I’ve never been all that experimental with my hair. I did make one deeply misguided box dye attempt in high school, which turned out exactly as you might expect. Still, over the course of the past few years—adequately distanced from the “beauty choices” of my youth and approaching an entirely fresh identity crisis—I began to envision a blonder, better self. Every time I went to book an appointment, though, I hesitated. Going blonde always seemed far too high maintenance for my humble lifestyle. Also, and more importantly, a psychic told me not to.
Way back in January, I was on my way downtown when the F train jerked to a resounding and predictable halt. “Not again,” said the woman to my left, unfurling her scarf and turning toward me. If you think the most seasoned New Yorker avoids eye contact and keeps to herself, you are wrong. I have lived in New York City long enough to develop affinities for musty subway air, acute discomfort, and generally questionable behavior. I engage strangers with fervor, because what I’ve learned is that there’s always something to, well, learn. Eager to dissipate my claustrophobia with some small talk, I gave my best commiserative sigh. “Every time.”
“Are you a jazz singer?” She asked.
“No, I wish. But I was named after one.”
“Oh. Ella,” she said, nodding. “I know her greatest song.”
Before I could respond that, yes, Ella was indeed my name, my neighbor jumped to her feet to deliver an exuberant and achingly flat performance of Ella Fitzgerald’s “You Showed Me The Way.” Her renditions of the instrumentals, in particular, slapped. In the stunned silence that followed, it was clear that this woman knew things the rest of us did not.
The F train shuddered and scraped back to life. We pulled into the next stop.
“Ella,” my neighbor said, staring at me intently, her voice dropping out of its big band glamour, “I know you are thinking of dyeing your hair blonde. I’m warning you. Don’t do it.” And with that, she wound her scarf tightly up to her eyeballs and skipped out the door.
The encounter has haunted me ever since.
I held fast through quarantine. No mix kits, no e-girl streaks, not a touch of bleach. All this, despite my obvious state of emotional crisis! Until… I broke down and did it, obviously. I arrived at the salon feeling guilty about the fact that I was risking my health and also because a psychic explicitly told me not to go blonde. Midway through the appointment, I slumped in the chair, befoiled and regretful. The speakers let slip some lo-fi beats, but my mind was alight with the trills of my namesake.
Suffice to say, I am not thrilled with the final result. I am not the bouncy, mysterious, glistening goddess I envisioned. The contrast was too high, the lift was blotchy, and my whole head had turned an orange-y, brassy tone—plus, I am still a nervous wreck, albeit a fake blonde one. A fake blonde nervous wreck texting my friends furiously about whether or not I should dye my streaky, brassy hair back to brunette with a drugstore gloss or ridiculously expensive single-process. Change your hair, change your life, they say. My life has certainly changed. But I think that is because I am now cursed forever.
Note: Since this story’s publication the author has visited Spoke and Weal Soho, where colorist and magician Jake McVay was able to lift her color to the aforementioned goal of bouncy, mysterious, glistening blonde. When asked for his professional opinion in regards to whether or not the author’s hair had been previously cursed, McVay declined to comment.
Photos via the author