Bouffant to Bald Series – The Prodigal Sisters, Part One By Tease n Spray
Sharla and I were born identical twins, in appearance anyway. Sharla was a timid child, carefully doing what was expected of her. I was always free-spirited and quick to raise my parents’ ire with my escapades. We both grew into beautiful women, with long, thick, golden blonde hair and blue eyes, just like our Mama. Though rare for blondes, our eyebrows and lashes are dark brown. This helps mask a lack of makeup, which is forbidden by our strict religion.
Just like every Saturday morning, we girls show up at the family farm and take turns washing and setting each other’s hair. While it dries, we work together with Mama preparing for Sunday lunch and visiting. By mid-afternoon, our hair has dried and we take turns sitting at Mama’s dressing table while she combs us out, first Sharla, then me, just as she has for twenty-five years.
This is how she does it. After teasing and spraying the first twelve or so inches of hair, Mama smoothes and shapes it into a Gibson Girl base that rises a full four inches out and above the hairline at the front and sides. After pinning and spraying it securely, she really goes to work. Instead of finishing us with a plain bun, Mama sections the hair out and painstakingly teases, weaves, swirls and rolls each section, forming a simple, yet elegant dome on top of the Gibson Girl base. It fully reveals the natural highlights and beauty of our blonde hair. After the bouffant style looks perfect, Mama carefully applies more hairspray until a stiff outer layer is formed, holding it all in place for church the next day.
I headed back to my apartment after Mama finished my hair. The preacher came by shortly after and asked me some strange questions. Something about what I had been doing at night lately. I had no idea what he was talking about. He said something about the truth always comes out and turned to go. As he walked away, he said, “By the way; your hair looks lovely, Darla. Keep it that way for church.” Then he smiled and walked off. I reached up and touched my hair, wondering what in the world he meant.
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That night, the preacher assembled the church elders, including Papa. Seems he had received a phone call earlier in the week. The caller told him that one of the young women in his church had been seen at the motel on the edge of town. He drove over there and waited outside. Sure enough, he spotted a familiar-looking blonde leaving Room 7 and darting off quickly into the shadows. He quickly jumped to the conclusion it was I.
The preacher decrees my punishment, a slight smile on his face. “The Good Book says that one who dishonors herself should be shorn. Therefore, Darla Smith shall be disciplined in a like manner. Her hair is to be shorn, cut off completely, during tomorrow’s worship service. I’m sure you understand, Elder Smith. We must purge evil from among us, even your own daughter.”
Papa is speechless. He knows that many members of the congregation haven’t approved of my antics; feeling I should have been disciplined more often. But this is terrible. A woman’s hair is her crowning glory and long hair is an essential requirement of our faith. Nothing could be more humiliating than this.
They majority of the elders follow the preacher’s leading and agree to the harsh sentence. Papa goes home and tells Mama, then calls me with the news. “Papa, it wasn’t me! You believe me, don’t you?” I ask and hear his disappointed reply. “Yes, daughter, I believe you.” Mama cries herself to sleep and I lie awake, not believing I have been accused, found guilty and sentenced without a chance to defend myself. However, I know all too well that there is little chance of my “discipline”, as the preacher calls it, not being carried out.
Next morning, the preacher repeats the entire speech to the congregation. The pulpit is removed and a short wooden stool put in its place. I am brought in and instructed to sit down facing the congregation. Several grim-faced older women come up and stand in a semi-circle behind me. The preacher’s wife drapes a towel around my shoulders and fastens it in front with a large safety pin. The others join her in removing the pins from my shiny locks and pulling apart my hairdo, destroying all of Mama’s hard work. Once freed, it flows down my back like a cascading gold waterfall, the curled ends falling just past the top of the stool. Immediately, the air is filled with the sweet fragrance of freshly shampooed hair.
Tears begin to well up in my eyes as I look out on the crowd. Most simply watch in satisfaction, believing I am being justly punished. Mama is sobbing quietly next to Papa, who is looking at me, pain and disappointment showing in his eyes. Sharla sits staring straight ahead, unwilling to make eye contact with me. “Sharla Bynum, please join the ladies and your sister,” booms the preacher.
Sharla sits frozen in her seat. Her husband and several women gently nudge her to her feet. She moves slowly down the row and into the aisle. Her head is bowed down as she walks to the front of the church. Sharla looks briefly into my tear-filled blue eyes, then turns away to face the congregation, her face a mask of stone.
The preacher continues, “Sharla, you always were a good girl and have grown into a fine upstanding woman. If only your sister had followed your example, maybe this day could have been avoided. However, here we are, and because of your virtue, you have been selected to administer your sister’s discipline.” The preacher’s wife, a heavyset matron with wiry salt and pepper hair, hands Sharla an oversized pair of sewing shears and steps back. The pastor motions toward me and smiles thinly.
I reach for Sharla’s hand and try to smile reassuringly. After a long pause, Sharla pulls a tiny lock of hair from within my thick tresses and snips off a few inches. The preacher’s wife steps forward again, grabs Sharla by the hand and pulls her around squarely in front of me. Next, she plunges Sharla’s hand deep into my forelock. She has no choice but to take a huge handful of my teased and sprayed hair.
Obviously frustrated by Sharla’s performance thus far, the preacher’s wife places the scissors in my hair and hisses, “Cut it!” In shock, Sharla obeys instantly and the room is filled with a loud, crunching Shick! as the scissors slice through. Our eyes meet again briefly, then my head falls and I dissolve into tears. Sharla jerks back, dropping the scissors and severed hair at my feet. She turns and runs outside.
The preacher’s wife hesitates, then quickly picks the scissors and hair up from the floor. She places the lock of hair on a silver tray being held by one of the other women. Then she forces my chin up and takes hold of the hair lying right behind the stumpy, jagged remains of my forelock. Shick! It is dropped on the tray. Shick! Another lock lands beside the first two. The process is slowly repeated until all the hair on top of my head is reduced to an uneven field of cropped stumps, the longest extending barely an inch from my scalp.
Tears stream down my face as I cry silently. My head is pushed roughly toward my right shoulder. The preacher’s wife continues her task with gusto, taking her time as she snips off lock after lock around my ear. My head is then pushed to the left and the scissors attack the other side. After that, my chin goes down to my chest and the horror continues until, finally, all of my beautiful blonde hair is lying in a heap on the tray.
My hair is placed on the altar like a sort of grotesque sacrifice. I am made to look up at the congregation once more as the preacher’s wife meticulously snips away any stray long hairs that had escaped her the first time. The towel is removed and the women back away, allowing me to walk down from the platform. I run down the steps and out of the church.
I hurry to my apartment, covering my head with my sweater to hide my humiliating new hairdo.
On Tuesday, I go into town looking for help. “Oh, my word! What happened to you?” gasped Marge, a beauty operator at the Chat and Curl Beauty Salon, as I removed a scarf to reveal my ragged hair. I told her all about what had happened on Sunday and asked if there was anything that could be done to salvage what was left of my hair. Marge ran a comb through the jagged mess and sighed, “I’m sorry, honey. This is beyond my ability.” My eyes began filling with tears as I looked at my repulsive reflection in the salon mirror.
“Wait a minute. I’ve got an idea,” says Marge as she picks up the phone. She dials a number and asks for someone named Sue. They talk quietly as Marge looks with pity at my shorn crown. Hanging up the phone, she exclaims, “We’re in luck! My friend Sue says she’ll take a look at you.”
With scarf back in place, I follow Marge’s directions to the Downtown Barber Shop. I open the door and hesitate. Several men are waiting for haircuts and three are in the chairs, being clipped and trimmed by the male barbers. All eyes focus on me. The barber at the second chair says, “Sorry, young lady, it’s men only here.” I duck my head in embarrassment and turn to leave.
“No, wait! She’s here to see me.” calls a deep, sultry female voice. “Come on in honey. You must be Darla. I’m Sue.” I turn to see a flashy platinum blonde, wearing a black mini skirt and spike heels, coming from the back room. She moves to the first chair and dusts it out with the cape that had been draped over the arm. “Here, have a seat. Let’s see what we’ve got.”
Sue pulls my scarf off and whistles. “Wow! That’s really short!” She runs a comb over my head this way and that, studying my hairline and bone structure, then announces, “Okay. You’ve got the looks to pull this off. I’ll fix you up if you want.”
“What are you going to do?” I stammer.
“Just leave it to me. You’re going to look stunning!” It doesn’t seem as if Sue will take no for an answer. I don’t have another option, anyway. I timidly nod yes and Sue whirls the chair around, facing me away from the mirror and towards the staring eyes of the men in the waiting area.
She drapes the cape over me, wraps a tissue around my neck, and fastens the cape over it. Next comes a loud pop followed by a hum. Sue’s gently tilts my head forward. The hum changes to a grating buzz as Sue begins to work at my neckline.
“What are you doing?” I cry out.
“Just seeing if I can clean this up a little,” Sue responds in a soft, soothing tone.
I start to sob. “This is awful! I’ve never cut my hair, ever! Now I’m going to look like a man!”
Sue comes around to face me. “Listen. You are a beautiful young woman – with or without hair! There’s no way anyone could ever mistake you for a man. Don’t let those people get the satisfaction of seeing you suffer. Anyway, your hair will grow back soon enough. Enjoy this look while you have it!”
Sue goes back to work, trying to shape my hair, but gives up after a few minutes. “This isn’t going to work, too many bald patches,” she says to herself. The hum stops, then starts again after she removes the guard from the clipper blades. “Okay, Darla. Get ready. I’m taking it all off!”
“What do you mean?” I ask. Sue doesn’t respond. Instead, the barberette grasps my head firmly by the temples. I feel the cool, vibrating blades move up the back of my head and over the top, sending a shower of short golden hair falling to the cape.
I jerk around to look at myself in the mirror. A white path of bare scalp runs back from the middle of my forehead, disappearing as it goes over the crown of my head. “Oh, no! What are you doing!” I shriek.
“Just relax. You’re going to look great!” replies Sue as she gently pulls me back and pushes my head down. I seem unable to resist as she clips more and more hair off my head. The shorn pieces sprinkle down past my eyes, forming tiny piles and drifts in the folds of the cape. Then the clippers stop.
Water starts running in the sink behind me. “This is going to be hot,” I hear as a steaming towel wraps around my shorn head.
“Ouch!” I wince as my tender scalp burns from the heat. It soon becomes bearable, though and actually feels warm and soothing. I hear a quick slapping sound and notice Sue is rubbing something on a leather belt or strap attached to the chair I’m sitting in.
The slapping stops. She removes the towel and quickly spreads something soft and warm in its place. She wipes her thumb across the skin around my ear and tilts that side of my head up slightly. Suddenly, I feel a sharp, scraping sensation in that area. “What…?” I start to ask, and then Sue cuts me off.
“I’m shaving your head. Be still!” I sit terrified, but strangely unable to utter a word of protest.
I begin to pray silently while tears stream from my tightly shut eyes. “Oh, Lord! Please forgive me! I know it’s a sin for a woman to look like a man. I didn’t know she would shave my head! Please Lord! Please let my hair grow back quickly. I promise I’ll be good!”
I’m still praying when Sue asks, “Well, whaddaya think?”
My eyes open and see a stranger looking back from the mirror. Instinctively, I look away in humiliation and sob, “Oh, my God!”
Sue’s long red nails pull my chin back up to face the mirror. “Wait a minute, take a closer look. I see a beautiful, exotic, and mysterious woman who is no longer a prisoner of her long hair. Its an opportunity very few of us have, Darla.”
“But I’m so plain looking without, without…” I protest, unable to finish as sobs come uncontrollably. I bury my face in my hands and hear Sue talking to someone on the phone.
“Cosmetic counter, please.” A pause follows and then she continues. “Mary, this is Sue. I’m sending over a young lady that is in desperate need of a makeover. Her name’s Darla…”
To be continued…
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