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The Story of An Angel–A Hairdresser

“When you catch an angel, consider yourself fortunate.  They are extremely quick and crafty.  To the untrained eye they appear as the everyday objects with which the modern day woman surrounds herself…” -Monique Duval

This is part two of my last entry entitled, “Angels, Mentors, and Swans.”  It is a short story of an angel that flew into my life and stayed just long enough to plant a tiny seed that, in the subsequent years, grew and grew and came to bloom within my soul and journey.

Her name was Cari Carter (probably still is).  She was my first real-life illustration of bohemian–wild and free hair dancing around her face, gentle and strong blue eyes, boots and patterned skirts, and jewelry that jangled together on her wrists and dangled from her ears, like tiny percussion instruments, as she held her scissors and combs and foils near my ears.

Cari ushered me from the days of Dorothy Hamil haircuts and smelly home perms  into feeling like something other than an awkward tomboy who just wanted to be pretty.  I remember how dazzled I felt when she removed the foils from my hair for the first time and I saw my hair highlighted around my face–I thought maybe I actually had a chance at being something other than I was.

Just being there, in the presence of urban hipness at Salon LaTerre on 34th and Hennepin, away from the suburban, sidewalk-less streets of Edina, I felt more normal than I ever had before.

At home, I was a blue-collar kid in a white-collar world. My dad was a plumber and drove me to school sometimes in his maroon van with “Brayman Plumbing Company” painted in gold letters on the side. My mom was a homemaker, an expert in the domestic arts of keeping our home spic and span while simmering spaghetti sauce on the stove for hours.

Amist the affluence of most of my friends, I was the kid who saved my babysitting and paper route money for months to buy my one and only pair of Guess jeans.  I wore them out in a jiffy and still wore them as the holes in the knees grew to gargantuan proportions.

Getting my hair cut and colored by Cari was my one true decadence.

One day she began clipping and told me that she wouldn’t be around for the next few months because she was going backpacking in Europe.  At 17, I had never in my life heard of such a thing.  At that time, I had only been to Iowa and Wisconsin, and California once to visit my grandparents.  My parents were not travelers, and they did not talk about traveling.  They were born-n-bred Minnesotans and content to remain close to home.

Growing up, I did not have the luxury to dream such big dreams nor the inspiration or example of doing so.

“How are you going to do that?” I asked.  She told me she had found someone to sublet her apartment in Uptown and that she had saved enough to stay in hostels and buy Eurail passes.  I did not know what a hostel or a Eurail pass was.

I spent the rest of the haircut asking questions like: “How are you going to carry everything you’ll need for three months?!”  and “Do you know anyone there?” Even after she explained everything in detail, I still couldn’t believe it was possible.

But a seed was planted in my brain, a seed that took years and years to germinate into my own personal reality.

At the end of my stay at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, I happened to overhear a conversation in the locker room of the athletic club where I worked.  A girl was talking about traveling to Europe through a progam called BUNAC where she would get a work visa and stay for six months.  I walked around the clump of lockers to see who was talking.

I asked the girl if BUNAC gives work visas to Australia.  She said she thought so, but she wasn’t sure.  For some reason that I cannot remember, I had been dreaming in my journals about traveling to Australia to surf “someday.”  I had written about this dream many times, but even as I wrote, I didn’t really believe it could happen for me.  It was a far-fetched dream way out there, way out of my realm of possibilities.

[Sidebar: This is one of the first of experiences I have had in my life about writing down my wildest dreams only to witness them materialize in my very life experience.  I believe in the power of using the pen to draw out our dreams and make them our reality as much as I believe the heart pumps blood.  The mystery still remains, however, as to how it actually comes to be.  I think that’s a matter of quantum physics…]  Anyway.

By this time, the seed Cari had planted had become a bud.  And over the next few months, I poked around at the travel abroad office on campus, made some phone calls, and started picking up shifts at the brew pub where I worked.  I got closer to my dream as I got my paperwork into BUNAC and my passport photo taken.  There I was, in the folds of that magical navy blue booklet, shiny forehead, smiling like I had some big secret that was about to burst out of my being.

I moved home and continued to work day and night, picking up any and every shift I could, socking away cash in the top drawer of my dresser until it was almost filled.

December 30, 1995, wearing a pair of Levi’s with $500 in my back pocket, a Lonely Planet book in my backpack, no itinerary or place to stay my first night in Melbourne, I walked onto that Quantas flight and leapt into the landscape of my wildest dreams.

That next year, 1996, I spent: picking wildflowers at Yarra Valley flower farm while I was surrounded by bees; surfing in Sydney, Newcastle, and finally Byron Bay where I temporarily retired after getting sucked up in a riptide, my board busted in half, a human chain of people working to pull me out; picking oranges in a manderin orange grove; sorting tomatoes in a corrugated metal barn where I got fired by a toothless woman on my 24th birthday and had to walk for hours in the Australian heat, crying, to get back to the hostel nestled in a valley far away; picking up a ride in a pickup truck owned by a throwback hippy with a huge beard and an Altoids can filled with marijuana on the dash, the smoke of his endless joint rising up and out the open window as we careened along winding cliffs; walking across a crocodile-filled estuary as wide-eyed onlookers stood speechless, wondering what the hell this American girl was thinking (I had no idea).  I met people from all over the world and at the same time learned that people aren’t nearly as enchanted with Americans as I was with them, that respect was not given but earned.

I capped off my trip hitchiking through the north and south islands of New Zealand, falling in love with the culture and landscape and vowing to return someday with my family.  This time, I planted my own seed that I believe will someday grow to bloom.

I spent the rest of my 20′s intermittantly traveling and saving, traveling and saving.  For these adventures, for the food and drink I slung, the people I met, the things I experienced, the obstacles I had no choice but to overcome–for all of these things I’m so grateful, I could cry sitting here at Common Roots writing about them.

Thank you, thank you, my bohemian hairdresser angel, Cari Carter, for planting that seed in my soul by sharing your story over the din of the music and chat of Salon LaTerre.  A seed that years later grew bursting wild within me, the colors of which were previously unimaginable.

Writing Exercise: Dream really big dreams on paper.  Repeat.  Keep doing so until some unlikely angel crosses your path, takes your hand, and shows you that it’s very, very possible.

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