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One look in my bedroom mirror let me know I was in big trouble.
In the hall I passed my older brother, Jerod, who was mostly asleep and on his way to the bathroom. The sight of me must have shocked him awake, because he opened his eyes real wide and cried, "W'appen tuyr hair?"
I didn't answer but marched down the steps, where I almost collided with my dad, who was on his way up with his bare belly hanging over a pair of paisley boxer shorts and his hair stuffed into a shower cap. His mouth dropped open, but he didn't say anything. If he had, I think I still could have proven that he looked funnier than me.
In the kitchen, my mom was standing at the counter dressed in a suit, sipping coffee from a mug, which she almost dropped when she saw me. It must have looked like a pink alien was trying to suck me into a black hole, starting with my head.
If you want to know when the whole problem started, I guess you'd have to go all the way back to Halloween. That's when my best friend, Christina, and I went trick-or-treating dressed as werewolves. We had plastic fangs and wigs of electric green fur. And we each stuck some of those fake blood pellets in our mouths, bit into them, and let the slimy red stuff ooze down our chins. It tasted pretty bad, but it was worth it for the effect. We got a ton of candy and even managed to avoid Eric Bardo and his friends Roger and Lawrence. We saw them throw an egg at Mr. Cohen's house (which, of course, we mentioned to Mr. Cohen when we knocked on his door and it was dripping with egg), and we heard from some other kids that they were grabbing little kids' bags of candy and throwing them around. Those guysare like the neighborhood pimples: you know they're there, but you wish they weren't. Not that I'd know anything about pimples yet, because I'm still just ten, but I learned about them from my brother Jerod, who's fifteen and knows about these things. Anyhow, Christina and I were really glad we didn't have any run-ins with those three, and we got back to my house with our bags of candy intact.
As it turns out, Christina doesn't like bubble gum. Don't ask me why, because I never asked her, I just traded all my lollipops and caramels for all of her bubble gum. I love bubble gum. Or at least I did then, before it started causing weird things to happen to me.
I guess it wasn't the bubble gum itself that caused the weird stuff. It was what I did with it. I should have left it in my underwear drawer. I put it in there so my parents wouldn't say, "That's too much bubble gum, Sarah Marie. It's going to rot your teeth. Throw it away." If I'd left it under my Fruit of the Looms, it wouldn't have been a problem. And if I'd chewed it one piece at a time, or two or three, and in broad daylight, then it wouldn't have been a big deal, either. But I didn't.
First, I forgot all about it for a few months. I did wonder every once in a while why my underwear smelled like bubble gum, but I didn't think that much about it. I was too busy getting ready for the Thanksgiving play Mr. Harrison had our class put on, in which I played a Native American and got to braid my hair and spray-paint it black. Then there was Christmastime, which is when Jerod told Aunt Connie that he wished people would give him cash for Christmas instead of presents he didn't like, so she gave him one of those little-kid piggy banks with a bunch of pennies in it, just to teach him to be more polite.
During January and February, it never snowed once, and I realized that these people here in Maryland don't even know what real winter looks like. It wasn't until early March that the bubble gum surfaced again. It was nighttime and I was in my p.j.'s, ready to go to bed. I started rummaging around in all of my drawers for something green to wear on St. Patrick's Day so I wouldn't get smacked at school. That's when I found the stash of bubble gum. I was so excited, I unwrapped a piece and chewed it right then and there. It tasted great, so I added about four more until I had a nice fat wad in my mouth. It was delicious. I blew a bubble the size of a cantaloupe and decided this wad of gum was too good to waste. I went to bed still chewing it, and as I was falling asleep, I stuck it in the side of my cheek for safekeeping.
That was how I discovered that a cheek is not a good place to store chewed-up bubble gum. When I woke up in the morning, none of the gum was in my mouth and all of it was in my hair.
I recognized right away that this was the kind of situation you can't hide from your parents, so that's when I marched downstairs to ask Mom what I should do.
"Oh, Sarah," Mom said, partly mad and partly really disappointed because she knew what I was about to find out: I was going to lose most of my hair.
Bubble gum, it turns out, doesn't wash out, wear out, pull out, cook out, or even freeze out of hair. It stays with the hair. So if you want to get rid of the gum, you have to get rid of the hair.
My mom called her boss to say she had a family emergency and would be a little late for work. In our house, my mom is the one who wears suits and goes to an office, and my dad is the one with the long hair. That's because my mom's new job with the government is the whole reason we left Maine and moved to Maryland in the first place, and my dad does carpentry work, and his customers don't care about his hair just as long as he makes their kitchens and bathrooms look good.
Mom sat me down and took out a very mean-looking pair of scissors. I closed my eyes and felt her pulling on the gum and snipping hair. After a lot of snipping, she finally said, "I think I got it all out."
I peeked in a mirror and saw that one side of my head had your basic "recently mowed" look: hair about an inch long prickling out. It only seemed reasonable to cut the rest of my hair to match. That's when I started wearing a baseball cap to school.
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