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A photo came up in my memories today from past life. A blur of buried memories. Eleven years ago I bleached my hair blonde.
Not because I liked being blonde.
Definitely not because I looked better as a blonde. ??♀️
I bleached my hair because I had gradually come to accept that brunette wasn’t good enough. In a thousand small ways I’d been informed over and over again that he had a fetish for blondes. His high school girlfriend had looooong snowy blonde hair. There was that early college photo he posted in his dorm room from Hollywood, with Marilyn Monroe’s star on the famous sidewalk. Every girlfriend before me had been blonde.
He preferred blondes, and my hair was dark as night.
I couldn’t have explained why our relationship felt off balance much of the time…
Why our marriage was so topsyturvy…
Why I walked on eggshells for years…
Why, after my whole life sleeping like a rock, I now suffered chronic insomnia…
Why I now battled unexplained autoimmune issues, recurring infections, anaphylactic reactions…
I couldn’t have explained the link between the complex PTSD of living in an emotional war zone, and experiencing senseless health issues nobody could figure out.
I just knew we hadn’t ever really been okay.
I knew he “struggled” with addictions.
I knew he wanted other women.
I knew he had explicit sexual fantasies about my attractive girlfriends.
I knew this, because he told me to my face.
But I didn’t know the words for it yet.
I’d never heard of gaslighting, narcissism, psychological abuse, betrayal trauma… I didn’t know there were actual terms for my day to day reality. So the problem had to be with me, right?
I just knew I wasn’t enough.
Not beautiful enough to keep him faithful.
Not vapid enough to avoid intimidating him.
Not submissive enough to let him do all my thinking for me.
Not creative enough.
Not average enough.
Not goofy or spontaneous or fun enough.
And certainly not blonde enough.
So I decided to bleach my hair.
Maybe that would make me enough.
Maybe that would keep his attention.
Maybe then I could compete with the women on the screen that absorbed his focus and satisfied his longings.
I did it while he was gone on a trip.
I didn’t realize how hard it was to turn black hair blonde. Or that it might go orange instead. Or that I needed to bleach it multiple times.
I learned quickly.
By the time it was done, my scalp oozed with a hundred open blisters from repeated harsh chemicals.
It would be worth it.
I would be an ideal woman now.
The night he was coming home, I planned to surprise him. I hot-rolled my newly platinum tresses, put on a pretty dress, and donned an apron. When he drove up, I was standing at the sink and dinner was ready.
I looked like a Stepford Wife.
A domestic doll.
He walked in, took one glance and shouted…
“I HATE IT!”
…turned on his heel and walked back outside.
I was crushed.
My scalp thudded in the burning open sores as blood rushed to my face. Bursting into sobs, I ran to the bedroom. I blistered my head for you, I hiccuped to myself as the tears dropped off my chin.
Nothing was good enough.
The problem was clearly me, after all.
Not even transforming myself into his perfect ideal would make him kind.
The women on his computer screen win again.
Crack by crack, my heart shattered over the years until I grew used to living in pieces.
Living dead inside.
You’d never have guessed if you saw me.
Not unless you looked closely at how my smile didn’t reach all the way to my eyes.
Not unless you listened for the traces of cynicism in my words.
Not unless you took notice that I always, always looked as close to perfect as possible.
Not unless you realized that attempts at perfection are a symptom of life where flaws are not acceptable.
But if you just glanced at me on the surface, you wouldn’t have known.
You’d have seen me smile.
You’d have watched me hug my babies.
You’d have wondered how I always managed to stay so very busy.
Years later, at the very end, a counselor asked him how he thought I felt — now that I’d learned the facts about his forays in the sex trade.
He replied that it was obvious I felt like I wasn’t valuable as a woman. Something welled up inside me, as I realized that his conclusion wasn’t accurate at all. The counselor asked me what I thought.
“It’s not true!” I sat straighter in my seat. “I am good enough — just not enough for YOU! I am pretty — just not attractive to YOU! Because you have chosen to fill your mind with sludge and feast on the filth of exploitation and assault as self-gratification.”
He looked shocked.
I didn’t usually speak to him boldly like that.
“I spent more than a decade chasing your ideal, trying to turn every aspect of myself into the mythical woman you seemed to want, but in reality — you were never going to be faithful or true. The problem is not that I’m not good enough… it’s that you don’t want what you already had.”
I shrank back into my seat. I wasn’t sure what to say next. I cringed, watching his face turn stony blank as his muscles tensed in anger at my blunt statements. There would be hell to pay for this moment of honesty.
But I was done.
Done being erased.
Done trying to pretend.
Done covering up to keep the peace.
I was done.
And I knew one other thing for sure….
I would never bleach my hair blonde again.
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