Breaking Free

There are blonde strands falling into my eyes as I type to the “drip, drip” drumming of the gutters in twilight.  I tried to go blonde last week.  The stylist wasn’t my faithful Michelle; I didn’t let her cut a strand, but she painted my virgin locks with lightener and dye.  After two hours and the great reveal, I asked where the yellow was, and she reluctantly surrendered the rest of her evening adding some bold highlights.  I thanked her and tipped her well, but neither of us left pleased with the end product.

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It was fun and different.  At thirty-five years old, I’d never experimented with even a single color streak.  This is my season of change, after all, and the nature of a weekly blog makes that public.  I’ve penned my path through some of the most sensitive experiences, careful to avoid supplying unnecessary salacious details or content high in shock value but little else.  When I make a mistake, Tuesday night writing sessions keep me honest.  When I destroy a marriage, the balance between personal and private details indulged complicates in manifold by all the hearts broken in my wake, the loss and grief compounded as my voice alone attempts to strike through the absence of silence.

It’s been too long to remember a time when I was the subject of gossip.  My students often confide in me when their so-called friends are talking about them behind their backs, and it’s easy to console another human being simply by giving her a chance to set the record straight with someone who matters in her eyes.  Ending my pending nuptials too late to renew my teaching contract at Kecoughtan paints question marks in my future horizon, and still I find myself able to laugh at the newest evolutions of the telephone game rumors coloring me black and white and shades of gray in the community where I served tirelessly to bleed Warrior green in establishing dynamic Yearbook and Writing SOL programs.  Goodbyes are hard but a part of this very public changing of seasons.

When I was packing up my classroom this afternoon, the great painted tree on the wall caught me waxing nostalgic amongst sample projects I’d selected to save and a pile of records for the next department chair.  My senior girls had added their handprints as promised.  One of their mothers snapped me a picture of the graduates with green hands standing by the tree after yearbook distribution last week.  We’d planned that I would add mine, too, before leaving for Germany with my new husband this summer.  I dismissed the sentiment and returned to sorting through four years of my blood, sweat, and tears…

And still, I found myself able to laugh as I flipped through journals and recalled innumerable discussions we’ve held in CD23 that are uniquely unrepeatable.  Few will understand a reference to the OG Palma or Alcatraz, but those on the inside were a part of something rumors don’t change.  They’re superficial changes, semi-permanent says the box; these chunky blonde highlights don’t make me any less brunette by nature. We don’t always get a chance to set the record straight, and that’s as good a lesson for my teens to learn as any.  Fortunately, I was raised to believe that people will eventually see you for who you truly are, and at the end of graduation on Saturday, I’m confident this particular bunch of graduates will recall me in time to come as an influential educator who helped them become better versions of themselves just as they have done for me.

The details, the gossip, the rumors, the permutations, the deviations, the nuggets of truth – they’ll be as irrelevant as these streaks soon, growing out with time to reveal what’s real.  My best teaching years were here.  The peak of my career was in that room with those senior girls who grew into women while I wasn’t looking.  Some of them, I took as far as Italy last June at about this time.  I made a wish that I would marry the man of my dreams on a mermaid rock in Capri.   It was supposed to come true in a year’s time.  It almost did.  I can live with my choices now, because I’m grateful to be breaking free.

It’s an odd expression given the comedy of errors that my life seems to be these days, but my gym mentor used it earlier today after enjoying being back to our regular routine with physical therapy behind me and improved sleep latency giving us back three afternoons a week.  In the absence of my former fiancé’s voice, his greatest fans are missing in action now.  Yet, even packing up my classroom into portable boxes for my shed, my world feels bigger and more welcoming than it has in a long time.  Friends and colleagues have come out of the woodwork to offer encouragement, advice, or just companionship. I’m breaking free of the expectations I set for myself as a girl, because every five years or so, I still start a sentence the same way, “My life doesn’t look like I thought it would at…”

What should my life look like?  I just trashed the painting I’d been making of my forever and always, and behind it I see Angel, Chuck, and my brother’s family still ready to fill the frame.  Casual acquaintances that I’ve made through a shared interest in Pokémon Go have evolved into friendships and lots of new faces on my front porch.  I’m not sure what I’d wish for if I could pass the mermaid rock in Italy with my students again, but this is a good life. Why had I not noticed how much I enjoyed the company of so many people who’ve been here, watching me pull away to move away?  I’ve always suffered from the fatal flaw of believing life started when I became a mother, and FOMO drove me to a few FML moments, I’ll admit.  Now, I don’t see a typical family filling the frame, and there’s freedom in that.  Had I married and finally fulfilled that dream, would I have actually been satisfied?

Maybe this is a midlife crisis, and if the rumor mill’s throwing shade my direction anyway, I figured I might as well look like something’s different.  I have no illusions that a blonde head of hair will make me happier, but summer at Fort Monroe could be more fun.  My best friend Angel encouraged the external change, and despite recovering from an outpatient procedure, she still took the time to game plan with me for our home makeover tomorrow night where she’ll do what I’d asked of the stylist last week.  My guess is that we’ll both be satisfied because we’re on the same page.

Four hours in a salon wasn’t my expectation for my first attempt at going blonde.  I expressed my desire to have a classy, golden do.  The stylist countered with praise and admonishment, urging me to celebrate my virgin, chocolate locks, and likewise discouraging such a bold metamorphosis in one sitting.  As an expert, I trusted her judgment, and the first round might have yielded some auburn hues, but after the second attempt, I left knowing I wasn’t going to be blonde in her chair.  She was in control, and she had a different professional opinion for what would be best and most natural for me.

But I’m not trying to blend in. My Pokemon raid buddy pointed at the blonde strands around my face and said, “I think you’d look good with your whole head that way.  All or nothing.  Black or white.”  And as ironic as that is, he’s right.  Sometimes we know the truth will be hard to hear, so we’re not that brave.  Afraid of hurting others, we justify tiny white lies until the whole head turns black and trust is tenuous.  Some love beyond question, some beyond control, some co-dependently, and some do whatever is in their power regardless of the produced effect.

My little experience at the salon last week assures me that relationships are beneficial when both parties have the same goal, and I’m grateful for a friendship like Angel’s in this season of change.  She lets me be me, and she loves me by helping me break free, not by anchoring my feet to the mud.  I can look back at the decisions I made that made me the source of gossip and they break my heart, too.

The only problem is that I can’t make much forward progress if I live in all the “what I should have done’s”.  I like the picture I see in this frame, filled with family and friends and truth and freedom in being myself and reestablishing myself.  Whether my hair is ash blonde or boring brunette won’t make a difference.  That frame still holds my yearbook seniors and their handprints on the trees, honoring the legacy we built at the Tomahawk.

Hair dye fades.  Someone will inevitable paint over that yearbook tree.  Rumors will go the same way.  If you never get the chance to set the record straight, maybe it’s because it’s not the record that matters.  There should be a little more black and white, a little more willingness to go “all in” and change the natural, best-fit picture.  Even with all the question marks, I’m sleeping soundly.  Breaking free.