After twenty one years of living life pretty much by the book, doing what everyone expected and keeping those things unexpected secret, I let go. I let go for all to see. I’m sure many thought I was losing it, perhaps I was, but we all need to lose it at some stage. As Charles Bukowski said, “Some people never go crazy, What truly horrible lives they must live.”
Most of my life I had this mane of curly brown hair that people would stop me in the street, the shop, the gym, anywhere, to compliment. Everyone loves a compliment but flattery has its pitfalls. If I ever tied my hair back or up or straightened it, to try something new, people would comment, “Why don’t let your lovely hair down for all to see, it looks so much prettier that way… blah blah blah.” So I always kept it the same style, afraid to do want I actually wanted to.
My hair defined me. It was my barrier to delving into myself to find the real me. One day, after a rather stressed out downward spiral of a month, I quit my dream job and decided to chop the hair off. I remember standing before the mirror in the living room with scissors in hand. I felt nothing. I could have shaved it all off and not missed it. It was time. I snipped until my once bum-long mane was shoulder length. And I wore it straight.
It was a damn fine job, if I say so myself. While it took a while to grow on people, in the end they loved it. But it wasn’t about what people thought any more. I was spreading my wings. While to others I seemed out of control, I was very much aware of everything I was doing and why. So I cut it some more after a few weeks and then some more, until just a boyish pixie cut was left. This had been my goal. It was Audrey Tautou’s picture I held up next to me while I hacked away.
Perhaps I went too far when I took a disposable razor and shaved part of the left side… My mom cried and I hid under a beanie for weeks while it grew back. Luckily, this look was trendy at the time and people all around Cape Town, I realised, were doing it – some even tattooing scissors onto the bare skin as a real “fuck you” to society. I stopped there (with the hair at least) and now I can’t wait to have my curly mane back again. But this time, I’ll do what the hell I want with it.
The rebellion didn’t halt there. I moved on to ink my arm. On my right forearm is a tattoo reading “too rare to die” – from my favourite Hunter S Thompson quote: “There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” I played around with the idea of a tattoo for a few days prior, mentioned it to some people, but no one took me seriously.
So one day I drove out to Canal Walk and walked into Wildfire Tattoo Parlour. I handed the guy at the counter a piece of paper with the words in the font I wanted. He ushered me into his studio right then and there. There was no going back and I had no intention to. This was a big feat for someone who couldn’t handle earrings because it was too painful (I now have a nose ring). I did feel faint and clammy but the artist handed me a Coke and lollipop and I was good to go. I love my beautiful tattoo now and see it as a true sign of my identity.
Having quit my dream job, I then left to travel, with no idea where I would get an income from or what would happen next. For the first time in my life, was doing what I wanted to, sticking it to responsibility. The travelling part didn’t quite turn out so well, but if we don’t try, we’ll never know.
I remember when I was 17, starting university. I had this intense urge to break out, to throw away everything and go into the wild or completely lose myself in another world. I wanted to, but I didn’t because I was so worried about what others, namely my parents and grandparents, thought. University sounded like the right thing to do. Then getting an office job. Then husband, kids, white picket fence… True enough, they thought I was mad.
But now that I’ve stepped out of that box, years later I don’t worry so much about others anymore. It’s a lot easier to be myself now and I’m still experimenting and learning. I feel free. I have realised that my loved ones will always accept me as I am and that many people want to let go too, they’re just waiting for someone else to start the ball rolling. I used to think the rebels at my school and in life were losers, headed down a one way street into the wrong side of town, but now I celebrate them. How brave they are!