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Anxiety in the Grass

When you have four daughters, sometimes you need something other than words to get your point across.

It is rumored (probably only by historians) that Harvard Professor Charles Follen was possibly the first person to bring the German tradition of putting lit candles on a Christmas tree to America. I have only ever seen this display of questionable decision making in the movies, in which I’m sure a film crew member was standing close by with a fire extinguisher. No doubt, it was that person’s only job that day: Just stand here and wait for it. The imminent collapse of one of those stupid candles is bound to set this tree ablaze, and then it’s my time to shine. I’m certain someone somewhere was paid for this and has it on their resume. But who was there when professor Follen began tying lit candles to the dehydrated tree in his living room? And did this act instill a fear of accidental fires that would be passed from generation to generation?

I don’t hate fire–in fact I find it fascinating. When I was young I would sit on the brick hearth at my grandma’s house during the commercial breaks of T.G.I.F. I would watch the flames change from blue to white to yellow to blood orange, and then I’d scootch back to my chair once Boy Meets World came back to the screen. It was the perfect amount of time to absorb the heat before being drawn back to Cory and Topanga’s seemingly perfect teenage romance. But the blending colors and heat was really where the enjoyment ended. I never lit things on fire for the hell of it or attempted arson. I enjoy being able to cook on the wood stove and its impeccable ability to heat our basement in the winter, but that’s it. Truly, I have been programmed to fear the potential disaster a fire can cause by my father, among other things: driving in inclement weather, skiing, teacher’s unions. I asked him recently why fire made him nervous, but he couldn’t come up with any specific reason. I imagine my grandma left a candle lit and unattended during his childhood which most likely caused some kind of panic in the household. And I assume this incident put into motion the wheel that would eventually drive onto our front lawn and leave evidence of a very stressed out man with four daughters.

Growing up, our household went through various hair care products: everything from butterfly clips to scrunchies to hairspray that if applied generously enough, would leave a crunching effect that only three separate shampooings could eliminate. Then there were the appliances: Hair straighteners, a box set of hot curlers, and of course curling irons. To this day, I still can’t curl my hair without becoming so frustrated that I want to chuck it out the window. Sadly, my biggest goal in life (along with becoming a published author and having my own HBO comedy special) is to have enough money to hire a live-in hair stylist. I’m not kidding. When I finally get around to making that vision board it’s going to include a chique man with a pretentious haircut, surrounded by Moroccanoil products.

I have very thick hair–I always have, and many have told me that I am lucky. Of course the grass is always greener somewhere else, as I view my hair as wavy (but always in a direction I don’t want it to go) and so heavy that even the heat from one of the above-mentioned appliances can’t tackle it’s unique personality. My hair is like a sullen, temperamental teenager–if it wakes up in a bad mood, just cover it with a hat and hope no one comments on its joyless demeanor. But sometimes a girl just wants to express herself in a dramatic fashion, and by that I mean doing something slightly different with her hair.

I was a jock in high school–I wore sweatpants most days to give the impression that I just didn’t care, and then I would shock my peers when I showed up to Geometry class in a skirt with a new do. On one such morning, I decided to wake up a little earlier and give myself enough time to style my hair. I used one of those curling irons that automatically shuts off if it’s not being used for 60 seconds. I’m surprised it didn’t automatically shut off more often as 60 seconds was not even long enough for me to recover from one of my tantrums from not being able to reach the hair in the back without somehow burning my fingers. But I achieved my goal and left the house, probably with some straight pieces of hair along with, I’m sure, some sharp creases where I kept the heat on for too long. Regardless of what was literally going on in the back of my head, I felt confident and beautiful. I had changed my look and even though it was just for the day, people were going to notice. By the end of the day, my curls had given up as my hair began to take on its original form: straight. It took me 20 years, but I know now that hairspray should only be applied generously if someone is having their wedding photos taken in the Columbia River Gorge.

I pulled into the driveway, parked my car, and began my trek to the front door when something shiny caught my attention. It was in the grass about 20 feet from the front door. I walked closer to examine the foreign object only to discover that it was not so foreign. It was my curling iron. I am embarrassed to share how long this situation remained a conundrum. Did I carry it outside and drop it without realizing? Did I intend to take it to school and then caved on my decision halfway to my car? How the hell did this end up in the yard? Then it hit me. Who is the one person in this house who doesn’t understand the functions of this curling iron? It’s the only person who doesn’t have enough hair to curl. The only one who cuts their own hair in the kitchen in their underwear. That’s who. My father. Apparently I forgot to mention that the curling iron could remain plugged in and not pose a threat because it was going to turn off on its own. If I had mentioned this to my dad, I’m sure he would have completely understood and we would have had a good laugh over a couple of Dilly bars. Just kidding–he probably would have thrown it in the trash. Instead, he waited until there were no witnesses and chucked it out the front door. He’s always been this way–with candles, stove tops, fireplaces. A potential, unintended fire might give him more anxiety than anything, and if I had any doubts about this before, they were certainly gone after witnessing my Conair Instant Heat Curling Wand lying defenseless next to a plumb tree.

I recently asked my dad about this incident and he claimed to have no recollection of such an event. But I explained, “Oh, it happened.” He laughed. I currently live with my parents and after leaving the house for work one day, it hit me that I possibly left my hair straightener plugged in. I’m pretty sure I didn’t, but to keep my mind from letting me believe I burned my parents house down, killing everyone inside, I made a quick phone call home. “Dad, will you please go look in my room to make sure I unplugged my hair straightener? I’m pretty sure I did, but I want to double check.”

“Well, if it isn’t, I’ll just throw it in the yard.”

“Thanks, Dad.”


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