Camping isn’t all that bad. It’s an excuse, after all, to indulge in two of my favourite pastimes: reading for hours on end, and, not brushing my hair. Combing, blow-drying, and styling aren’t high on my priority list. Not now, not ever. In elementary school, my best friend, Leah, casually mentioned, as we preened in the bathroom mirrors of Balsam Street School, “Tamara and I made a list of the prettiest girls in our class. You could be right up there, in the top five, at least. If you combed your hair.” Her intervention didn’t succeed.
A few years later, my sister and I had tickets to see the budget, Canadian version of Hanson, called The Moffatts, along with my friend, Kayla, and my mom as our chaperone. Our family spent most of our summers at camp, which isn’t camping per se, it’s just what we call “cottage” in Northwestern Ontario. With electricity, indoor plumbing, and satellite TV, we weren’t exactly roughing it. Nevertheless, woods and lake water swallowed us whole. Camp life meant my sister could run around the property naked. Camp life meant freedom from fussing about my appearance. Apparently, our free-spirited, ragamuffin aesthetic didn’t cut it for a formulaic pop concert at the Thunder Bay Auditorium on Paul Schaffer Drive. My mom, at some point during the drive in from camp, realized her two children looked like orphans straight out of Annie, and took a detour to our house in the city limits. She demanded, at bare minimum, we wear clean clothes and brush our hair. Or, no concert.
“You can’t find a single comb in this entire house?” she gasped, exasperated, when our mission to groom ourselves hit an early roadblock. Desperately, I scavenged a broken hair claw under my bed to do the trick, like how The Little Mermaid tamed her mane with a rusted fork. Who says Disney Princesses didn’t teach us anything useful? The car ride home from the show, my mom pointedly complimented Kayla’s nicely-brushed hair and stain-free blouse. It was a valid observation. If we were in a band, Kayla would be our frontwoman.
Even when life required me to look lawyerly, I didn’t care to do my hair. As a newly-called litigator in Vancouver, time was too precious to waste splitting hairs or, I mean, on split ends. Each morning, I’d go straight from the showers of YYoga to my desk, hair damp, left to air-dry flat to my scalp.
My grooming routine certainly didn’t improve when I moved to Calgary to work remotely, and definitely not when I went full nomad: camping in a camper while we prepared to live full-time on a boat.
“You must be stressed,” my husband said, recently, while rubbing my shoulders. I thought he was referring to my muscle tension. “From up here, I’m seeing a lot of grey hairs.” Well then.
So, I innocuously added a box of hair dye to our grocery cart of canned goods for the boat. While Kory was at the marina, I painted my greys in our camper. If you’ve tried this before, you know: you pull goopy cream through your locks, then wait twenty-five minutes or so before rinsing it out. Impatient, I made Kraft Dinner while my timer counted down (I’m living a life of luxury). But, it took longer than I anticipated to boil water, and by the time my noodles were ready to swim in powered cheese, the dye had been in hair for almost twice as long as recommended.
My hair is now black.
I bet most women have a complicated relationship with their hair. My remedy: disappear at sea. Though I’m still not immune to self-consciousness and disaster.