These red roots are planted in my dad’s Russian line, carrying a genetic tendency toward rebellion. My great-grandfather was said to have been a hot-headed ginger and a fine horseman, which may have inspired him to hightail it onto a Canada-bound steamer just ahead of the Czar’s army. My mother’s hair was naturally jet black (until chemically toned to auto-body-rust auburn), but fully as contrary as my own. She spent her life trying to tame her hair, and failing that, transferred her doomed efforts to my own small head.
My own hair is thick, wavy-curly and incorrigible. It will not be brushed or combed or curled or straightened. It refuses to be shaped or parted. When told to go right it goes left, when coaxed up it goes down. When put into a hat it sprouts militant wings that stick out the sides.Â It defies any kind of discipline.
The arrival of grey isn’t helping the hair situation. It shows no signs of mellowing with age, but is simply becoming more wiry and uncooperative as it pinkens. It threatens to turn into one of those mean old wigs that would demand a good seat on the bus and then hit someone’s foot with its sharp stick. It is not cute or feisty. It is just ill-tempered and nasty.
My hair has authority issues, going way back to childhood. My mother would visit the beauty parlor in the mini-mall once a week, where she would catch up on neighbourhood drama while John the Italian washed her hair and cut or dyed it, then set it up into wide scratchy rollers. She would sit in the roar of the big plastic dryer hood reading Women’s Day and People as it cooked into place, then John would pluck out the rollers and spray the symmetrical curls into place. The twists would be kept safe from the elements until the next Thursday appointment, protected by a sleeping net or a plastic rain bonnet. When her scalp itched she would scratch it with the pointy end of a long-tailed comb.
As a rite of passage my mother took me to see John, who cut my long carroty hair and put it up into curlers. I loved the ritual and the blue Barbisol bottles full of disinfecting combs and the smell of toasting hair, but my angry locks would have none of it. My hair started acting out, and it has refused to take direction ever since.
I have tried being permissive and I have tried being strict. My hair has been black and blond and purple and striped, frizzed and dreadlocked and shorn. It has never ever behaved. I have at-risk hair. I accept. It is all way beyond my control.