I am squidless.
For the first time in 14 years, I do not have dreadlocks of any kind--not long ones or short
ones, not extensions or my own hair. All of my hair is mine and I can run my fingers through it unimpeded. My hairdresser, who combed out her own mess of magenta dreadlocks last year, has cut it into a severely angled bob, which I've dyed red at the roots and black at the ends. It is strange to look at myself in the mirror. My head looks tiny compared to the rest of my body. I am able to wear hats, and not just tiny jaunty hats that perch atop my head, but cloches and big floppy sunhats. And there are things I cannot do. My hair is slippery and fine and I can't stick dozens of great big fake flowers into it. My fancy fascinators seem absurdly large now. I must confine myself to wearing one thing in my hair at any given time instead of piling all of them on top of one another.
I have had a series of bad hair days. There's not much that can be done to avoid it when you've backcombed your hair into a tangle for more than a decade. For weeks, my hair was frizzy and dull. And when it started to behave like hair again, it was not the hair that I remembered. It was slippery and thin, a common side effect of a recently-treated medical condition. It fell flat against my scalp and when I tried to add styling products, it just looked greasy and messy. I took deep breaths and sought Zen-like calm. It will grow back. it will grow back. It will grow back. If you really hate it, you can have a whole head of dreadlock extensions again.
I must have looked miserable. My magenta-haired hairdresser looked me up and down as I walked into her salon for my first real trim and said, "Oh honey. I see I'm going to have to teach you about hair products."
It turns out that having had dreadlocks for nearly my entire adult life means that I have only the vaguest idea of what hair products are. I have slowly absorbed knowledge about makeup (primer and powder and moisturizer and don't overpluck your eyebrows) and health (exercise and drink water and 5HTP and L-theanine and more vitamin D than you can possibly think might be necessary) and the proper care and fit of clothes (tailor your hems and sleeves; store your woolens and silks properly or they will be eaten by moths; for heaven's sake, find a dry cleaner that you trust), but my understanding of hair maintenance has been limited to "dunk it in black hair dye every 6 weeks and stick porcupine quills in it until it stops squirming."
I don't know anything about hair styling. I have never known anything about hair styling. These goops and waxes and cremes and sprays are completely unfamiliar to me. Oh god. If I don't know anything about hair styling, what other essential femme lore am I missing? What don't I know? Why hasn't anyone told me?
It turns out that the shampoo and conditioner you use matter. This is probably obvious to most of you, but for the last decade and change, washing my hair has been something that happens once every few weeks and must be planned well in advance because it must be left down for the entire day or it will not dry. No one wants mildewed dreadlocks. Now I must wash my hair every couple of days, which means I must find gentle shampoo that will not wash my dye right out. I buy shampoo that promises to repair hair that's "dry" and "fine" and "damaged." I leave in conditioner and let it soak for a while. The label.m conditioner says it's "honey and oats," but it smells like cake. People walk up to me on the street and tell me I smell delicious. This is occasionally awkward.
And here, according to my magenta-haired hairdresser, is where I would make my fatal mistake. Having blithely washed my hair and rubbed it dry with a towel, I'd throw in styling creme or (if my hair was being particularly flat and dull) styling wax, and go about my day. It turns out that while my hair is still wet, I need hair primer. Bumble & Bumble makes some, as does Pureology. Primer gets worked into my wet hair, de-frizzes it and protects it against heat, which I am going to need because in a moment I am going to get out the blow dryer, an item which I haven't used since college. Now (and if you're keeping track, I am on my 4th hair product here), I work a little bit of mousse into the roots of my hair, bend over and dry it all out with a round brush. The mousse, like many other hair products, is heat-activated, so it works better in combination with the blow dryer.
You think I might be done by now, don't you? No. Now that my hair is dry, I add "dryspun finish" spray, in short bursts about 10 inches away from my head so that the product doesn't clump in my hair. Now, if I wanted to completely follow my hair-stylist's advice, I would deploy a finishing creme or spray, to protect my ends and return all of the shine to my hair that I've just dulled out with with volume-building products.
All of this drama takes an extra twenty minutes out of my morning. I imagine that it will get faster over time, in the same way that it now takes me approximately five minutes to do my makeup before I leave the house. It seems like a lot of trouble to go through, but my post-headsquid hair does look fabulous.