There was a time in my life when I wore a ribbon in my hair every single day. I believe I had about 30 ribbons of different colors.
This habit began shortly after I left home when I was seventeen. I took a job in Teton National Park. Naturally, because it was a resort in the middle of nowhere, employees lived in onsite dorms which came with a meal ticket attached. Our room and board were deducted from our monthly pay which meant we ended up making next to nothing, but when one has no other bills or obligations, and has just escaped from what felt like a living hell, the resulting independence and freedom is well worth the tiny monthly stipend remaining after one's meals (which I rarely ate) and room are subtracted from the paycheck.
The dorm arrangement in which I lived amounted to a huge warehouse-like basement with cement floors and sort-of walls creating the illusion of rooms, which went up about seven feet and then stopped. Some of the "rooms" had two bunk beds, some had rows of twelve or more. There were no doors and we could kneel on the top bunks and peek over at the occupants of the other rooms for chitchat whenever we wished. Viewed from above, I'm certain it looked like a crazy maze filled with walls papered with movie posters and pictures of home, and girls in various states of undress running about the passageways during the day, and sleeping or whispering at night. I loved it.
A couple of days after I had arrived, I was in the community bathroom trying to tame the curls I was blessed with--and I was frustrated. I heard my mother's voice saying unkind things about my unruly hair as she walked about without one strand of her own out of place. I wondered why none of my sisters had hair like mine. And then a perfectly beautiful stranger appeared beside me. She watched for a moment as I struggled with my hair, then said, "You have the most gorgeous curls. I would die for hair like that."
I paused and looked at her. She was probably 21 years old. She was tall and blonde and blue-eyed. There were tiny, light-colored freckles on her perfectly straight nose. I thought about falling in love with her, then decided that would be a very bad idea. Being in love with a straight girl for an entire summer did not sound fun at all.
I said, "I hate it. Everyone in my family has straight hair. It goes exactly where they want it to. Mine's like a pile of snakes."
She laughed, "Have you noticed the color? You have dark brown with streaks of lighter brown and red. Mine's just plain blond and it's always straight."
I sighed, "I don't know what to do with it. I have to be at work in 30 minutes."
She told me her name and asked if I'd let her help me, adding that she'd been wanting to play with my hair since she saw me check in a few days before. I shrugged and told her to have fun.
My new friend wet down the hair that had become a mane. She introduced me to hair products which encourage curl, not frizz, gently detangled the curls, then produced a thin red ribbon which she used as a headband, and tied a small bow on the side of my head. While she messed with my hair, she told me she was going to be a beautician, how she planned to go to some beauty school in the fall because she had received her associate degree, but didn't want to go to a university. She told me about her family and said I reminded her of her little sister, whom she missed a great deal.
Then she turned me toward the mirror and said, "See--you look so pretty!"
I don't know if I did or not. I took her word for it. I floated around all day, just being pretty because she said I was. That night I returned her ribbon to her. She took it from me and told me to follow her. We went to her room where she opened a box on her dresser, pulled out five more ribbons of different colors and handed them to me, instructing me to keep using them.
And I did. For a long time I used those ribbons, added some of my own, and remembered each time I tied the bow that a very beautiful young woman had once told me I was pretty.
Today I use a flat iron to tame my curls and I don't use a hair ribbon anymore. But I have one in my top drawer beneath my folded socks. It's red and not very new--a gift from a stranger I will not forget.