When I was going through my divorce six years ago, I had my hair colored from light brown to blonde. I don't mean some subtle, natural-looking, sun-kissed blonde. I'm talking about a shade of yellow most commonly sported by washed-up former child stars in their first Playboy spreads. I blew past sun-kissed. The sun at least got to third base.
I don't remember having the color done, who did it, or what I asked for. But then again, I don't remember much that happened during that time period. Frankly, there was a two or three month stretch in there where I barely knew my own my name (and, come to think of it, I also happened to be waffling back and forth about whether I should change that, too). But, I do know that around the same time when I finally decided to strip away my married surname and return to what I considered my very drab, dull maiden name, Robyn Brown, I also stripped away all the pigment from my hair. Sadly, there are pictures to prove it.
There's something a little frantic and desperate about those photos, with me smiling anxiously inside a cap of artificial sunshine gold. Was I hoping, perhaps, that some of its cheery brightness might somehow rub off on my spirit? There's an emptiness to the photos, too, as if some essential part of Me had been removed. The Brown had been bleached out like the brown, as it were.
You might think that I came to my senses not long after this point. Woke up one morning a couple of weeks later, and realized, hey, how about that. All my melanin has gone missing. That's because you believe, like any sane person, that divorce is a relatively swift, if admittedly painful, process. Oh, sure, you know it takes a long time to get all those strings tied up. Your cousin Jackie's divorce took over a year! But eventually a judge signs his name on the dotted line and the nightmare is all over.
Keep dreaming. For plenty of divorcees, that signature is just the beginning. Because what's left standing after the ink dries isn't an awake and aware former Mr. or Mrs., but a combat-fatigued shell of a person with a Match.com account, something to prove, and a wicked case of PTSD.
Our society heaps time and attention onto the marital ceremony. It's traditional in the US to date for months or even years and to partake in a lengthy engagement period before walking down the aisle with our chosen mate. Many of us seek the help of therapists, rabbis, or clergymen to prepare for the challenges of sharing life's major decisions with another person. And yet, some kind of bizarre, incongruent expectation has arisen that in a divorce, one's sense of self should emerge immediately whole and intact. Restored by what, exactly? The therapeutic benefits of bickering over the CD collection?
But really, what I want to tell you about is my hair.
So, yeah. One year after my ex-husband and I filed for divorce, I had a signed judgment, a shiny new set of lash extensions, and a headful of butter blonde. I immediately went out and found myself an artist boyfriend as ill-advised as my hair color. I saw the melodrama as romance and intensity; the fights as dedication and passion. The relationship was epic, cinematic, tragic. No one had ever known a love like ours!
Since then, I've dried three newly divorced friends' tears through the exact same rebound relationship. Are you listening, Ye of the constant relationship analysis, multiple breakups, 3AM thousand word emails and teary, blissed-out reunions? Exact. Same. One of my friends had a rebound so similar to mine that he was even courted by the same art gallery and drew near-identical sketches of handguns. What I'm trying to get at here is that this kind of heartache is just as cliché as my LA first-wife hair color was.
It took about three full years of baby steps (both in a stylist's chair as well as a shrink's) for me to truly come back to myself. Initially, my colorist had to coax me into it, sneaking in a few lowlights while I pleaded to be brighter. But the real push didn't come until much later, when a new love interest casually pointed out that he thought I looked prettier without those fake lashes I kept having glued on.
Insert spit take here.
Prettier...without them? Prettier without the lash extensions that cost as much as a nice dinner out for two, require a full hour of total immobility, and have an application process that feels like some new kind of terrorist prisoner interrogation technique?
The lashes went. And without my even noticing, the time between my hair color appointments stretched. From two months to three. Then, to five. The light hair slowly grew out to the ends; plain brown grew in. My hair had become accidentally ombre.
Today, I lopped off a couple of old, dead inches. They'd been weakened by bleach, and were starting to look fried. The cut left my hair looking darker; nearly brunette. But it feels a hell of a lot stronger.
So do I.