For Marie

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“’Ello there. Eet ees so nice to meet you.”

Her English was fluent, but the unmistakable French accent elegantly, musically rolled from her tongue. It filled me with immense joy, not merely at the prospect of having the opportunity to practice my pathetic, near non-existent French, but also because it prompted me to immediately – and mistakenly – assume that she, like me, also hailed from the Mother Continent.  

D'où est-ce que tu viens?” I asked, just to be sure.

Her eyes widened with delighted surprise. “Tu parles français!”                                                      

“Non, non! Je ne parle pas français. I’m South African!”I quickly explained, before she even had the opportunity to enthusiastically launch into rapid-fire, French-as-a-first-language dialogue. She seemed highly amused when I told her that I could not speak her language in her language. “I can only say a few phrases. I’ve always adored the language though and would love to speak it fluently one day.” Suddenly embarrassed, I deflected the subject back to her. “So tell me, where are you from?”

The answer she gave me that day now haunts me. Over the past few weeks, thoughts of her and her family have dominated my mind. But on that particular day, more than a decade ago, it was just one of the many thrilling aspects about her.

 

“Enchantée! Je viens d’Haiti. I am from Haiti,” she said and warmly clasped my hands in hers.

As with most of the best people and experiences I’ve ever known, Marie had entered my life entirely by chance.

I’m still not quite sure what it was that had compelled me to choose that particular place. For one, it was part of a chain with an inconsistent reputation. But after a few frustrating and downright near-disastrous encounters at other, carefully selected and often highly recommended establishments, one could probably say that I was bordering on desperation. And desperation? That is never a good state to be in, but especially not when making potentially appearance-altering decisions.

But one day I looked up the number in the phone book and made the call. Since I had never been there before, I obviously did not know who to make my appointment with. “Well, Marie has an opening,” I was told by the voice on the phone.

And that’s how the lovely and sweet Haitian woman became my hairdresser for about eight of the more than nine years that I lived in the United States.

Before meeting her, my knowledge of her home island had been embarrassingly scant. Yes, I at least knew where to locate it on a map. I also knew the name of the capital, Port-au-Prince. I knew that Haitians speak Creole and that they are generally poverty-stricken – to put it mildly. Hearing the name “Haiti” immediately conjured up all the stereo-typical associations about Voodoo and Black Magic. I was vaguely aware of a volatile political history, a succession of violent coups d’état leading to a revolving-door of dictators – each trying his best to outdo his predecessors by practicing an even bloodier reign of terror. 

I admitted my ignorance to her and always nagged her to tell me more about her homeland. She graciously obliged. While she performed her incredible artistry and magic on my hair (I secretly referred to it as my “Voodoo Hairdo” – yes, alas, I have always been extremely lame), she patiently answered my endless barrage of questions. I learned that she was married and that, although her husband and children were all in the States as well, all of her immediate and extended family still lived in Haiti.

Apart from being an amazingly talented stylist (seriously, she’s one of the very few hairdressers in the world with the ability to whip my thick, stubborn mane into sleek and shiny submission), she was always incredibly kind and sweet to me. As someone who had also been through the arduous and soul-destroying process of having to deal with U.S. immigration, she understood the hell that I was going through in my quest to obtain a Green Card. With her own family still back in Haiti, she knew exactly how torn between two worlds I was. She knew how I pined for my family. As the years went by, she was one of the first people to notice the depression that was slowly pulling me under. She would say: “I know how much you want this. Although I do not want you to give up, I think sometimes you have to let go for your own health and sanity.”

Yes, like all the best hairdressers and bartenders in the world, she’s a gifted lay psychologist. At each of our meetings, she patiently and attentively listened to my incessant chattering and even pretended to laugh at my lame jokes. Sometimes she even tried to rescue me from myself in ways that had nothing to do with my hair.

One day I arrived at the salon for my regular appointment with her. She was running a bit late, so after greeting me with her usual, cheerful: “Bonjour, Red!”, I took a seat in the waiting area and spoke to the new receptionist. The girl was utterly gorgeous: all elongated limbs; long, lustrous hair; full lips and sculpted cheekbones. I kept on fawning over her, telling her – no, INSISTING – that she should be a model. (Not embarrassing the poor girl at all, of course!)

When Marie came to greet me, I was still at it, predicting the girl’s future as a super model. So naturally I dragged Marie into the conversation as well. “Marie, tell this lovely girl that she should definitely be a model! Don’t you think so too? She’s seriously stunning…” I was still going on and on about it in full ear-shot of the entire salon as I followed Marie to the chair.

Marie simply smiled and nodded. “How would you like me to cut your hair today?” she asked, and as she leaned towards her station to pick up a brush, she whispered in my ear: “Red. That girl? Ees actually a MAN!” When she glimpsed my shocked face in the mirror, she grinned. Throughout the rest of my appointment that day, I kept on shaking my head in disbelief and muttering: “Naaah. It CAN’T be. REALLY?” All the other stylists laughed at me for months afterwards. “Hey, Red! How are you? Is your life still a drag?”

At least once a year, Marie took time off to go and visit her family in Haiti. Instead of going to another stylist, I would patiently wait for her to return – even if it meant that I ended up looking like a cross between Rapunzel and Cousin Itt from the Addams Family.

The sad thing is, when I finally did let go of my American Dream (although, for the ‘sake of full disclosure, it would be more accurate to say that my hand was forced and that my fingers were pried loose by someone else), things happened so fast, I never even had the chance to go and say goodbye to her and get her snail mail or e-mail address in order to stay in touch. It is something that I will forever regret.

She’s been in my thoughts often over the years. When news of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti on 12 January spread around the globe, my thoughts immediately turned to her. I have been frantically worried about her, wondering whether she has lost any friends or relatives in the quake. It has also occurred to me that she may even have been there herself when it happened… I sincerely hope not.

I’ve tried to find her online in order to make contact again, to let her know that I’m thinking about her and to find out if she’s okay; but searches of her name have only revealed the name of the salon (no e-mail address) and numerous glowing reviews praising her skill as a stylist. I’ve finally asked a friend who still lives in the area to please phone the salon and give Marie a message from me. I know it probably seems a bit strange (is it?) but what else am I to do in order to reach out to her?

As of yet, I have received no news. I don’t think my friend has made the call yet. Was it a bit too much to ask? 

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9 Comments

TerraShield said:

No it is not (imho). I suppose your thoughts just went to her in hearing that something so tragic has happened. I know I would like to know if she was fine too if I were in your place.

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Thanks Terra. I've decided that, should my friend NOT call, then I'll just resort to snail mail and write to her in care of the salon. Do you think she'll appreciate the sentiment? There's a distinct possibility that she might not even remember me. I mean, even though I was her client for almost 8 years, she had MANY clients. Also, I have not seen her in more than 4 years. I'm sure it will jog her memory if I describe myself as 'that outlawed alien redheaded freak who STILL can't believe that the drag queen receptionist wasn't a real chick'. Seriously, I'm truly not over that yet...

How are you feeling? Better yet? Have the frogs croaked yet? (And in this case, I mean croak in the "dead" sense of the word!)

TerraShield said:

I'm quite sure she will appreciate the gesture... and I suppose she'll definitely remember you if you mention the receptionist story. LOL.

I'm still coughing terribly. It's a good thing there's a festival (which translates to holidays) over the weekend plus a couple of days off for me to recover - hopefully for good. Everyone at work is sick, so when one person recovers, they fall sick all over again. It's insane!

Check out this great band from S.A.

Res said:

I am very curious to get an update on this one - have you heard good news from Marie?

I was in your neck of the woods last month, but sadly only for a couple days. Next time, I promise to check in - ditto if you're ever in France, stop by for coffee!

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Hey Res! It's so lovely to hear from you again! Oh my word! I can't believe you were here and didn't get in touch! (Don't worry, you are forgiven. I'm holding you to the promise of next time though, okay?)

I've actually sent Marie a good, old-fashioned postcard in care of the salon. It was only recent, so it will probably be a while before I hear anything back. I promise I'll keep you posted! And by a weird coincidence, the sweet woman who was a housekeeper for the same family whom I had worked for as an Au Pair in D.C. was from Chile...

Martin said:

Lol...great article!!

www.beaut.co.za

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Thanks, Martin! I have more hairy hair salon and general beauty parlour tales if you are interested!

Marco said:

Why don't you just look the salon up on the internet and call them? Or, they may just have a website and an email address...

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about
is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
Or you can stalk her send her some love via e-mail at: redsaid[AT]gmail[DOT]com

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comments
  • Marco : Why don't you just look the salon up on the internet and call them? Or, they may just have a website... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Thanks, Martin! I have more hairy hair salon and general beauty parlour tales if you are interested!... [go]
  • Martin : Lol...great article!! www.beaut.co.za... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Hey Res! It's so lovely to hear from you again! Oh my word! I can't believe you were here and didn't... [go]
  • Res : I am very curious to get an update on this one - have you heard good news from Marie? I was in your... [go]
  • Civil Twilight : Check out this great band from S.A.... [go]
  • TerraShield : I'm quite sure she will appreciate the gesture... and I suppose she'll definitely remember you if yo... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Thanks Terra. I've decided that, should my friend NOT call, then I'll just resort to snail mail and ... [go]
  • TerraShield : No it is not (imho). I suppose your thoughts just went to her in hearing that something so tragic ha... [go]
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