birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Gingerly Approaching Fifty

I am scared to cut it. I don’t really want to cut it— I just wonder if it wasn’t there, what then? Its as much a part of me as my arm or leg. More, really, as most everyone else has those. What they don’t have is what makes me different — long auburn hair.

What makes one different as a kid is a liability, fodder for lame jokes and unimaginative nicknames. Then in some twisted turn, defining or creating what makes one different becomes life’s work. Adding ink for indelible statements on skin, dyeing hair, or sporting clothes that show exactly how one wants to be seen.
My hair wasn’t the first feature folks noticed the first weeks of my life, but it made up for its absence ever since. It first appeared as electric orange as carrot shavings, giving visitors something different to say about a new baby than the usual, and proving a point of pride of my auburn-maned mom. Her Farrah Fawcett waves were a unique shade of chestnut red in those disco days, nothing any woman could replicate from a bottle. Luckily, she probably wondered, to have bottled up those genes to bypass her firstborn son, saving them for her little redhead girl.

The phrase “little redhead girl” probably conjures up a vivid image, from Pippi to Wendy to Anne of Green Gables. Pigtails are mandatory, as are freckles dotting noses above wide, goofy grins. And there you have my second grade school picture. Middle school was more of a challenge, when kids find their mean streaks and gawkiness is the norm. “Does the carpet match the drapes?” blurts every squirmy, dumb boy, on the playground, on the bus, and during quiet study time. I first had no idea what this meant, winning a kid Oscar for playing the nonchalant six-grader. As I got older, I realized this obsession with realness extended to women, too. I’ve never been sure if it’s to ask what formula I might use so they can have this strawberry shade for their very own, or to silently prove that my best asset is fake. Women are fascinating that way.

It’s crazy thick, probably too long, and is hell on a hair dryer. It’s heavy, too. I once thought I had the beginning signs of brain tumor, but I’d just left a ponytail in too long. But having red hair has been anything but a headache — I’ve come to love the rarity and worry what I am without it. The white hairs popping in and springing out wave like little white flags, telling me to surrender my superficial identity and get on with something else.

Those Legs

Taking Christmas Back