I admit that I am prideful about the natural color of my hair. This is not because I think the color itself is anything altogether special. Plenty of other women have auburn heads, and some even have eyebrows to match, which I do not. No, I am proud of my hair color because of how I attained it. When I was 12 years old, I gave myself red hair using only the power of my imagination. It happened in a moment of deep connection with Anne Shirley of Green Gables. And it hasn’t washed out since.
I wish that my miraculous transformation occurred as I was reading Anne of Green Gables, but truth be told, I prefer the movie. This is partly because Meghan Follows embodies the character of Anne Shirley so honestly, and also because Prince Edward Island, (to quote Anne), "is more beautiful than even I could imagine it." Also, the first sentence of the book runs exactly 152 words long, and I do not believe that a sentence of that magnitude was ever permissible, even in Canadian literature.
Watching the movie is nearly a half-day commitment, and one I never made half-heartedly. Even in my early days of Anne, around the age of eight, I would plan out my viewings with great intention, and would pause only for bathroom breaks. Despite the poor quality of VHS tapes, I remember feeling entirely transported into her world from my living room couch.
In fact, the feeling of transportation was so complete that I reflect on Anne's story as though I lived it alongside of her. I remember sitting next to her at the orphanage as she stared into the windowpane at the friend she had made in her reflection. I remember ducking under the blossom-laden branches as she rode from town to Green Gables, soaking in the sights of Prince Edward Island for the first time. I remember feeling like the future bloomed with promise when Marilla told her that she could stay at Green Gables. I remember the flame in my girlish heart that lit up when she met Diana and finally had a true friend. I remember feeling a different kind of flame in my heart when Gilbert first entered the scene.
Anne lived her story repeatedly throughout all of my girlhood. And eventually I realized that I was not simply living alongside of her, observing her. Eventually, my memories read as though Anne was looking into the windowpane, and my face was the one reflected. And the fact that I would say something so dramatic is mere proof that Anne is somewhere inside of me, or that I am somewhere inside of her.
There was one detail that Anne and I thoroughly disagreed upon. Anne considered her fiery head of hair something to despair, while I thought it a gift to be coveted. Here is how it happened:
I was 12 years old. I was lying on the couch, holding a glass of 7up while a pan lay poised on the floor in case I needed to hurl. Anne’s eyes were glazing over as they often did when she imagined the world differently than it was. She could imagine she had a “beautiful, rose-leaf complexion,” she said, and “starry, violet eyes.” But then she looked straight into reality and said, “But I cannot imagine my red hair away.” I thought for the umpteenth time how Anne's hair perfectly reflected her passion for ordinary life, and how lucky she was to have it. And while Anne couldn't imagine her red hair away, I closed my eyes and imagined myself with hair that glimmered like a new copper penny.
That summer, mysterious red highlights began forming out of my brown hair. And by August, someone called me a red head for the first time. "You think my hair is red?" I had asked. My friend looked at me suspiciously and said, "It is red. Right?" I agreed, "Yes, it's red. I just didn't know if anyone else could see it." I had successfully imagined my red hair into existence. Actually, the result of my imagination was more of an auburn, which is what Anne had always hoped would eventually come of her hair. My eyebrows are still a dark brown, and I'm not sure if that means that the red is temporary. But I've had it for nearly nine years now.
Shortly after I married last September, I watched Anne of Green Gables and the sequel, Anne of Avonlea, for the first time in nearly two years. For some reason, I felt close to tears throughout the whole film. I cried at the appropriate times, like when Matthew dies or when Diana is forbidden from seeing Anne. But I also cried at parts that I had never cried over before. I cried when Josie Pie falls into the lake and Anne says with jealousy that it would be "such a romantic experience nearly to drown." I cried when Anne gets Dianna drunk on what she thought was raspberry cordial. I cried when Anne nearly did drown as she acted out a scene from poetry in a little boat.
It wasn't until the end of the sequel that I understood exactly what was going on inside of me. At one point near the end, Anne tells Marilla that she is “18 now, and just as stubborn as ever.” And the last scene finds Anne and Gilbert standing on a bridge at the onset of their overdue romance. It was then I realized that I was older than Anne for the first time, and that I had just spent five hours mourning the end of my childhood with her.
I still see traces of Anne inside of me, but when I watch Anne of Green Gables, I am remembering when my life ran parallel with hers. In that sense, I miss Anne. And this is okay, because every season eventually moves into our memories so that a new one can unfold. And maybe someday I will have a daughter who I can share Anne with. If she doesn't connect with Anne in the same way, that will be okay too, because this world is full of characters who we can find parts of ourselves in.
At the end of the first of the first tape, Diana is forbidden from ever associating with Anne again, and they swear to be secret bosom friends for all of eternity. With tears running down her blotchy, tormented face, Anne asks Diana for a lock of her black tresses. Diana wails, "I don't have any black dresses!" and Anne says, "I mean your hair." Diana snips off a lock of her hair, which Anne tucks into her pocket before they depart to live separate lives.
Of course, my adult self knows that my red hair was genetically destined to reveal itself in the summer that I was 12 years old; perhaps the sun drew out highlights that had been forming all year. But the girl inside of me likes to believe that they are locks of Anne's tresses that she gave to me at a time when our lives coincided. I believe that I imagined my red hair into existence. And the Anne inside is proud of the creative power of my imagination.