I’ve just dropped Tyson off at kindergarten and I’m fanging down Plenty Road to get Archie and Lewis to Primary school on time, when Lewis says, ‘Dad, some people at school don’t believe me that pink isn’t just a girl color.’
‘It doesn’t matter if they believe it or not,’ I say, turning down the radio in the middle of ABC’s Poison Arrow with a passing sense of loss.
‘And Craig thinks that yellow is only a girl color. But yellow is my favorite color,’
‘And yellow is one of my favorite colors,’ I say. ‘It’s sad isn’t it?’
‘Well, imagine if Craig’s favorite color really is yellow and that he’s only pretending not to like it because he’s scared of being called a girl.’
‘I think he really doesn’t like yellow…’
‘And you know… he’s probably being mean to other boys who like yellow just because he thinks it will somehow convince everyone that he’s not a secret… um… yellow-lover.’
‘Dad…’ he says. ‘What?’
‘Well, he’s probably so scared of being persecuted by those who believe that particular colors are assigned to gender that he’s avoiding anything that’s even slightly tinged with yellow and missing out on so much variety, and so much joy. I mean, I bet you’ve never seen him eat a banana or a sasquatch?’
Before I’d even finished saying sasquatch, Lewis says, ‘What’s a sasquatch?’
‘It’s a yellow fruit… I think. Pretty delicious.’*
Lewis ponders for a moment and says. ‘I think he would still eat a sasquatch….’
‘I wouldn’t be so sure Lewy… have you seen any of his art or drawings? What color are his suns?’
‘Yellow,’ Lewis says.
‘Yeah… but… I bet he doesn’t make a big deal out of it.’
I’m reaching to raise the volume on Gold 104.3FM, thinking the conversation is over, as I note that we only have three minutes to get to school before the bell rings – artificially, over the PA system – when Lewis says, ‘And Dad, Hathum believes that blue is not a boy color now, and that pink is not a girl color, because I kept telling him.’
‘You know what makes me so proud of you, Lewy? You’re not afraid to stand up to people if you think they’re saying something wrong.’
‘It’s because I’m strong,’ he says, raising his arms into a double-bicep pose.
‘You are strong,’ I say. ‘And being strong in your muscles is very cool but there are other… more important ways to be strong. You can be strong in how you think, strong in how you treat people….’
‘Sometimes people call me a girl because my hair’s long.’
‘Well, do you know what I’d say to them?’
‘I’d ask them what was wrong with being a girl, firstly. Then I’d say… being a boy or a girl doesn’t stop you from being strong or cool or smart or from growing you hair long or cutting it short. Lewy, there are no colors, or jobs, or hobbies, or sports that are just for girls or just for boys. That sort of thinking just takes things away from people’s lives… and can make some people very, very unhappy.’
‘I’m going to grow my hair right down to there,’ he says, pursing his lips and pointing to his belly.
‘If that’s what you want Lewy, I say go for it. One of my favorite singers and artists ever is Jim Morrison from a band called The Doors. Jim – who was called The Lizard King – had long hair right down past his shoulders and millions of boys and men grew their hair just to look like him. Here,’ I say, pulling a CD from the console and loading it into the player. ‘Listen to The Lizard King. Long hair is cool, man!’
‘Dad,’ Archie says, as the display beams reading disc. ‘Can you tell us the story about how you lost your hair again?’
Archie’s first question for the entire conversation is a commanding one that trip-notizes my consciousness back to that fateful day at my parent’s house…
I’m a twenty-year-old, know-it-all, fresh from the gym where I’ve been listening to The Doors and sneaking glances of myself in the wall-to-wall mirrors, admiring not only my pale, slightly muscular physique, but also my long hair and full beard. I’m The Lizard King with a body, man!
I’m so cock-sure and certain of my place in the world that I decide to do Mum and Dad a favor by starting the fire before I head off to the study to write some poetry about myself and so I grab the kerosene from under the kitchen sink and head into the lounge-room.
After giving a quick nod to my sister, Cally – who’s sitting on the couch studying – I kneel down and settle myself in front of the Coonara Heater.
I’ve never used kerosene to start a fire before but saw Dad do it just last night and so I follow his process noting only one possible variation – Dad threw kerosene on to cold lifeless coals while I’m about to throw kerosene on to live coals that are still glowing red from the previous night, but I can’t see how that could possibly make any life-threatening difference and so I pour on the kerosene and watch the smoke rise, pleasantly surprised by the aroma.
On goes the lit match and out comes a burst of flame straight from the movie Back Draft which shocks me with such searing force that I feel Satan himself has just pranked me with a hell-fire cream pie right in the face. When the burst of flame retreats back into the Coonara I’m almost certain it’s taken some of me with it.
My freaked-out Mum – who after seeing her only son walk by with kerosene hears his gargled screaming accompanied by a short intense flash of orangey-yellow light – runs into the lounge room and rolls her ankle.
I turn to my sister with my arms out, squealing, ‘Was my hair? Was (my hair?’ because I am unable to form a proper sentence) and it’s her slowly gaping mouth and narrowing pupils; the tingling feeling on my forehead, and the fact that Mum is still trying to get to me – hop-crawling along the floor – that not only confirms that hair was burnt in this unfair, unavoidable accident, but that a much more significant amount of hair has been burning for the entire ten seconds I’ve been standing in the horse-riding stance, with my hands out, waiting for a family member to say something simple and helpful like, ‘Slap your head, you’re still on fire’.
After slapping my head in a mad sprint up the hall I am confronted by an image of myself in the bathroom mirror – it’s me from the future, a red-faced man with smoke rising from the centre of a moon-shaped dome, the only remaining hair tufting around my ears like the feathers of one of those designer, prize-winning chickens….
‘And that’s how I lost my hair Arch,’ I say as The Doors Riders On The Storm kicks in. ‘Mum and Aunty Cally promised me it would grow back and so I shaved the remaining hair from my head and waited and… you know how the rest goes…’
‘It never grew back,’ he says.
‘Apart from the eyebrows and eyelids,’ I say, as we pull up outside the school.
Archie and Lewis launch themselves from the Tarago and slam the door shut and as they sprint down the footpath towards the open school gate I watch the impressive flowing locks that trail behind Lewis’s head, like the cape of a superhero, and I can’t deny the sense of regret and loss that has been lingering for nearly twenty years.
As I pull away from the curb I turn up the affecting tunes of ‘Riders On The Storm’ and smile because my kids keep me thinking, and while it may be true that I can no longer grow my hair like the rock stars of yester-year, I can drive with The Lizard King for the next five minutes and then do something almost as cool.
I’m going to get home, walk inside with some pluck in my step, and put on something yellow… or pink.
*After writing this I googled ‘sasquatch’ to find that it is not a fruit but an ape-like creature, also known as ‘bigfoot’, that is said to inhabit forests in North America. I was unable, despite further research, to determine its color or edibility.