I grew up in a home with scientists, so when a parent would ask me to run and get a container of Cool Whip out of the chest freezer, finding the right tub would usually take three or four tries. I might find owl pellets, a garter snake, a cow eyeball, or a paper wasp’s nest before I found the whipped topping.
When I was in first grade, my parents agreed to raise Madagascar hissing cockroaches for the Columbus Zoo. Yeah. These are those cockroaches from Indiana Jones—those wicked-looking three or four inchers. If you’d walk down in the basement and flip on the lights, a communal metallic hiss would rise up like steam from Dante’s hell.
Nothing scientific was ever so gross, so scary, so dangerous that my mom didn’t say, “Let’s explore that.” When huge, black snakes would hang off the trees in our back yard at dusk, Mom thought they were “interesting.”
When they stopped twitching, we ate them.Rebecca Reynolds
She caught a snapping turtle once while fishing, and her first response was, “Let’s eat it!” After we figured out how to get the meat out of that thing (which wasn’t easy), we stood around a five gallon bucket of iced salt water and marveled that the chunks of turtle were still twitching three days later. They twitched again when Mom put them in the skillet. When they stopped twitching, we ate them.
My dad once bought Mom a mushroom farm for her birthday. This was essentially a huge, cardboard box full of horse poop with spores in it. She squealed with delight. When Dad was traveling and Mom decided that we needed to cut the heads off some chickens, she nailed two drivers into a log to make a “V,” then she made me hold the hen bodies while she got the axe. When she raised bees, she taught me how to use the smoker. When we neutered the sheep, I held the blue plastic gun. What I’m telling you is that I grew up in a house in which there was no “Option Disengage Because of Factor Gross.” We were taught that the world was fascinating, and that we were here to master it. Girls and boys alike were encouraged to live with gusto.
The magazines in our bathroom were National Geographic or Popular Science. Maybe some seed catalogues. My only exception to this was Victoria Magazine, a beautiful women’s journal that will remind you of everything Lanier Ivester, if you can ever get your hands on one. I read that publication religiously, cover to cover, but I never received any sort of teen pop culture magazine, and my mother never received any women’s gossip or beauty publications.
These were days before the internet, before Google, before cell phones—so there were certain bits of information that you could only find in certain magazines. And fashion magazines were the Rossetta Stone for nerds like me—nerd girls who owned fluorescent green “Bugs are Beautiful” t-shirts and knew how to write in Japanese. Nerd girls had no other means of translating cool girl language—cool girls who used Love’s Baby Soft in the locker room, girls who lived in sub divisions and hung band posters on their walls. I listened to NPR.
I had one opportunity to learn all of this secret female information. One chance and once chance alone.
The beauty shop.
When I would go to get my hair cut, I would try to show up early, then pile up three or four of those women’s magazines next to the most isolated chair I could find. Then I’d blitz them all like somebody cramming for a chemistry final. Styles? Check. Makeup? Check. How to get a boyfriend? Check. Narcissistic advice? Check. Pages and pages of pointless information.
And in one of those pages, I found the holy grail. I found an advice column explaining how to condition my hair naturally.
“Two raw eggs” it said. Let them sit for ten minutes, then rinse. Easy.
I felt a sharp little guilty thrill run through my belly. We had eggs. Nobody would even know.
Looking back, my parents wouldn’t have cared if I had tried this. They probably would have thought it was interesting. They probably would have bought me eggs from ostrich, ducks, Canadian geese, and hummingbirds. They probably would have helped me create a comparative study determining the quality of hair follicle conditioning according to avian egg species.
But the fact that I had read this in a Teen Magazine made it feel forbidden somehow. Somewhere out in the world, cool girls put eggs in their hair while listening to to pop songs.
Heck, yes. I was all in.
The next night, I sneaked two eggs out of the fridge and ran the hottest bathwater I could stand. I’ve always loved super hot baths– hot enough that my skin is lobster red when I get out of the water.
I got my hair wet and cracked those eggs into a plastic cup, squished them up, and dripped glops of them way down into my scalp. They were cold, slimy, and drippy, and they smelled a little like sulfur. I told myself it was an “egg masque,” which felt either French or granola; I couldn’t decide which. Mostly, it felt super girly.
Of course, I was in the middle of a good book that night, so I read while the eggs did their work. Then I got lost reading. When my water turned frigid, I drained it and ran an entire new tub, hot as I could stand it.
I guess I was in there for an hour and a half before I remembered that I hadn’t rinsed my hair. By this point, my hair had fallen from the loose egg twist I had tried to stabilize on top of my head. In fact, it was floating in the water beside me.
But this wasn’t a normal float. Something was strange about it.
When I reached back, I realized that the eggs had started to cook into the fibers of my hair. To this day, I don’t understand how this happened. Supposedly egg white coagulates at 144 degrees, and human skin begins to burn at 131 degrees. Most hot water heaters are set on 120 degrees. None of this adds up.
But when I tried to run my fingers through my hair, little white beads of egg were stuck all over the place. Hundreds of them. I panicked.
I tried to wash the eggs out, but they held fast. Two shampoos. Three. Nothing.
I got a comb and tried to comb the blobs out, but they split and made thousands of gremlin egg blob children.
I remembered eating powdered eggs at 4-H camp, so I decided to try a hair dryer. Maybe the blobs would turn to dust? Nope. The more I dried, the more I brushed, the more my hair grew larger and larger. Fifteen minutes later, I was wearing a massive egg-fro that smelled like burnt omelette and stood out in all directions from my scalp.
By this point, my parents were banging on the door. “You’ve been in there a long time!” “What’s going on? What’s that smell?”
I don’t remember the looks on their faces when I opened the door. I must have blacked out the memory. I do remember going to school the next day because a kid with long hair who smoked weed and listened to Metallica leaned forward in one of my classes and said, “What have you been taking?”
That was thirty years ago.
Last month I was on a flight to Atlanta, and I sat beside a twenty-something who was flipping through a copy of Cosmo. She had her headphones on, and while she popped her gum, she turned pages as casually as if she were reading the back of a cereal box. Turbulence was making it tough for me to engage with the nerd book I’d brought along—some sort of cultural analysis written by an academic priest with no girlfriend.
Girl-next-seat over was humming her pop songs. Her nails were bright pink, she was wearing a preppy striped popover, and her hair looked like it knew what it was supposed to do. She also smelled faintly like pears, which was intimidating.
I was wearing saggy Land’s End sweatpants—sweatpants with a comfort waist— sweatpants that screamed—“A-forty-year-old-mom-found-these-on-clearance,” which is exactly what had happened. I was a little bit bloated from travel, and I was wearing one of those cheap yoga headbands that come in a pack of 9 for $12. I smelled like dryer sheets and macaroni and cheese.
There she sat, turning pages. Turning pages.
You’re going to judge me for what I’m about to say next because I would judge you if you said it to me. Folks, I hate it when people read over my shoulder. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves in the world. I never read over other people’s shoulders. I never, ever do it. It’s rude. I can’t stand it.
But this was urgent. I needed to know what secrets were hidden in that Cosmo. I was frumpy mom, cheesy-mac mom, saggy-sweatpants mom, lost mom, starving to know the secrets of the pear-smelling, pink-nailed, female universe mom.
So, I put on my sunglasses and plugged in my ear buds, hoping it might look like I was sleeping (which makes this entire story waaaaay creepier, I know). And 40,000 feet above the earth, I was flat out scanning that magazine.
Here’s what I learned:
Fashion 2017. Skinny jeans are going out. (Free at last, free at last…)
The mascara of the moment. (I’m pretty sure I’ve had mine since 2006.)
Short shorts for your body type. (Oh, this is definitely information every woman halfway to ninety needs. For sure.)
How to kiss a guy so he won’t forget it. (Snort. Let it be known that I’m the proud owner of a spatula that says, “I’m a good cook, but I kiss even better.” That’s basically like a Nobel Prize in kissing.)
Advertisement for perfume. (Featuring a photo of a woman painted silver. She has shaved eyebrows and is holding a whisk. She also looks angry.)
Advertisement for jeans. These are unzipped, and the model (who seems to have lost control of her lips in some sort of nerve damage) is drooling down the right side of her face. I’m empathetic. I realize that this poor woman probably needs the “How to kiss a guy so he won’t forget it” article, but I can’t figure out how to contact her.
A purse with a giant “see u later” printed on the side. (This feels delightfully ominous to me. I wonder if my portable bluetooth keyboard would fit inside. I toy with the idea of buying this thing and walking down the street with a tormented expression on my face, holding it at arms length like a “The end is nigh!” sign.)
Speed read. Flip.
Speed read. Flip.
Inside the home of hottie hot hot so-and-so actor. (Is he even old enough to drive? I can’t even be remotely attracted to this person. I might pay him to cut my grass, if I had a permission slip from his parents.)
And there it was. Page 47.
“How to condition your hair naturally. Get two raw eggs…” it said.
Deja vu. 1987. 2017.
Oh no you don’t. Not this time.
NOT. THIS. TIME!
I yanked out my ear buds, ripped off my sunglasses, and opened my nerd book. Safety at last.
But I will admit this much, if you won’t tell anybody. The last time I went shopping at T.J. Maxx, I almost bought a body spray that smelled faintly like pears. And if I ever find the “See U Later” bag on clearance, it’s mine, Baby. It’s mine.
Rebecca Reynolds teaches Classical Rhetoric and Philosophy of Faith in eastern Tennessee, and is a contributor to the Story Warren website. She’s the author and illustrator of the pediatric series From the Medical Files of Dr. Phineas C. Bones and collaborated with Ron Block as the lyricist for his critcally-acclaimed album, Walking Song. She lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, with her husband and three children.