Remember the people you invited to your wedding, how important and relevant they were? They don’t all stay relevant and important. I think this is great news. It’s a testament to the fact that we change and grow and continue to re-access our relationships.
My sister was getting her hair colored. She does, about three times a year. But only after she has discussed the risk of hair dye chemicals seeping through her scalp into her bloodstream and killing her.
When she finally breaks down, the waves of gray too much to bear she goes to see Ahmid. Ahmid owns a salon my sister has gone to for years. Ahmid is a hair professional who boosts her ego by telling her lies. His most recent was that she required no make up to look rested.
So, Ahmid and my sister catch up at her appointments. She tells him about her boys and he flatters her. After she has paid and been sold hair products she is unlikely to use, she walks into the sunlight, years younger to the eye.
Last week while Ahmid told her lies and she waited for the hair color to poison her, my sister heard a voice from her past. She did not know from where. Just the past. The voice, a woman’s voice, demanded water, particular magazines and a certain cut that an exasperated hair professional told her required more, well, hair.
My sister searched for the woman’s name. She recognized the voice, the nasal entitlement and the scratch of impatience. But she could not recall the woman’s name.
And then, after she’d texted me to ask why her scalp was tingling, my sister remembered. The woman with the entitled lilt had been a guest at her wedding seventeen years earlier.
Ahmid had put my sister under a hair dryer to speed up the hair dye. I had assured her, via text, that the dryer was safe. I’d sent a question mark when she’d asked about the tingling — was it a good tingling, I wanted to know?
My sister did not respond once she realized that the awful demanding middle-aged woman taking over Ahmid’s salon had been at her wedding. My sister tried to crawl into the hair dryer. She kept her eyes on the wedding guest from years earlier. The wedding guest continued to demand things from the staff at the salon.
In the end my sister successfully hid from the woman. But why had she? She wasn’t responsible for the former wedding guest’s behavior. After all, the guest list was just that. A list. Not a committment to lifetime friendship and certainly not to etiquette training of any sort. My sister wasn’t responsible for the poor manners of the former wedding guest. A bowl from a gift registry does not a lifetime committment make.
But my sister felt that she should have said hello. Her husband, he would have. He would have said hello and given a big hug. He would have stepped through the soical blunders the woman was fanning the fires with. He would have told the woman she looked just the same as she had sixteen years earlier, etc.
But my sister said she had felt embarrassed.
I suggested, in my toned down therapist voice, that she’d felt some sort of embarrassment for her younger self? Maybe today she wouldn’t invite the woman. Maybe the woman had once been wonderful and had grown bitter? Maybe my sister had just gotten nicer and nicer while the former guest had gotten unhappy? Maybe the demanding woman in the hair salon was symbolic of how much my sister had grown or changed? I waited for the profundity of that last bit to create a cascade of self-awareness in my sister or at least a firm objection.
Last winter, during dark and freezing, oh-my-god-is-this-ever-going-to-end kind of week, my sister told me she was going to that place…
I said, “yeah, I know what you mean.” I became extra interested in our conversation. I thought I’d suddenly acquired a sister who talked about life in metaphors. We had been talking about self-care. We had been talking about falling off the self-care wagon. It made sense that she was calling it the place, as familiar a locale as that is to most of us.
“You have? Pete’s Coffee in Cambridge?” She’d forgotten the name of the place. It wasn’t the place I’d thought she meant.
Remembering the place conversation I knew it was unlikely I could convince her that seeing the former wedding guest and watching from beneath a dryer but not greeting her from beneath the dryer, was fine. Because we all change and sometimes the former wedding guest wouldn’t be a current one.