Won't You Be My Nemesis?
March 13, 2011
I know you all use google and facebook to cyberstalk ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, and I respect that. My thing is stalking old nemeses. I don't care what they're doing, how much weight they've gained/lost, or if I can find hints that they are as nasty in adulthood as they were in childhood. What I'm looking to find out is where they are. Since practically everything about anyone can be found online these days, including who owns what property and who put in a permit request to develop said property, it's pretty easy to pinpoint locations.

Now, it's not like you're going to find a map in my living room with red pushpins denoting potential snot spots within the lines of bratitude and longiturd, but having a vague idea that they are no where near me is comforting. But it's the opposite of comforting when I discover that one of them is now living in the EXACT SAME Bay Area suburb.

In her facebook photo, she looks exactly as I remember her. Her hair is longer, brushing her shoulders now, and I can see she has a kid. Possibly a son. Possibly the same age as my son. And I know it's been twenty-five years, but the thing is, I really hope our kids don't end up in the same school or something.

So, this is the thing. I had really long hair as a kid, and it got a lot of attention. Beyond a faint trimming of split ends, my mom wouldn't let me cut it until I was ten, and so for ten years I wore it in two braids. Every day. Two braids. Frankly, I never understood why people made such a fuss about it. Yeah, I get it, it was long -- so? Its length wasn't getting me anything in life other than a sore scalp from the likes of the Hair Puller and my mother's hairbrush.

At its longest, my hair reached my butt, but I could never sit on it or use it to keep myself warm, Crystal Gayle style. I could roll the braids into side buns and be Princess Leia, brush it over my face to be Cousin It, but mostly my dark braids made me look like Wednesday Addams for a decade. My mom has an entire shelf of Charles Addams books and a stuffed Wednesday Addams doll sitting on her dresser (nicknamed "Cyanide," for some reason), so I'm pretty sure that was no accident.

My hair was how people identified me. "You know Stephanie?" "Who?" "The one with the braids." "Oh, yeah." Sometimes my likeness to the sadsackiest member of the Addams family would draw me into a strangely accusatory line of dialogue. "Why do you look like Wednesday Addams?" "I don't know." "ARE you Wednesday Addams?" "No." "Then why do you look like her?" "I don't know."

I'll tell you what, my attention-seeking hair was a colossal pain in the ass to maintain. (You could even say it took a lot of MANEtenance.) Every morning, I would stand in front of my mom as she dragged her red hairbrush through the slight waves the braids left behind. That was another issue I had with my hair: it was so relentlessly straight that even binding it up in braids 24/7 resulted in nothing but the feeblest of waves. Years later, I would get back at my hair by subjecting it to a rash of Ogilvy home perms, all of which lasted about two months.

If I was having a particularly snarly day, mom would take the brush in one hand, grasp the entire mass in her other, and try to work out the tangles, bit by bit. Then she would part it down the middle, dividing it into two equal sections, and pass plait over plait until two long brown braids framed my narrow face. Sometimes she would tie bows around the rubber bands that secured the bottom of the braid, but they would usually come undone a few hours later, and since I didn't know how to tie bows yet, they would just hang there for the rest of the day, giving me a somewhat bedraggled appearance. In the summers, my mom would allow me to go for a few days without a rebraid. The braids would get puffy and fuzzy from accumulated lake water and pure happiness.

In an effort to mitigate the severe whiplash I sustained during every brushing out session, we went through a series of detanglers. First, there was Tame. Getting the Tame into my hair was almost as bad as rinsing it out (in the bathtub, no less), and it didn't seem to make much difference anyway. It just added another step to the already painful bath routine. Then there was the detangler that came in an aerosol can. My mom and I would stand in the hallway and hold our breaths as she sprayed the detangler all over my wet hair. She held her breath because she was pregnant with my little sister at the time and this was some bad, poisonous stuff, and I guess I held my breath either in solidarity or just to see if I could do it. Sort of like the way I have to hold my breath every time I watch the scene from Princess Bride where Buttercup disappears into the quicksand. I just want to know if it's possible. When mom was done spraying my hair, we'd sidestep the cloud of ozone-depleting fumes and use a brush to test my hair's manageability. That stuff may wreak havoc with the environment, but it was powerless against my rats' nest.

All of this pain and suffering could have gone away if I was allowed to use conditioners, a hair product my mother treated with extreme suspicion. For some reason, she got it into her head that conditioners somehow made your hair dirty. She wasn't clear on the how, but she was convinced it happened. Years later, she got to be right when I decided I needed to change shampoos. After a sleepover, I came home begging to use the same shampoo my friend Angela used. It smelled soooo good and Angela's hair was sooooo pretty, pleasepleasepleaseplease! Plus, Angela was right about the awesomeness of pomegranates, so she was probably right about the awesomeness of Finesse.

After luxuriating in the scent of my new shampoo for awhile, my mom started complaining that my hair looked and felt dirty. Of course, she blamed the new-fangled shampoo. She couldn't understand why I wasn't content sudsing up with the virulently green Prell the family had used for years. Why did I have to go and get fancy on her with a shampoo that clearly wasn't even doing its job? She also blamed me, saying I probably wasn't rinsing all the high-falutin' shampoo out of my hair. What other explanation could there be? New shampoo and a kid who didn't know how to wash her own hair. Clearly.

My older sister, who later would introduce the family to some positively hedonistic shampoo called L'Envie, finally grabbed the maligned Finesse bottle off the shower ledge, scrutinized it, and then held it accusingly up to my mom. "Mom," she said, "It's not Stephanie's fault. You're the one who bought CONDITIONER!"

So, in a sense Mom was vindicated. Conditioners DO make your hair dirty. If you use them place of shampoo. Mom felt bad for all the misplaced blame and got me the proper Finesse shampoo, but it still wasn't until PertPlus was invented that she willingly jumped on the conditioner train. However, if you were to go to my house now and see a PertPlus bottle, you shouldn't use it.

Just like fathers everywhere, my dad responds to the primal urge to hunt and gather mini shampoos, conditioners, and soaps from every hotel bathroom he patronizes. However, while other dads and husbands-who-shall-remain-nameless might squirrel the hotel booty away, letting it languish in bathroom drawers for years until someone secretly culls the stash during a move, my dad USES it.

During one of my visits home, I found a diminutive Red Roof Inn shampoo bottle upside-down on a battered PertPlus bottle. Next to the PertPlus bottle, an entire parade of tiny shampoo bottles patiently awaited their fate. Someone in the family had turned the bathroom sink into a mini Place de la Concorde where the aristo shampoos were about to lose their caps and spill their bodily fluids in pearly white or green streams.

Apparently, dad was dumping all the mini shampoos into one great big bottle. And not just the shampoos that looked alike and might therefore have had a passing chance at being the same shampoo. He was combining the clear amber with the pearly white and the pink. He was turning the PertPlus bottle -- which may or may not have been empty when he started -- into a melting pot of shampoos that no longer knows what it's supposed to do with your hair. Should it make it bouncy? Thick? Shiny? Did you have fine hair? Greasy hair? Dry and damaged hair? After my sisters and I informed my dad that his hair would fall out if he washed it with that bottle of identity crisis, he moved on to create a soap sculpture.

In our shower at home, you could sometimes find tiny slivers of undissolved soap, too small to wash with because they were too small to find in your hand once you tried to use them. Dad refused to give up and let those soap slivers die a dignified and natural death, slipping down the drain, the way all good soaps hope to go. He collected them, fused them together with water, and then started mashing in his collection hotel soap. The soap dish in the upstairs bathroom now holds a horribly misshapen, multicolored chunk of soap so twisted and disturbing that if I have to pee in the middle of the night, I go downstairs.

Dad calls his pile of soap a "concept piece." He's the guy who walks around a modern art exhibit, points at a nearby water fountain, and asks the innocent docent what the name of that piece is.

So, yeah. I didn't like my hair. I didn't like daily, painful maintenance, I didn't like the Wednesday Addams comparisons, and I didn't like the attention. Clearly, the third grade Hair-Puller didn't like anything about my hair either. Her own hair was worn short, black, and curly. She lived in a big house by Lake of the Isles and already had her ears pierced, a mutilation I wasn't allowed to engage in until I was thirteen.

"Stephanie, can *I* do something do your hair?" she asked, her eyes crinkled up into mean little raisins and a fake smile smeared across her face. Given how she bullied me on a fairly regular basis, I was surprised she was talking to me at all. Much less smiling at me. Sure, it was an evil smile, but she was an evil kid and I figured she didn't know how to look like anything else. I considered she might be changing her mind about me. Maybe she had suddenly decided I wasn't someone to bully after all and was trying to make nice. I nodded. She reached out a hand and wrapped her stubby fingers around one braid. Then she looked me full in the face and yanked down as hard as she could.

I sucked in my breath and tears jammed up my throat. As I stared at the intense interest on her bratty pinched face, I knew I wasn't going to let her see me cry. Since by the third grade, the teachers had now instituted this load of crap rule about not tattling, I can't even remember if I told on her to Mrs. Carmody. Even if I did, I'm sure all she got was a verbal reminder to keep her hands to herself, which was something she already knew and, technically, she had kept her hands to herself. Why else do you think she asked my permission to "do something" to my hair?

And now she lives in my town 2000 miles away from where we both grew up. Even if I became friends with her, really good friends, I know there would come a time when I wouldn't be able to stop myself from bringing up the 3rd grade incident. We'd be sitting around, having coffee after the park or a PTA meeting, and I'd tell her. I'd tell her how she pulled my hair. Really hard and really mean. And she wouldn't remember, but she'd look at me like I was crazy and weird for remembering something like that, and then I would be able to stop myself, so I would do it. I'd reach out and yank on her shoulder-length hair. As hard as I could.

And then we'd have to move.

Hungry? Get a menu pushed
under your door when I update:
Powered by MessageBot
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
  Copyright © 2002-2011 Stephanie Vander Weide