Straight Hair and Monkey Agar: A Question of Existence

I straighten my hair maybe twice a year. It’s kind of a lot of work and exceptionally sensitive to moisture, so only given the right amount of time and a precipitation-free forecast will I even consider doing it on my own.

Straight hair -- feels so good!
Straight hair — feels so good!

Last Friday was one such day. It was a marathon training rest day, which makes for a considerable amount of extra time in the morning because I am a s-l-o-w runner, and there was a 0% chance of precipitation (lies!! but that’s not important).

As I ran those super-heated ceramic plates over and over and over my clipped up, back, over, and down strands, I thought back to the first time…

It was my senior year of high school and I sat on a toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom at my bestie Stephine’s. We were getting ready for a Halloween party — I was going as a witch. A subtly sexy witch, heavily eye make-upped, and nursing a crush on a friend. That was when Stephine pulled out the straightening iron. Because nothing says I’m-subtly-sexy-and-you-should-date-me like flat-ironed locks, am I right?

Stephine did my hair and then I returned the favor. We both looked ridiculously good, of course. Probably less because of our hair than because we always, always had F-U-N together and the party promised more of the same. But I don’t remember the party, really. Only a little bit, and probably mostly because there are pictures.

Oh, hey -- here's a picture from that party. Incidentally, this man is now Stephine's husband. And baby daddy. Which absolutely delights me! But more to the point -- that straight, straight hair, right? Super sexy with the witch hat!
Oh, hey — here’s a picture from that party. Incidentally, this man is (not the aforementioned crush, but is) now Stephine’s husband. And baby daddy. Which absolutely delights me! But more to the point — that straight, straight hair, right? Super sexy with the witch hat!

(Of importance here, LHS c/o 2001 was exceptionally goody two shoed. And quite frankly, proud of it. Chances are excellent that Christin’s parents were home during the party. Probably participating. Because they’re awesome, as were all of our parents, and they treated us like the fun loving nerds that we were. I’m sure alcohol and the like happened… but it must have been happening elsewhere. Mostly, we ate pizza and sang to whatever Stephine’s dad played for us while sitting around a fire or biology books or a Pistons game or a lawn croquet set or whatever. A lot of us literally went to band camp, the rest of us were in drama and/or AP biology. All that to say that when I write “I don’t remember the party, really,” it’s not about being blackout drunk or otherwise altered in anyway. It was just a long time ago.)

So, I don’t really remember the party. But I do remember that tiny bathroom, the flat iron, and my friend Stephine making me feel pretty for some long forgotten boy.

In this season of It’s a Wonderful Life and my frequent internal response of, “really? is it?” this small scene that popped into my head made a surprisingly big difference. Certainly, that flat iron didn’t really* change my life. But sometimes that memory comes back anyway. And it made existence kind of seem worth it. (Non-sequitur, yes, but hang with me for a sec.)

 

To wish for non-existence is a hard thing to explain. It’s not that I wish to be dead… just that I didn’t exist. And there’s a surprisingly big difference there. I hate the things I think about myself, I hate the things I know other people are thinking about me. The debates they have amongst themselves about when to tell me what so as how best to not hurt me (hint: it always hurts, so it really doesn’t matter). The whispered plans about what might be “too hard” for me, what might be ok (hint: it’s always simultaneously too hard and in the end ok). The feeling that I’m surrounded by land mines covered in egg shells.

If I just didn’t exist, none of that would be true.

And let’s be honest — I’m not exactly George Bailey. My wingless angel isn’t going to show me miserable people and a hometown swallowed whole by corruption. One less blog, a few still-happy people with an alternative assortment of friends or family, a different writer in my chair, perhaps. But nothing earth shattering. Except away go the egg shells and the landmines. No need to tiptoe, no cause to whisper. And that’s what I thought would be best. For everyone.

 

But to not exist means to not have the flat iron scene in that little bathroom. Or any little scene like it.

Callie purring on the end of my bed. The taste of over-sweetened grape koolaid at the kitchen counter. Pointless hikes through a poison ivy infested field. Drumsticks flying through a Go! cadence. Popping into the room next door on the fourth floor of Wadsworth Hall. The northern lights swirling around Misery Bay. Trussing a duck; still not really knowing what trussing means. Surprise kisses from Curly.

A million little moments. Moments that didn’t change anyone’s life, really, but matter anyway.

When I stood in the bathroom on Friday, straightening my hair, desperately trying to not sweat (because moisture from the inside is as threatening to straight hair as moisture from without), I thought that maybe that’s what existing is about. Maybe that’s the problem with loving It’s a Wonderful Life — it makes me believe in the notion that my life is only worth anything if no one else could possibly do without me.

That’s narcissistic. Yet, so is my realization — that my life really is about me.

Yes, by existing in my broken state, I probably do pose a challenge to other people. I’m probably frustrating, a source of discomfort. Surrounded by egg shells and landmines. But the way other people choose to react to my brokenness, on tiptoe or otherwise, isn’t really my business, is it? My existence is not to please another, but to have moments along the way that please me when I look back on them. Like the little scene with Stephine.

Maybe, if I’m doing things right, I may even pop up as part of the happy scenes that come back when other people find themselves doing mundane things. And that’s nice. But probably not the point.

 

My friend Lara, doctor of philosophy, writer of novels, mother of human, said to me on one of my more recent boo hooey posts:

Please don’t think your worth is tied to what you can do for others. You matter simply because you *are*, because you exist.

Because she’s smarter than me. By a lot.

I originally interpreted the notion she presented as a reason to wish myself out of existence. I think that was not her point.

Rather, on a day-to-day basis, existence is about moments. Getting through the hard ones, surviving the devastating ones, enjoying the simple ones, remembering the happy ones, being present whenever possible. Maybe there’s a larger purpose, a plan, a tapestry, but I know that’s not something I should be too concerned about. Even though I continually am. I can’t see it or change it or feel it. Not really. I can only trust it. Only live my moments. Exist.

 

Incidentally, like Stephine introduced me to hair straightening, Lara introduced me to microbiology — gone was the tiny bathroom of high school, in its place the lab where Lara ruled and I rotated first. Lara was the first person I tried to talk to about microbiology, when it was still so new and so fresh that I was saying “Monkey” agar instead of MacConkey Agar. Which even now makes me laugh.

Moment worth existing for.

(Or, for those opposed to ending on a preposition, no matter how thoughtful: A moment that makes existence worthwhile.)

My friend Stephine -- moment maker extraordinaire.
My friend Stephine — moment maker extraordinaire.

 

 

*Ok, maybe the straightener did change my life. A blow dry alone, sans flat iron, as was my frequent habit in my pre-curl-acceptance days, was really not a good look. Exhibit A. (Oh, hey Bekah — you happen to be in a pretty glorious photo of my HAIR, so there you are!)

Exhibit A. Pre-straight iron. In the band room. Nothing but cool.
Exhibit A. Pre-straight iron. In the band room. Nothing but cool.

 

7 thoughts on “Straight Hair and Monkey Agar: A Question of Existence

  1. “A million little moments. Moments that didn’t change anyone’s life, really, but matter anyway.”

    I’d be willing to bet those little moments are life-changing more often than you’d think. The problem is, we’re all the star of our own stories (About A Boy reference, anyone?), so it’s difficult to imagine how a throwaway moment for us could possibly matter to someone else. But it does.

    And that, my friend, is why you matter so much. Even though you sometimes think a Rachel-less world would not be that much different, I can promise you it would be a totally different universe for the rest of us (and not in a good way, so please don’t go down that road!).

    Hugs.

  2. After reading your post I thought of Mrs. Bailey’s sour demeanor when she opened the door of her boarding house to George. I take great pride in being a very good teacher, but I would not be the teacher I am without the lessons I learned by raising 4 children. You, Abby, Tom, and Nate all taught me valuable lessons that benefit my students daily. I understand the awkward girl, sitting quietly doing her work with her 2015 version of the wind suit and trying-to-be-trendy hair. I know that if I say “NONE of you turned in your homework” or “You need to work harder” she will be the one to go home and work all night begging to be validated. I learned that my students are silently communicating their needs the best that they can: VALIDATE ME! LOVE ME! LISTEN TO ME! UNDERSTAND ME! SEE ME! WHO ME?

    Thank you for sharing your moments. Each and every one is a gift to someone, even if it is only yourself.

  3. Awesome post Rachel. Your blog is titled “Under the Tapestry” and I think you sense in some way that everyone and everything is interconnected and the universe would be markedly different without any one of us. At least you have hair that can be straightened and curled…sigh. 😉

  4. I feel like my arms were somehow magically stretched ALL THE WAY out to reach you. I think about you a lot and this post made me wonder if I was thinking about you the same exact time you were thinking about me…

  5. Rachel, on this last day of 2015, I hope you literally feel in some way, just how much you are loved and appreciated, not in spite of your words, actions, thoughts, feelings etc, but BECAUSE of them! To have someone (you) write about things in a way that lets you (me) say “you too? I remember that feeling! And how I thought it was endless and defined me, but look- it doesn’t! It’s just part of my story….” is a gift that can only be given by someone (you) who well, writes them. Welcome 2016- we’re ready for you! So much love, hugs, peace, and dementor-protecting chocolate!!!

Leave a Reply