I have come to the realization that it will be far easier for me to count the hairs that haven’t turned grey….I’m half expecting that at the stroke of midnight my hair will suddenly turn sheer white and my man-boobs will drop to the floor.
I am 40.
I am now old.
Perhaps I should start to consider dyeing my hair.
I shouldn’t fret about the thought of dyeing….it’s not like I’m a novice at colouring my hair. In fact, I have dyed my hair 5 times before…yes indeed, 5 times…of course it is important to note that all 5 times were in a 3 day period.
I was sixteen years of age and it was the summer month of July. It was a Monday afternoon and I had the day off of work from my job as a cook in a restaurant called Bar B Que Heaven in the nearby town of Brooklin, Ontario.
Each day at 4pm I’d find a reason, any reason, to go outside and walk to the front of my house. For across the street Kendra Martin worked at the Prince Albert Community Centre where a kid’s day-camp was held. 4pm was when Kendra got onto her bike each work day to go home and I always made every effort to catch her attention and say hi to her.
Kendra was tall, with blonde hair, blue eyes and had the face of a goddess. A mere smile from her in my general direction would be enough to cause my legs to wobble from being weak in the knees. Whenever I saw her I would instantly hold my breath…by the time she rode her bike over to say hi my head would be a little light-headed and I’d have trouble making coherent sentences because my tongue suddenly felt as if it was too big for my mouth.
“Heyth Kendra…whath up?”, I’d barely manage to say. A trickle of sweat slowly moved down my face…
I first met Kendra when we were in Grade 4 and we became fast friends. But even then I knew she was way too good looking for me…I remember distinctly deciding at age 9 that I could not have a crush on Kendra for her looks made my stomach too anxious with nerves.
Needless to say, not much had changed at sixteen.
She stopped her bike in front of me, as she usually did and looked at me, kind of in a funny way, as if examining my face…which made me certain she somehow knew my tongue had swelled inside my mouth. After a few seconds of looking…which to me lasted years…she began, “You know, I was thinking…”
Instantly my imagination raced…was she going to tell me she liked me? Was this the moment of which I’d dreamed? Oh my god!!!….dontfaintdontfaintdontfaint…
“Yeah…you’d look a lot better if your hair was just a bit darker in colour” she simply said…and with that, she smiled and started peddling her bike down the street.
“Thankth Kendra for the advith! I’ll conthider it!” I yelled to her as she drove away…my tongue still swollen and unable to form real words.
Right there and then, on the side of the road, was when I decided that I was going to dye my hair.
My friend Justin Miller came over about an hour later and within minutes he and I were walking to downtown Port Perry to go to the drugstore.
“What are we doing? Where are we going?” asked Justin as we walked.
“I told you, to the drug store!” I replied, not knowing how to tell him I was going to dye my hair.
“Are you getting condoms? Do you NEED to get condoms?” he asked with curiosity, thinking that maybe somehow in the past 24 hours since I had last seen him I was now sexually active.
“No. No. No. That’s not it.”
“Are you sick?”
“No. No. I’m not sick”
“You have VD? And you NEED penicillin, right??”
I had to tell him, or I was going to continue to hear things like this the entire way...“I was just thinking of maybe dyeing my hair…I think I’d look a little better if my hair was just a bit darker”. I never mentioned that my entire decision was based on Kendra’s suggestion.
There was a bit of a pause as Justin thought about this…he had a funny look on his face as if to say “What the hell are you talking about?”…but all he did was shook his head and said, “whatever” and we continued our walk downtown.
At the drugstore, we slowly walked back to the area on the shelves that held all the hair dye. All the boxes had women’s faces on them…making it very clear that only women dyed their hair. I took a death breath…this was for Kendra. The lady who worked at the store saw Justin and I looking at the shelves with very confused looks on our faces and came over to ask if we needed help. She was about 50 years of age, with greyish hair and had a nice smile.
I panicked…“Just picking up some hair dye for my mom...I forget what she told me to get”
The lady smiled, “I can help you. What colour is your mom’s hair now?”
“Uh….pretty well the same colour as mine”
“Okay. And would she like to change the colour?”
“Uhm…yeah, she’s thinking about going just a touch darker…just a little bit”
I could hear Justin snorting with laughter as he turned his back away from the lady as I gave him a dirty look.
The lady smiled and handed me a container with the words Maybelline across the top and said, “Just tell your mom to follow the instructions inside”.
“Ok. Thanks. Bye.”…I walked as fast as I possibly could to the cashier and paid while feeling the need to explain to the cashier that this purchase was for my mom. I was soon outside walking away as quickly as I could.
Justin had already left the store ahead of me and was now waiting for me on the sidewalk with a big smile on his face…I don’t even remember the walk home…my only thought at the time was that I just wanted to get this over with.
By the time we arrived at my parent’s house, their cars were in the driveway and they were in the kitchen making dinner. As I walked into the house I could hear my sister, Charlene, in her room on the main floor...Justin and I said hi quickly and ran upstairs to my parent’s room and right into their ensuite washroom.
I tore open the hair dye package as quickly as I could.
Looking back, I probably should have read the directions with a little more care…or at least talked to my mom about it first…but, no. At the time I thought the best way to handle this was half panic, full rushed.
I took the plastic gloves out of the box.I wasn’t sure why I would need them and Justin laughed when I held them up…so I just chucked them in the garbage.
The bottle of hair dye fell out of the box and I picked it up off the floor and looked at it…it seemed the right colour…With one hand, I motioned to Justin to wait outside of the washroom and with the other I closed the door…
I poured the dye solution into my hand and started mixing it into my hair as I continued to read the instructions.
It said to wait twenty minutes…I barely lasted 10 before my eyes began to water and my hands started to burn. The itching of my scalp was unbearable and the horrible smell started to burn my nose hairs…
Suddenly, this didn’t seem like the great idea I had thought it was.
I quickly washed it all out as fast as I could. I dried it with two rubs of a towel, slicked it back with my hands and took a deep breath before looking into the mirror.
It seemed darker.
I did a couple of poses in front of the mirror as I tried to determine whether it looked okay.
I opened up the washroom door to Justin’s face…his mouth and eyes went wide open as he saw me… a laugh slowly built across his face.
“You look like Roy Orbison!!”
“No I don’t!!” as if trying to desperately convince him that I looked good…but my voice gave me away as it cracked with fear, gasping in mid-sentence.
“It is so dark Max! You seriously look like Roy Orbison”.
I ran to the mirror above my mom’s dresser…“Oh God! What am I going to do?” Time seemed to stand still as I looked at myself in the mirror…I did kind of look like Roy Orbison.
That’s when I looked at my hands.
They were black from the hair dye…it suddenly made sense why there were plastic gloves in the box.
Justin did his best to control his laughter but it wasn’t easy for him. He did manage, “Perhaps your hair just looks darker right afterwards…by tomorrow it will probably look lighter…right?”
“Yeah, I guess”…I didn’t sound convinced at all.
I continued to stare at myself in the mirror…“don’t tell anyone about this, okay?” I pleaded.
We decided the best plan was for me to call in sick to work tomorrow and stay home, out of sight. When Justin got home from work we’d walk back to the drugstore and I would wait outside while he bought some new hair dye for me to make it lighter.
Justin left to go home as I scrubbed my hands…I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around my head and walked downstairs to my room. I yelled to my mom that I was feeling a bit sick to my stomach and was going to lie down. As she started to walk towards my room to see if I was okay, I screamed, “Don’t come into my room mom! I’m okay! I just need to sleep!”
Somehow that worked and she didn’t open up my bedroom door. I turned off the light and quickly got into bed.
I didn’t sleep at all that night. I just listened to the clock ticking as I stared out the window at the moon, wondering to myself what I was going to do…Oh God! I couldn’t go back to school in September looking like Roy Orbison! I couldn’t go to work looking like Roy Orbison!
The next day was the longest day ever.
I just stayed in bed. My mom was working and my dad was away the entire day; luckily my sister didn’t bug me so I just laid in bed with my thoughts until Justin showed up around 3pm.
I put on a ball cap to hide as much of my hair as possible. We walked down to the drugstore; passing cars must have thought I was speed-walk training as I was going as fast as I could. Justin and I didn’t talk much; we both understood that it was just best to concentrate on our task at hand...to buy more hair dye that would fix this mistake.
As per our plan, I waited outside of the drugstore while Justin went in and bought some new hair dye. He came out a few minutes later carrying a bag filled with a few different things. We went behind the store and he showed me what he had bought. He had another box of hair dye that was a blonde colour and he had a bottle of ‘Sun In’ which was a bleach for hair to make it lighter in colour…it made sense to me to use this one as I just needed my hair a bit lighter.
We broke all speed walking records travelling back to my parent’s house; we walked in the door and right up the stairs to my parent’s room. My parents hadn’t arrived home yet and I had thought my sister was gone…but as we got to the top stair, she was right there in front of us. She could see the hair that was showing under my ball cap and let out a yell, “What did you do??”
I didn’t answer her…but I didn’t need to. I ran into the washroom carrying the bag from the drug store and closed the door. I decided to go with the ‘Sun In”. My thinking was that if I just left it in a little while, the bleach would lighten the colour and it would look less black and more the colour that Kendra had suggested. Somehow, this made total sense at the time.
The ‘Sun In’ box was quickly opened and I poured the contents directly into my hair; using my hands, which were still a little dark in places from the dye job yesterday, worked the solution into the hair. I waited 5 full minutes and then washed it all out.
Once again, I turned to the mirror.
Patches. My hair was now spotted in patches of a bright colour, not blonde but more of a weird green colour.
I opened the door of the bathroom. There sitting in chairs in front of the doorway were Justin and my sister, each with a drink in their hand as if they were spectators watching a game. Their shocked faces indicated immediately that my spotted look was not what they were expecting…but much worse; or rather much more entertaining to them.
I just sat on the lid of the toilet, not sure if I should laugh or cry so I kind of did both at once.
After their laughter subsided a little, Justin suggested that I try the other bottle of hair dye he had bought…the one that was a blonde colour. To this day, I have no idea if he was trying to help me or if he just wanted to see if I would dye it again…but at the time, I just figured I had nothing else to lose at this point.
So, I opened the box, made sure to put on the plastic gloves this time, poured the liquid into my covered hands and carefully rubbed it into my hair. My scalp was really starting to sting. For those that have never dyed their hair, this stuff is toxic…the smell burns your nose and it also burns the scalp as it sits there. It is not a fun process. I waited the full twenty minutes as per the instructions, which I read in full this time.
I washed it out and once again faced the mirror, which had become my nemesis.
It looked a little orange now and there were still some patches of the bright green colour but overall it did look better…if only a little. At this point, I’d take what positives I could get. It did look less “patchy”…which at this moment was a positive thing. Justin and Charlene seemed to agree as their laughter was not quite as loud this time as it was before.
After conferring with Justin and Charlene, we decided the best course of action was to use the blonde hair dye again to see if it would make my hair more blonde than orange. If using it once helped a little, then using it twice should really help.
So, I put on the gloves again, poured the solution into my hands and rubbed it into my hair. My scalp was in such pain by this point as it was completely burnt. I waited the twenty minutes sitting on the side of the bathtub. It had become a familiar routine by this point.
Upon waiting, I washed it out fully, the water hurt my scalp as it washed over my head. I knew this wasn’t a good sign.
Apparently as I was washing my hair, my mom had arrived home and walked in the house. I hadn’t heard her with the water running. When she heard my sister yell something along the lines of, “MAX! YOUR HAIR IS BRIGHT ORANGE!” she ran upstairs to see what was going on.
“Oh God Max! What have you done?” was her only response as she slowly sat down on the edge of her bed and just stared at me.
After gaining back her composure she quickly told me that she was taking me downtown to the hair salon…I pleaded with her not to take me to Port Perry…I begged that we go to Oshawa, which was the nearest city to Port Perry, about 20 minutes south.
So, off we went…leaving Justin and my sister in tears of laughter. My mom had a worried look on her face as she concentrated on driving and I held my ball cap lightly on my head, as the weight of it hurt my burnt scalp.
We soon arrived at a salon in downtown Oshawa; the light was still on and I could see a man inside. I ran to the door and tried it…locked. The man inside turned to me and waved as if to indicate he was closed. I took off my ball cap, showing my bright orange hair and held my dark hands against the glass of the door…the man gasped in shock and quickly indicated that he was now open for business. He unlocked the door and quickly ushered us in, locking the door again behind us.
The man was in his fifties, had a dark moustache which twirled upwards at the ends and he had dark curly hair, was slightly overweight and looked Italian. As I sat in the salon chair I could hear him on the phone behind me telling his wife that he’d be late coming home due to a “hair emergency”.
As he mixed the hair dye, I told him of my tale. He seemed to understand and be sympathetic when I told him of Kendra Martin’s role in all of this.
He told me he first had to strip my hair of the existing colour. He put some gel into his hands and tried to work it into my scalp…I winced in pain as a tear rolled down my cheek.
“Oh, your scalp is bleeding!” he exclaimed. More tears ran down my face as he tried to comb it. “You might lose your hair!” The man didn’t really make me feel better with his ‘casual conversation’.
After finishing the stripping of my hair, he was ready to put in the hair dye that he had mixed earlier. He told me it would be a brownish-red colour.
Words can’t possibly do justice to describe the pain of the hair dye on my scalp. This was the fifth dyeing of my hair in three days.
I swear I could feel each inch of every strand as he combed it out…and every little bit of it hurt.
My hair didn’t end up falling out but I did get the worst case of dandruff in the history of hair. Skin came off of my scalp in large chunks. I wasn’t able to wash my hair for a week due to the pain.
I only ended up missing one day of work. Although when they heard my tale of woe they teased me for weeks afterwards.
As for the final colour of my hair after the five dyes…it was indeed a reddish brown, slightly darker and redder than my original hair. I intentionally kept out of sight from Kendra for two weeks, until my scalp healed and I was able to wash my hair again. When we did meet up one day on her way home from work, she stopped her bike once again in front of me and stared intently at my reddish brown hair, pondering it for a few seconds;
“I think it looked better the way it was before”.