The Nature of Whales by Kelli Perkins-Bauer


            My hair has seen every cultural flag known to man, been all over the colorful United States. Attached itself to the dust of Arizona, humidity of Florida, the foreign tongues of New York. The rawness of a Carolina barn, the stone stares of past Presidents in South Dakota, smells of iodine and seagulls from the San Francisco Bay. It’s traveled on I-80, Route 66, some highway that lands straight into Memphis, Tennessee, where the city’s rhythm made my hair blue without the help of a single chemical.

            It’s been every hue one could imagine, changing to fit the mood or place I’d become. I was an american gypsy, my hair a tender follower. It was orange when my tears were dedicated to the 80’s British music invasion, where I lived on some Air Force Base in Michigan. Then to thin strips of green when I wanted to avoid the Khaki invasion while working in retail (how I hated to look like everyone else). Like the underbelly of a black widow, it was red after I’d broken up with a boy who got me pregnant in Sacramento, when he said he had to leave to find himself in the Redwoods because he wasn’t ready to be a father.

            Afterwards, it was chopped short – real short – so chopped that people called me a dyke. This always seemed to happen after a man walked out of my life. Coloring the hair or cutting it would be a form of therapy while listening to an angry woman sing, as she dueled with her piano, our wombs would vibrate to each escalating note, hair standing on end.

            Then, if I moved, it would become wheat blonde when I wanted to fit in with any small town. Dark as Chinese lacquer when I was just me, stuck somewhere between there and the now. My hair once saw white skunk stripes that framed the face, which were later dyed crimson, or magenta, or even an azure blue, depending on what band I was seeing that night, or if I had a job interview the next day. This hair didn’t stop with colors, no, it waved its locks stick straight to curly, a proud flag that flaps in the wind. One time it was set in miniature braids, there must have been a count of at least three hundred or more. The girl who did it said she’d never seen that much hair on a white person. It was the color of the richest Merlot that a poor girl could buy.

            The curls that at one point went along with the bad bob twisted my life into a frenzy of chaos. Like the time I twirled my hair around my fingers as I vomited on the corkscrew drive of Coastal Highway 1, the whales of February saying their goodbyes when I left California for good. They sprayed the Pacific into the cool air, creating messages only I could understand. That was in 2002. I haven’t been back since. I lived there half of my life, and that’s saying a lot for someone who moved whenever a military father came home to tell the family it’s time to move again, each time wondering what hue I’d take on to get me through the loneliness. Now, whenever I get lonely, I stand in the shower, my hair full of salt, hands cupped to the ears, listening to an ocean roar. I let the water spray my face, those remains of a wave that can mist you, when you stand too close to the whales.