Posted by: deadmousediaries | December 15, 2009

Dye Hard, Too – The Legend of the Purple Hair, another true story from Mitchell Kyd

So. I woke up Friday and my hair was purple. I am not talking about grandma-got-a-bad-consult-from-the-cosmetology-student purple. Oh no. This was more like HazMat-clean-up-needed-in-aisle-12-large-woman-plowed-through-the-grape-plutonium purple. Not coincidentally, that was the same Friday I lost my job.

   I bet you’re already thinking those two things are related? Bingo! The whole thing had been five-months in the making. It was all my hairdresser’s fault.

   After 10-years of close calls on Dear John letters from my merger-crazed company, the handwriting finally stopped appearing in disappearing ink. It was finalized; I would be out in December. It was July and I had just run into my hairdresser at the conversational nexus of the universe, the WalMart parking lot. She was young, hip and at that moment, had the most amazing purple hair. I loved it! In the span of 60 seconds I had complimented her, announced my impending joblessness and vowed to dye my own purple on my critical day.

   You have to understand that for the past 20 years of a 33-year career, I had been the local talking head for a very large company and my duties included lobbying and media relations as well reputation management for every issue and wannabe campaign in which my employer became entangled. Every conversation – at the mall, at the gas pumps, at the grocery store – ultimately revealed itself as a potential pothole where I could get jolted by a customer with a question or complaint. Conservative, polished and professional defined my demeanor and because I drove a car that was emblazoned with the company target on the driver’s door, I rarely traveled incognito.

   During the five months before my departure, the thought of having purple hair became more and more compelling like that intense, pure light so many people report seeing during a near-death experience. It was calling to me, daring me to declare myself and take that first giant step into the unknown. It represented everything I had been in my way-former life and nothing from my present. On Thursday, December 3, 2009, the minute the purple dye passed critical mass, my husband began telling people that my chameleon suit was off and the woman he married was back. Funny. I don’t remember purple hair in our wedding pictures but I’m happy he saw it even then.

   Twenty-four hours before the end of my employment, I left the salon loving the new me (or the old me, whichever.) It was early evening. The sky had been painted with that late-autumn light and there were holiday sparks in the air. My hair was purple, perfectly coiffed and had that luxurious feel of young-mom hair on prescription pre-nates. All was right with the world. I headed right back to the office and by 10:00 pm I had packed up my last newsclip, dumped my last e-mail and faced only my formal exit for my last day. So I woke up Friday and my hair was purple. The difference was, it was daylight.

   My daughter once reviewed a particularly evocative Dali piece and described it as seeing an injured dog at the side of the road. You don’t want to look but you can’t look away. Yes, it was kind of like that. My hair radiated purple in the sunlight. The healthy shine that accompanied the extra care my stylist had provided served as a hall of mirrors to bounce back every glint of illumination one hundred times over. My husband described my first step out of the back porch shadows as “a Kodak moment.” I still loved it!

   Because I had envisioned my last day so clearly, I had a solid plan for how that evening would unfold as well: dinner at a favorite Italian restaurant followed by shopping in several favorite stores. Even though I found myself checking the mirror at every opportunity, I did generally forget that my hair was purple, even on the very first day. I was quickly reminded at each new interaction – at the mall, at the gas pumps, at the grocery store. The target was now off my car door and on my head and what I hadn’t factored into my exit day celebration was how I would react to reactions from servers and salespeople about the bold new me.

   Our first stop was dinner and the restaurant had lots of ambiance (meaning it was very dark in there) but there was no shielding the clerks and patrons at New York and Company when we moved on to shopping. Purple hair on a middle-aged mom didn’t seem to sit too well with the young sales staff and I was apparently causing quite a stir. Without other customers to interfere with their sniping, all three young clerks quickly convened in a tight clump behind the counter to get an unobstructed view of the fabulous me.

   My daughter was furious when we left the store; my husband only shook his head as I got the pantomime version of what had been happening behind my back. I wasn’t angry. Or hurt. Only amused. For the first time in a very long time, I didn’t need to worry about what other people were thinking and I didn’t care that they were probably asking: “Who does she think she is??” I know who I am so despite my daughter’s disgust, I went back inside the store.

   Faces went white as I approached; I leaned in and half-whispered to get their attention. “Ladies, I know you were talking about my purple hair, but it’s okay..” The one my daughter had impugned as the ringleader took a step back. All three tried their best to cover that “Oh, shit!” look that confirmed their guilt. I shared my story about the drive to be fearless in the face of this uncertainty and I had them laughing with me, not at me, when I left the second time. Maybe I helped them with a life lesson, too. “Old age ain’t no place for sisses,” Bette Davis said. Well, neither is unemployment.

   The reaction at Chico’s was much different. Mature women, each with her own distinctive style, welcomed me into their store that had been designed with the purple-haired woman in mind. From jewelry, to jeans, ruanas and wraps, everything was available in some shade of fabulous. I didn’t need to share my story there but I did. One member of the sales staff regularly hosted a women’s empowerment group and she invited me to visit as a speaker. At the register, another saleswoman told me she was amazed that I wasn’t bitter about my job loss and called me “an inspiration” –all pretty heady stuff for a woman with purple hair.

   Now that more than a week has passed, I have developed a whole repertoire of responses to the deadly stares as well as the passing whispers. I most often choose to throw out my own random comment to break the ice.  Does the light in this store make my hair look purple or is it only me?  I’m about to step into the sunlight so please protect your retinas.  etc., etc., etc. My husband proudly told his employers that I have bigger stones than most of the men who stride into their sporting goods store.

    I’m especially grateful for the awareness I’ve been given of what it’s like to be viewed as “different” in a tightly scripted world. The choice I’ve made about my hair color could never be compared to living with a different pigment in my skin or bearing a physical disfigurement, but it has given me a glimpse of what it’s like to judged on an appearance that doesn’t match the expectations of the norm, whatever that is. (And a Sunday day trip made it clear just how fickle our definition of the norm can be. What happens when a woman with purple hair visits Baltimore in the middle of football season? Absolutely nothing. Down there, I was just another Raven-haired beauty.)

   The whole experience has been so liberating; it’s been like finally trashing the stilettos for a comfy pair of Crocs. As each day passes, I feel less like a woman who has dyed her hair purple and more like a reinvented woman, who – BTW –has purple hair. It’s more than just semantics. Live hard; play hard. Dye hard, too.

   One of the last things to get packed in the exodus from my office was a poster my daughter made me early this summer. Five colors of markers flowed across the page to form these words: “If you are lucky enough to be different than everyone else, don’t change.” Well said.

   I’m different and happy and making my own luck these days. Here’s hoping that works for you, too. In celebration – Mitchell Kyd

Copyright 2009 Mitchell Kyd. All rights reserved.

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Responses

  1. LOVE THIS! Instead of “when I grow old,I shall wear purple,” you took purple to a whole new level. GOOD FOR YOU! LOVE IT! As I look at the little “chippies” at NYC and their reaction as I try on “Chippie” clothes, I just think – “Someday, they, too, will be fighting and embracing change, too.” I just like to think I do it better! Hee! Hee! Yay for purple!

  2. What a wonderful recant! We need more attitudes like this, for sure, and of course, proper writers of the purple sage. I am looking forward to your next posting.

  3. Might I add that the beautiful jacket made the purple look AWESOME! YOU GO GIRL!
    You have a glow that seems to be starting on the path.
    Good Luck and keep in touch

  4. “If you want to stand out don’t be different be Outstanding!” You are outstanding with the way you express what so many are feeling and let’s be honest you are also so different that you are truly amazing. I hope you’ll be rocking Hershey with your purple hair. I just have to see it.


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