The warm air of the high pitched hairdryer whirs through my hair. I bend over, staring at the drab blue carpet, while tousling the underside of my damp hair with my right hand and waving in circles the hairdryer on the nape of my neck with my left hand. It is an automatic, perpetual routine I practice every morning without thought. Flipping my head back up, I grab a brush to pull the hair from my scalp to form a subtle curl in my hair. As the grate on the shaft of the hairdryer comes in contact with the roll of my hair on the brush, it overheats, burns out and abruptly stops. Exasperated with only a half done hairstyle, I grumble at my morning routine being interrupted.
My mind wanders to reflect on how my morning hairstyle ritual is one I have repeated every morning for over 30 years in different settings, on different hairstyles, and through different chapters in my life from childhood to middle age. Every day the same face appears before me in the mirror, ostensibly unchanged from the day before. I’m always so preoccupied with efficiently getting made up before the big rush out the door. I have not ever given pause to this part of my day and how in these ordinary, mechanical moments, I have actually unconsciously witnessed over the years my own physical transformation.
The intersection of the reflection of my own transformation with the thought of my present predicament of a burnt out hairdryer, pulls to the forefront of my mind memories of my Aunt BJ. Although she departed from her journey in this world ten months before, memories of her still captivate me. She doesn’t come to me in my dreams, although I’ve been blessed before with visits by my late grandparents in that realm. Rather, in recent months, I intensely ached from her absence during a fleeting personal and private crisis. Even before her passing, during the slow decline of her brilliant mind to Alzheimer’s, I tried to channel and emulate her, finding solace in intellectual pursuits and pouring over the latest editions of the Harvard Business Review, from which she use to clip occasional articles for me and my cousins.
That morning, the defunct hairdryer recalled memories of Aunt BJ’s own methodical morning hairstyling routine. A longstanding joke in our family is Aunt BJ’s hours in the bathroom getting ready for a day or evening in which she would need to present herself. Fifteen years ago, I finally got to experience firsthand her careful and meticulous morning hairstyle ritual in the bathroom, when I shared a hotel suite with her and her sister, my Aunt Martha. Rising early, to secure her time block in the bathroom, I groggily dozed in and out of early morning slumber to the muffled sound of the shower in the adjacent bathroom. Following her shower, I imagined Aunt BJ settled into the thick, fluffy terrycloth bathrobe provided in the bathroom suite. Various lotions and potions might have been slathered. And then finally…it was time…. for Aunt BJ… to style her hair. I could hear the chord of the hairdryer being unwound and plugged into the wall socket. A wooden handled hairbrush was picked up from the bathroom counter and then the hairdryer whirred to life for ten seconds. Then the hairdryer was abruptly silenced, placed on the counter, and a new tuft of hair was curled around the brush. The hairdryer was scooped up again, and whirred back to life. This cycle repeated itself for probably 15 minutes, until Aunt BJ deemed her hair to have the perfect body and desired texture. I finally forced myself awake and sat up in bed to see Aunt BJ emerge from the bathroom looking vibrant, immaculate, and delighted from her personal pampering.
Back to the present but still in an Aunt BJ trance, I wander over to my closet to pull from the back corner of the top shelf two faded and well-cared-for Coach purses. Purses from the fine collection of Aunt BJ, which I have now inherited. One tan, one faded black. I hold the purses up to view, admiring their fine craftsmanship and the meticulous sewn seams. I imagine Aunt BJ proudly buying these heirloom purses as a younger woman, spending her own self-earned money. The purses symbolize to me a woman ahead of her time, unafraid to pursue her own path in life, quietly breaking through glass ceilings and unabashedly enjoying the finer things in life. The moment clarifies what I’ve known all along- she is my role model, even if I might not follow exactly in her footsteps. Aunt BJ would support me in my pursuing my own dreams and path in life.
As I stare entrancingly at the Coach purses, the defunct hairdryer on my dresser suddenly purrs back to life. I laugh out loud. I know that Aunt BJ has somehow just been channeled by me and she is signaling back.
Most people including my rational self would think that my visit from Aunt BJ was just a coincidental alignment of events or perhaps my own mind hallucinating. That seems to be the logical and true explanation for it. But I believe my moment, no matter how it came to be, was truly a gift and will allow Aunt BJ’s legacy to live on with me.