“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurhythmics from the album Sweet Dreams
First Week of May, 1983
My mother took me to a hair salon for the first time when I was eight.
“Three inches,” she said to the shortest, fattest woman I’d ever seen. The hairdresser nodded and sat me down in front of a mirror. She smelled like egg yolk and wore a black painter’s shirt spotted with silver bugs. I didn’t know what to say to this woman who was ordered to do something terrifying to my three-foot-long hair, so I looked at the television reflected in the mirror. On the screen was Annie Lennox.
The year was 1983, and New Wave music videos were rocking households of every political persuasion, offending the hell out of parents, English professors, and American Bandstand devotees alike. As for my third grade self, I was just confused. The person on TV was pale as glue with pumpkin-colored hair that stuck out in clumps and a mouth wide enough to swallow a small child—preferably the one my mother had recently given birth to. From what I could gather, her song was about traveling the seven seas in search of fellow freaks with abuse fetishes. Her voice left a funny feeling in my throat, like I’d eaten mashed potatoes too fast; it made me want to cry.
My understanding of human psychology and self-sabotage wasn’t so nuanced at that pre-adolescent state. I didn’t get why anyone would want to be abused, or ‘used’ for that matter. Used for what—to mop the floor? She looked so skinny and sad up there, just a head and shoulders floating in the middle of a screen. Maybe if she grew her hair to a normal length and ate something, or sang about happy things, like roller skating and New Coke—people would ‘use’ her like she wanted them to.
I’d never been attached to my seat-grazing hair—my mother’s braiding technique regularly gave me migraines. But the longer I stared at this orange-haired skeleton woman, the more I wanted to run out of the salon screaming. I held perfectly still, afraid that if I moved a muscle the hairdresser’s fingers might slip and I’d end up looking like the sad clown of death: the sexless Annie Lennox.
I left the salon smelling like flowers but looking pretty much the same as before. “The ‘Sweet Dreams” lyrics haunted me. Hold your head up—Keep your head up—MOVIN’ ON. When we got home I begged my mom to call the salon and ask the name of the orange-haired lady on TV.
She made the call and told me the name of the band: the “Arithmetics.” Made sense to me.
A few days later I found the scissors in my father’s study. I stood in front of the window, took a last look at my long, boring brown hair, and got rid of it. When I was finished, I looked as ugly as Annie, which put me in the mood to abuse someone. My squash-faced little brother was sitting on the floor, sucking his thumb, waiting for me.
— Elizabeth Koch