‘Getting your hair done is like punctuating with a semi-colon; everything that happens afterwards is somehow related to it.’
When I graduated three years ago, I had been growing out a pixie cut for a few months and it was in a very awkward place. I like to spend fifteen minutes in the bathroom in the morning, tops, and my preferred hair routine involves raking my fingers through it, adjusting the part, and combing out any knots. I had grown so frustrated that I knew it was time to go big or go home.
I waited until I went home to Marseilles because there are three things you will always find on every street block in France: a bakery, a pharmacy, and a hair salon. The French do so many things exquisitely and hair is no exception: chez le coiffeur your head is massaged, you are offered an espresso, and nobody talks to you because who really wants to be talked to when they look like a drowned kitten?
In any case, the owner of the salon laughed in my face when I told him I wanted an ’80s perm, and I didn’t really blame him because it was 2010 and every other woman in the salon was begging for stick-straight hair. “The curlier the better,” I insisted. One of the girls spent an inordinate amount of time in the back looking for the chemical solution. When she was wrapping my hair in the curlers, she asked me several times if I was sure this was what I wanted.
“I’m not afraid,” I assured her, as if we were riding into battle together. The owner stood by watching, smoking cigarette after cigarette.
When it was all over three hours later she squeezed my curls dry and turned me to face the mirror. She picked at my hair with a comb and the cloud of blonde grew and grew. She smiled. “This really suits you,” she said.
“I know!” I said.
I associate my first perm with so many good things: moving to Chicago, meeting wonderful people, and a summer sweltering with a humidity that multiplied the curls. I remember stepping fresh out of the shower in the morning, fluffing my hair with a towel, and walking out my front door ten minutes later feeling like a million dollars.
I’m getting my second perm (PERM 2013!) tomorrow. My hair is much longer now, but life is so beautiful and we’re about to have another sweltering summer. There are going to be mornings drinking tea in front of the lake and sunny breakfasts and strolls through the farmer’s market. There will be camping trips and picnics and naps in the sunshine. There are going to be long evening runs and refreshing morning swims. I will not have any time to spend in front of the mirror.