I grew up in a small town in southern Wisconsin. My graduating class was somewhere around 75, and I think we may have had 2 minorities (non-Caucasians) in our class. Given that, and the fact that I was a rather sheltered child, I don’t even think that I knew what dreadlocks were until my post-high school years. My drive for living in a bigger city, while simultaneously wanting to take advantage of in-state tuition, led me to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for college.
The day I visited the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s campus I knew it was right for me. I can’t begin to acknowledge the joy I felt during my orientation when I saw many young women as tall, or even taller than me! (I had always been made fun of as “the tall girl” growing up. As if it were freakishly abnormal to be a girl and be tall at the same time.) What a relief to know I wasn’t alone! Needless to say, I was exposed to a lot of new things in the coming years.
I made a couple of friends while in Milwaukee who had dreadlocks. I remember being really attracted to the style, and thinking “someday I wouldn’t mind trying to do that…” Although I am very much white, I do have naturally curly — and frizzy — hair, which would tend to knot up if I didn’t brush it out well. In fact, brushing always proved to be quite the ordeal. Sometimes, the combs would snap or break off. After showers, I was bound to spend about five minutes combing and tugging out knotty hair.
Fast-forward a few years, and I probably had forgotten my initial desire to try dreadlocks. I graduated from college, married the man of my dreams, and life was heading down a “happily ever after” sort of path. It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize that marriage does not promise happiness. It is, rather, a journey of commitment. “For better or worse,” as they say. In the first couple years of our marriage, my husband and I had to forego challenges and losses we never thought possible. Our hearts were broken, our dreams shattered. The meaning of life was re-shaping itself in my mind.
Then one day I woke up and thought “If I can’t control this (life), then I want to be purposeful in controlling what I can.” Hair styles come and go, as does food, clothing and other things. I wanted to live with no regrets.
In short, my journey of starting dreadlocks really comes down to:
- Wanting a change
- Personal opinion/style
- Desiring a tangible way to express my ability to be in control (of some things)
On a deeper level, I did a lot of research about dreadlocks before actually starting them, so I knew ahead of time that they would be a ton of work. And when I say a ton I mean A TON. Like, hours of commitment, sweat and tears. For this reason, I felt it would be a very fitting endeavor for me to have a physical/tangible exercise while I pursued a road of healing for myself, emotionally. Additionally, I thought of dreadlocks as a sign of humility, something I wanted to grow in.
If you’re interested in learning more about the technical process of starting dreadlocks, check that out here.
As I began to seriously consider getting dreadlocks, I first started by asking my husband, Jonathan, what he thought. His response: “With or without dreadlocks, my beautiful wife you will be.” At first, he was a little surprised by the idea. Probably a stereotype, but for some reason he didn’t imagine that I would ever have dreadlocks. (I was not at all the rebellious type, and to this day, he is still taken aback by how “innocent” I am.) As we talked about it, and he began to see my legitimate desire to get them, he supported me all the way. Next step was doing my research. So, I headed to my local library… (just kidding). I headed to the world wide web, finding and reading a good amount of online material. I read about the history of dreadlocks, and the main cultures it exists in. I read forums and blogs. I learned about the pros and cons. When I felt I had read enough, I emailed a few black friends to ask their opinions on white folks sporting dreadlocks. Their responses were very supportive. Lastly, I called a friend (Chad) whose 9-year-old dreadlocks inspired me, to ask some detailed and personal questions. He not only helped me solidify my own notions of getting dreads, but offered to help me make them happen!
December 1, 2012 marks a wonderful day in my life. In fact, a wonderful weekend altogether. November 30 was the night of my husband’s release show for his first EP, entitled “Vivid.” It was an intimate, musical evening surrounded by friends and family. Next morning, we headed to Blue Lotus Tattoo & Piercing to get Jonathan’s ears pierced. From there, we met up with Chad for session #1 of dreadlock-making, after a quick errand to get combs.
When Chad entered our apartment that first evening, the first words out of his mouth were, “Whoa…. That’s a lot of hair.” He then proceeded to put his bags down and we ate dinner together, but that first reaction proved to be so true once we started the work. The sectioning itself took a couple of hours, and we didn’t start the backcombing until close to 9 PM.
Chad taught Jonathan along the way, and my dear friend Beky popped in between business meetings, serving as my devoted caretaker. She took pictures for my time-lapse video, kept me company, and gave me a foot rub and thai back massage. I knew Chad and Jonathan were getting a work out on their hands, but I was also getting a work out on my head! Yes, it did hurt bad enough to cry. I can’t remember if I actually cried, maybe once, but if I didn’t it’s because I was trying to be tough. After all, this is what I wanted! (By the way, because of my experience, I have a new-found respect for black women and men who undergo hair treatments and styles. You are amazing!)
Five plus hours later, we were all ready for some sleep.
The next day, we had a late breakfast and continued working on them for 9 hours. This brought us to the completion of the first half of my head! Beky scarified a soccer game that evening to help us get further. She was so gentle; anytime Chad would ask, “Does this hurt?”, my response was, “Yes, but that plus what Beky is doing equals neutral pain.” For four days, my front was dreaded and the back was my normal hair.
This felt funny, like a bit imbalanced, but it was so necessary to give everyone a break. Chad returned the following Thursday, and by the next morning my head was complete — 25 hours in total, with 35 dreadlocks! I remember I wasn’t fully aware that the end was so near as Jonathan and Chad were working on the final dread. I was pre-occupied with a nature video about sea creatures. Ha. Out of the blue to me, Jonathan said: “That’s it.” I was in shock! Could it be?! Immediately I said: “I feel like Pinocchio when he’s been made a real boy!”