I was thirteen, the first time I met anyone who bleached her hair. Looking back, I'm sure half the female student body in the high school were on the bottle, but for all I knew they were natural blondes. Hey, I was thirteen...
Her name was... Georgia? Georgeanne? Either seems right, and that in and of itself made her interesting. I'd never met a woman named "George" anything. She was my aunt's friend, so of course I anticipated someone old, wrinkly and completely uncool (as if I was cool, as if cool mattered, but I was thirteen). Maybe I mixed her up with Georgia O'Keefe. I couldn't have been more wrong.
In fact, she was surprisingly young and pretty, with just the right amount of curve-age that screams, "date me!" but which Vogue tells us is unfashionably frumpy. Vogue knows nothing about women. I thought she was gorgeous. She was also running late. When we arrived, she was still dying her hair. I thought nothing of it. I'd seen lots of women dye their hair. My mother dyed her hair.
We sat and chatted to the percussion of the egg timer. Well... they chatted while I smiled and nodded and investigated what was equally intriguing about my aunt's young friend: the single woman's house, another first for me. Not divorced, nor some sad remnant, unloved, unpicked and unwanted on the "A" team, just single and seemingly cheerfully so. How could a woman be 30... something... pretty, single, and satisfied?
Her home was a curiosity to me, perhaps because I thought I might find some clue to her insanity therein-- some depressing collage, a photographical record of lost loves, maybe, or an alarming number of cats. If so, I was disappointed. Her home was... a home. It reflected her. It was neither just a place to sleep, nor was it a depraved kaleidoscope of desperation and girliness that subscribed to the single woman's unwritten code of vengeance against the masculine inability to approve her. She filled her home with things she liked and made no apologies. Just puttering around her house discretely set off what was probably (to my parents, at least) a disappointing train of thought. A woman could be unmarried, childless, self-sufficient and happy. She didn't need a man to form a personality. Outrageous.
I so wanted to be her.
The egg timer dinged. My new hero, George, disappeared into the bath to wash her hair, and I contented myself with more exploring while we waited and the hair dryer drowned out any conversation. When she reemerged, I was stunned.
"How do you get that color?" I blurted out.
"The ends have been bleached lots of times. That's how they get so light," she explained. "I can't ever get the roots the first time." She said it as if it were some fundamental failing of id or ego. Something Freud would have a field day with, or maybe just an appalled hairdresser.
Actually, I'd never even heard of bleach, but that's not what I wanted to know. "Not the ends, the roots. How do you get them so pretty?"
I confused her. "I just... I don't know. It's the bleach."
How could I explain? She wanted white, but the virgin hair was like sunbeams. They sparkled like spun gold. Rumplestiltskin would have collapsed in paroxysms of joy at the sight. I'd never seen anything lovelier than lovely George's dirty old roots...
I guess I've always been perverse. While other women buy dyes that claim to reduce brassiness, I slather it on, always hoping for those dancing sunbeams. My "brass" ring, prettier than any color God intended. And when I wash away those virgin roots... I think of George, and I stand up just a little straighter, unafraid to just be me...