My great-grandmother bought me a lovely hardback edition of Anne of Green Gables for my 11th birthday. I devoured it, read to tatters the seven succeeding volumes, and underwent a transformation. After the Bible and my parents, Canadian author L.M. Montgomery has probably shaped the largest portion of my mind.
Anne Shirley speaks my language. That, or she created the language I speak. Anne lives high on life, and then crashes. She luxuriates in fantastic visions and sucks every modicum of joy from the everyday. She loves to walk in the woods and imagine the lives of strangers and hates geometry. I know the poems Anne knows. Until my eighth grade teacher corrected me, I always used Canadian spelling: flavour, colour, candour.
But at times my alikeness to Anne has brought me tragic misfortune. I am 22 now, but this week I mirrored one of her most famous blunders.
Near the middle of the book, in a chapter titled “Vanity and Vexation of Spirit,” Anne dyes her hair green by accident. She purchased the dye from a peddler who assured her it would turn her red hair “a beautiful raven black.” To the plain and sensible Marilla, who has adopted her, she provides a tearful explanation:
“Yes, I knew it was a little wicked,” admitted Anne. “But I thought it was worthwhile to be a little wicked to get rid of red hair. I counted the cost, Marilla. Besides, I meant to be extra good in other ways to make up for it. … I used up the whole bottle, and oh, Marilla, when I saw the dreadful color it turned my hair I repented of being wicked, I can tell you. And I’ve been repenting ever since.”
This weekend I accidentally dyed my hair an unearthly purple.
When I was little, my Great Aunt Betty’s hair held me in awe. I saw her only once or twice, but I always coveted her hair, dyed a color neither man nor beast sports naturally: several shades past auburn and verging on a pleasant plum. I forgot about Aunt Betty’s hair for years. I remembered when I arose from where I knelt at the bathtub to comb out the dark auburn streaks I had put in myself.
The “streaks” were more than streaks. They covered my head. I was Aunt Betty at last. The only trouble? That I no longer wanted to be Aunt Betty.
A worse misery met me than my reflection. I had to walk into church the next morning with purple hair. My boyfriend exhorted me in the spirit of Martin Luther to flaunt my Christian liberty. Which would have been fine, if I had enjoyed my semi-purple hair. I wore a black hat that almost obscured my head. I was prepared for a sermon on head coverings. I just hoped not to be regaled with 1 Peter on outward adornment and braiding of the hair.
“Well, what did you learn?” asked my father at last. At that moment he served as my Marilla and wanted me to vow never to dabble in the ghastly chemicals again.
What did I learn? That chronic experimenters are often their own punishment. I’ve been repenting ever since.