Last week I wore my hair down with two twists, one on each side of my middle part. Because of my cowlick, I couldn't get the twists even, but I wore them anyway. When I was a kid we called this "party style." I rarely wear my hair down. It makes me feel young, somehow not myself. That night I chose this style to disguise my incoming gray hair. Maybe it was a subconscious move to try to create youth in the midst of inevitable aging.
Since wearing my hair in twists that night I've had a series of random memories from when I was a girl. I remember in fourth grade, Ms. Funk's class at William H. Ray Elementary in Chicago. It was picture day and I'd decided on my burgundy v-neck velour shirt with juliet sleeves. It was one of my nicest shirts and I had begged my mother to buy it for me at the tiny Breslauer's Department Store on 53rd Street. I was obsessed with my hair that morning, desperate to get my two twists to match. I wanted my long brown hair to cascade down from the perfectly matched twists that crowned my head like a princess. But I didn't have the right supplies. I needed bobby pins and all I had were mismatched barrettes and rubber bands.
That same obsession for the perfect twists has recently replayed itself in my memory. I don't know if it was the same year, but in my mind's eye, I am about the same age. It was my grandfather's birthday party and we were all to get dressed up. I had a red and white seersucker blouse and skirt that my grandmother had splurged on at Saks Fifth Avenue downtown. It was perfect. But my hair! I remember standing in front of the living room mirror with my sisters and cousins, five girls all primping, and I could not get the twists to work. "I need bobby pins!," I howled to no one in particular, and before I knew it my dad was out the door to the Wilco to get a package big enough for five heads of hair.
I don't know why certain memories stick in our minds and I don't know why they revisit us at certain times in life, but the prominence of these two hair-twist memories feels like something worth attending to. One of the things that happens in middle age, in part because of hormones, and in part because of earned wisdom from life experience, is that we come back to our true nature, that essence of self that can become buried during the twenties and thirties when other big life events take center stage.
I'm grateful for the clarity and potency of these memories. In middle-age there is a quieting, a slowing down that makes room for that essential nature to resurface, like coming out of the rubble after an earthquake, there is a peacefulness, a stillness. Maybe these memories are a sign to me, a message from fourth-grade Laura, that this is time to come back and revisit that energy from my younger self. Or maybe these hair-twist memories are here now to show me how much I've learned, how far I've come from that place where a botched hair style was a national disaster. Now I know it's just a pesky cowlick.