Yesterday was the day before the last day of ninth grade, and I had done the incredible. I’d said yes when my daughter asked if she could color her hair darker, a color she said she’d been envisioning since sixth grade but never asked because I would say no. She’s right: I would have said no.
But by the end of a school year gravity lightens, a no can levitate to a yes, and the whys become why nots. Her new hair was dark, and I was wordless at the reveal, gnawing on my tongue, counting future shampoos before the fade, but she was empowered.
You might remember a little something about Violet Parr from The Incredibles, a teenager stuck at the crossroads between a girl and a woman. She wants to be normal. She wants to belong and blend in, so she hides behind a curtain of raven locks.
“There’s a lot of blue hair,” my daughter said at the beginning of her freshman year at the arts school, when I asked what it was like. And then to revive me, “You don’t have to worry.” Another day with a sigh, “I can say this much: there definitely isn’t a dress code.” She was wearing the awkward weight of her normalcy. She wondered aloud whether arts school was the right place for her and started looking for new schools, fretting over applications and admission deadlines, aiming for an old-fashioned, ivy-covered place with a dress code and uniforms where she could look and be like everyone else. Invisible.
“You don’t like it?” she asked to my frozen face on the ride home from the hairdresser’s.
“I have a picture to show you,” I said when the words came out.
It was the fall of 1998, and we were on vacation in New England: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. We were too late for the turning leaves, but something drew us there in those still-childless but trying-to-get-pregnant days, the urgency of an impending change, the sense that time was running out, the want of magic.
When you’re 42 and trying to get pregnant, it doesn’t seem impossible, not at first. But then it doesn’t work, and nothing works, and you don’t want to do that thing where you end up with eight babies, and so you go to Boston looking for a sign. And there it was on page 34 of the October 1998 issue of Boston Magazine, a picture of a girl who looked like it might be her one day. You tear it out of the magazine and keep it for 17 years.
The incredible really did happen this year: she got into a dreamy new school, a century-old institution with plaid skirts and ivy walls. We straightaway bought the uniforms, she eased herself into a comfortable identity, and we waited out the last two months of this semester. The transition would be complete when the new school started in September.
In April the first-year theatre students staged their debut. At the arts school, they make the freshmen wait nearly a year to perform, learning classical technique to discipline their fear and self-centeredness. Trained actors take themselves behind a dark curtain and come alive in a brilliant new world where absolutely anything is possible. She disappeared into the stage that night, remembering who she is, what she does, why she came, and two days later told us she would have to stay where she already was, foregoing the school transfer. “I cannot leave a place where there is this much love.”
Violet’s superpowers allow her to turn instantly invisible, creating anti-gravitational force fields within which she levitates heavy objects including herself.
I looked in every dusty, old, half-filled, falling-apart journal I still have. The picture wasn’t where I thought, but it was exactly where I remembered.
“Is that you?” she asked when I showed her.
“No, it’s you.”