When I was seventeen years old and had just barely learned to drive, I got pulled over by a cop for speeding. I was devastated.
I was not devastated because I got a ticket, and because my wild driving had gotten me busted by the law, slapped with a fine and “points” to mar my nubile driving record. I was devastated because, on the citation he wrote me, the cop, a.k.a. Officer Devastation, marked my hair color as brown.
I was in fact barely going 10 miles over the speed limit that crisp, sunny late February morning, and one could argue that the only real crime I’d committed was living in a town too boring to offer its cops anything more to do than police crappy teenage drivers. Nevertheless, I have never done well when confronted by figures of authority, and I’m certain that I was nearly in a panic when Officer Devastation pulled me over. He took pity on me, “okay,” he said, "this time, I'm gonna give you a warning," and raised his eyebrows at me as if to draw a thin line under his words. "This time."
It wasn’t until I arrived at my friend Adam’s house that I realized what had really happened. Glancing over the thin, pink citation, I noticed that not only had Officer Devastation gotten my eye color wrong, marking me as blue-eyed when my eyes are so CLEARLY green, he’d also written what appeared to be a word ending in the letters “own” in the slot that read HAIR COLOR. “Wow," I thought, "this cop sure is dumb. That’s SO not how you spell blonde.”
Minutes later, as I waked up the front walkway to my friend’s house, it occurred to me that perhaps the cop had marked my hair color as brown on purpose.
“Oh my God, you guys!” I said bursting indignantly through the front door to Adam’s house without a knock. Adam was there. Lindsay, Greg, Michelle. They were lounging on the couches, watching TV with the sound turned off and Pink Floyd turned way, way up on the stereo. “You guys aren’t going to believe this. I totally got pulled over on the way here!”
“Dude, you got a ticket? That sucks. How much is it for?” asked my friend Greg as he absently picked out the melody for “Comfortably Numb” on his guitar.
“No, a warning,” I said, waving the pink slip in front of his face. “But would you just look at what this says?!
These were some of my closest friends in the world, the people who I felt really knew me best, who really got me. Surely they'd sympathize. Plus, they all hated cops. I looked at them all, one by one, searching their faces for a glimmer of recognition and of course, utter indignation, as they squinted at the small blue script on the citation.
“Umm.., it’s kinda hard to read…” said Adam, looking up at me.
“Look! Right there. That fucking cop marked my hair color down as BROWN! Can you believe this?” Preposterous.
They all just looked at me, blankly.
“He marked me down as brown-haired,” I repeated. “BROWN!”
“But Kir,” said Adam, finally, and very slowly, as if speaking to a toddler: “your hair IS brown.”
This moment was an awakening for me, a real eye opener. Somewhere between the first few strands of hair I’d sprouted as an almost one-year-old and this pivotal moment in the winter of my seventeenth year, my hair had gone from a flaxen, white-ish, angelic blonde to brown, a word that could only be used to describe all things drab, all things everyday and run of the mill that are about as exciting as plain oatmeal. And no one told me.
Oh sure, my hair had darkened over the years to a dirty-blonde color, I realized this. By the time I was old enough to seek rebellion in a bottle of Manic Panic hair dye, it was probably the dirtiest blonde hue it had ever been. But all of my life, I’d been blonde just the same. Never, had I ever thought I’d be mistaken for anything but blonde.
My had mother warned me when I started dying my hair. “It will never be the same,” she said, “it will never come back as exactly the same color. Fine by me," she said, "go ahead, do whatever you want with that beautiful blonde hair of yours. But you’d better be ready to kiss it goodbye.” I, of course, ignored her, and reached for the semi-permanent dye with confidence, knowing that it would wash out in 4-6 weeks, and leave my locks exactly as it had found them. I knew that my mother was wrong, and that I, of course, was right about this, as I was about everything else there was to have an opinion about when I was seventeen.
I’m not sure what happened between years one and seventeen, nor do I really believe that my hair suddenly went brown the minute I decided to dye it auburn, then red, then purple, hot pink, blue, and purple again. I’m not sure what happened at all, to be honest, but ever since that that fateful mid-winter afternoon, I’ve been struggling to accept myself as a brunette.
It hasn’t worked. Hence the book.
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