobody wants to hear it. I never talk like this either. I’m not right all the time, but sometimes I’m not wrong! Sometimes things feel impossible, and other times, they’re okay. I still long for the day when I’m no longer scared to sing, when I’m on a stage, and the prettiest thing in the room is my voice, crying out beautifully, saying that I’m sorry to everyone I’ve hurt and for all the moments I couldn’t be strong. 


Marine, Kat and I at the annual P.S.234 winter fair. I’m on the far left.

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