Identity Theft

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, May 28, 2006

My sister wants me to fix her hair. This is an odd role reversal. Kristin is eight years older than I, and she spent much of her youth and early adulthood fixing my hair, my complexion, my wardrobe, my brain and my sense of self.

"It doesn't go like yours goes," she says, looking in the mirror, holding the blow-dryer. "Can you just make mine go like yours goes?"

Well, maybe. But there's an awful lot of emotional distance to cover here. Me, the hair expert? Her, in a hair need? I am not even sure if I can position my body and arms in such a way as to be in charge. She is: Kristin. She made my clothes. She sewed the dress I wore on the first day of fourth grade, and one for the first day of fifth grade, too. In sixth grade she taught me how to study. In seventh grade she taught me about love. She always had a boyfriend. She had long, red silky hair, and all the boys loved her. I had mousy, stupid brown hair, and all the boys liked me because I was a tomboy. I wanted to be her.

We have another sister in between us, Claire. I don't think Kristin ever sewed anything for Claire. Claire was a bother. Claire, when she was born, was the one who came into Kristin's world and ruined everything, stole the show, created competition. By the time I came along, Kristin needed a pet, and that's what I became. A little creature who would tag along and admire her and accept scraps. I was never unhappy in this role.

"This is terrible!" she's saying, "terrible!" She's here visiting my place with her husband and daughter, and she's upset about her bangs, which keep falling forward. "I need product!"

I show her my "root booster," the gook I squirt on my head each day. She applies, massages. "I need to get some of this stuff," she says. I tell her it's only part of the solution. I gather my courage and say it: "It's the cut."

I am not bragging, because I didn't do my cut. I just got the cut, a wedge that turns my head into a triangle. "Yours is a box," I say. "The bottom of the box is below your chin, dragging you down." We're standing side by side, looking in the mirror. Our faces are remarkably similar. "Triangle, box," I say. "Triangle, box." Do you see the difference?"

"Oh my God," she says. "Oh my God."

I have just rocked her world. I have just changed her entire hair point of view. The power is not dizzying, not yet. But I feel the distinct urge for more. Brand-new. All of this is brand-new. She asks me if I'll call Jane, my hairdresser. We'll ask Jane to give Kristin my hair.

Kristin wants to be me. I can't believe this. I tell my husband. "After all these years of me wanting to be her, now she wants to be me!" He lets me down gently, but firmly. "She wants your hair," he says.

I remember when she moved away. I ended up going to graduate school in Pittsburgh, because that's where she was living. I moved into her spare bedroom. She was pursuing a different career, but that didn't stop her from getting me set up in mine, helping me forge professional contacts and project ideas. She sewed curtains for my boyfriend's apartment. She got lured away to New York, and so I started hanging out there. Even when she had a baby, a daughter of her very own, she didn't dump me.

We go see Jane, and I introduce Kristin by saying, "She's my big sister, and she wants my hair!" It comes out with more pride than I'd hoped to reveal.

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