BLOND AMBITION Sarah Bayliss
My mother glanced at the framed picture and sighed. "Oh, you found that thing. I look so sad there, I wanted to throw it out."
I had harbored such an idyllic image of her childhood that I didn't like to think that my mother had ever been unhappy. But I wasn't entirely surprised, since specific details of her own youth were suspiciously hazy. The image she drew of her mother, on the other hand, was sharp and vivid. I loved hearing about how my grandmotherís hair transformed from red to brown when she was a young woman, and from blue to platinum blond later on. I imagined her coming home from work, looking like a fashion model, perhaps cradling a bouquet from a male admirer. I relished the description of my grandmother looking as flawless as Eva Gabor, even as she lay in her coffin.
* * *
My hair grew back over time, although I still gave in to the hypnotic urge to yank, and even burn, every now and then. The bare patch among my left eyelashes never filled in completely. During my sophomore year of college, I decided to cut off my whole stringy lot of hair. I cut it into a short bob, with Jean Seberg-length bangs that lapped at my forehead.
During summer vacation after my sophomore year, I sat with my mother in the kitchen, watching her make a blueberry pie and enjoying my somewhat warped, fuzzy-headed reflection in the oven door. She was inspecting each berry in the bowl, chatting on about the "olden-days" in the mild tone she used to slip into when talking about the apple tree.
"Did your mother teach you how to make this pie?" I asked. We were both silent for a moment as she looked over the berries. I thought of the picture of my mother in a big, sagging hair ribbon, imagining my grandmother, impeccably coifed, baking pies.
"No, I learned how to do this in the home," she said, plucking berry stems.
"The home for children," she continued, her voice soft. "I told you about that."
"I don't think so," I said, feeling cold. But somehow, I knew that she had told meómaybe in a dream. Somehow, I had known this already.
"Well, you know it was the Depression," she said. "It was pretty common for parents to put their kids in homes then. I think Grandma just wanted to put us back on the apple tree for a while."
I was confused. Her unwavering story was that she had always lived in her uncle's big house, with all her relatives. "Well, how long did you live with Uncle Gene?" I asked.
"Oh, only about a year." she said. "My sister and I moved out after I had the accident with my hair."
I was quiet for a moment, taking this in. "What did your mother do after that?" I asked.
"She moved out too, and lived on her own," she said. "I think she didn't want to feel tied down."
* * *
The memory of my grandmother became more brittle after that. Rather than manicured, her unloving fingers appeared blue-black in my daydreams, stained from the dye she used on her clientsí hair; or ashen, from clipping my mother's crispy locks.
When I started to let my hair grow again, it was thick and darker than ever before. After it became long enough to cover my ears, I dyed it coal-black. Now it's platinum, and I style it with Pomade and comb it straight back.
Iíll probably change it again some day soon. But in the mean time, I really like being a blonde. My mother likes it too.
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Sarah Bayliss is a writer and an editor at World Art magazine.