Memoir by Laryssa Wirstiuk
The cruelest word was “orange,” which my best friend in Kindergarten had used to describe my hair. The time was story hour, and our teacher was reading aloud one of many stories about young girls with “golden” locks: “Rapunzel,” “Goldilocks,” whatever.
“Do any of you know someone with ‘golden’ hair?” The teacher finally asked.
I raised my hand.
“My hair is kind of golden,” I said.
My so-called friend challenged my statement, while the other kids just stared. Alright, I guess my hair wasn’t golden. In my defense, however, my hair also wasn’t the color that everyone else called it: “red.” Not the color of firetrucks or blood or Valentine’s Day. I definitely didn’t resemble the mascot from the fast-food chain named after its founder’s daughter.
Maybe my best friend was right about “orange” being the most appropriate adjective. But it’s the color of October, the last month of the year before the weather in New Jersey goes to shit. Broken orange pumpkins destroyed by vandals signified anger over summer’s undeniable death. Orange tries to be natural, but it’s not. The closest thing to orange that I can stand is Orangina, the sparkling citrus beverage, but even that is more “yellow.” Language is so futile.
Growing up, my hair ignited passionate, unsolicited responses from other people. As a result, I had to bear the burden of that energy for years to come. Nearly 30 years after one incident, my grandmother still recounts the story every chance she gets.
“When you were a baby, I was pushing you in your stroller, and a stranger mumbled to himself when he saw you, ‘Stupid people. Who dyes a baby’s hair?’”
I inspired denial. I was unbelievable.
Even worse, I could never hide. In elementary school, I might as well have sported a scarlet letter on my head, “scarlet” being more specific than “red,” but still not at all accurate. In classes and at summer camps, especially with substitute teachers or absent-minded adults who couldn’t be bothered to learn anyone’s names, I would get, “Hey you, yes, you with the red hair.” I’d always be the one causing trouble. I was too easy to identify.
My hair was like religion or politics; everyone had an opinion about it. Unlike religion or politics, though, my hair as a subject was never off limits. Of course, I couldn’t get a haircut without someone at the salon cooing.
Laryssa Wirstiuk lives in New Jersey with her mini dachshund Charlotte Moo. Laryssa’s collection of short stories The Prescribed Burn won Honorable Mention in the 21st Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published in Gargoyle Magazine, Word Riot, Barely South Review, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. http://www.laryssawirstiuk.com