"I think that the most important thing a woman can have -- next to talent, of course-- is her hairdresser." Joan Crawford
Mikel Valdez will always be my hairdresser, my friend and one of the most unique human beings I have ever met. This photograph is one of the last things he gave me-- sent from his hospital bed during one of our text marathons. I think that this is the way he wanted me to think of him and so I will keep it near to remember all the life we lived during our friendship and how it was we met over 35 years ago. This will be our story told in words and images-- hairstyles more like it.
This is me circa 1979. I was what I call a hair virgin-- by my definition that is someone who has never colored her hair and the only person who has ever cut it is her mother. You can't tell it by this photograph, but I was just about to enter one of the most difficult times of my life via my marriage to Mark. The only reason this is useful to know is that it led me down the path to meeting Mikel. You know I am a firm believer in the silver lining...
It all began with the est training (Erhard Seminar Training). Est was one of the first intensive consciousness seminars of the 1970's founded by Werner Erhard where participants were promised that they would get "it". First of all, let me say this was a wedding gift and it did not save the marriage! What I do clearly remember about the training are three things: 1) I learned I had a strong bladder as we were given only 1 bathroom break in an 8 hour day. 2) I learned that this was a very powerful transformative process for people. This became especially clear when the priest in our group informed me on the last day that he had fallen in love with me and was quitting the priesthood. 3) I got the name of my future hairdresser on a bathroom break when I asked a woman with a spectacular haircut who did her hair. (It's the only time in my life I have asked someone that so I guess it was destiny). She said his name was Mikel from a salon called Youtopia near what was then the Valley Fair Shopping Center in San Jose.
(Youtopia Salon's stylists --Mikel is the blond , top right.)
I walked through the door of the Salon for my first appointment in 1980. I was a pretty lost soul at that time but Mikel had definite ideas about my hair and well-- I got the transformation that the est training promised. I'm sure it wouldn't count for the "it" they talked about but I got a new hairstyle and a new me! I liked Mikel immediately and I followed him to his various salon locations over the next few years. He made me laugh, always had life advice and if all else failed he gave the best hugs finished by a back crack.
Fast forward to 1983 and my divorce. I wrote and filed my own divorce after checking out How to Write Your Own Divorce books from the public library. When Mark moved out, he also cleared out our bank account so I was penniless. In another silver lining moment the job I had to get (in addition to the two other jobs I currently had) to stay afloat led me to Versatec and Alain. On the day of my divorce, I asked my boss if I could take an extra hour at lunch. There were two things that needed to be accomplished; finalizing the divorce in court and getting to my hair appointment on time after that. Yes, I booked a hair appointment with Mikel! I knew I would need a transformation of some kind after all I had been through and I knew it would happen in his chair! I sat down and said, cut this hair off and dye it red! I will never forget the way his smile curled up his lips and the mischief shined in his eyes. It was a bold move and one we spoke of all the way to the end....
When I got back to work, I was a bit nervous to run into my colleagues as you might imagine. Of course the first person I ran into in the hallway was Alain. He said, "Wow! I love your hair!". I think I knew then and there that he was the man for me...
Here I am-- the redhead!
My divorce did more for me than my marriage ever did. While I didn't keep the red hair for long, Mikel and I had a bond that couldn't be broken and I began to come alive again. It took a year but Alain and I got together and began a wonderful journey. Mikel did my hair for our wedding and for every important event for the next 35 years.
There are way too many hairstyles to share in this tribute, but suffice to say that Mikel and I had so much fun over the years creating and recreating new looks, new colors , new me's! Here are a few from over the years...
Back to red! Circa 1987 and turning 30
Circa 1997 and turning 40
This final photograph taken in the late 90's is one of my favorites. Mikel had the biggest heart. He loved me and protected me. He always looked at me when I came into the Salon...not to check my hair, but to check my heart. If I was down, he offered me chocolate. If I was really down, he offered me vodka! He contributed in such a great way to my feeling beautiful, glamorous, and alive.
He cut and styled Camille's hair, Alain's hair and my mother's hair. Mikel never let my mother pay to have her hair done...ever. He didn't typically cut children's hair but he agreed to cut Camille's because she made silly faces at him while he was working and she made him laugh. He adored her! I can still see her sitting on a booster chair at his station, wiggling and making faces in the mirror. I can still hear both of their laughter.
The years went so quickly and these past few years were tricky to say the least. When his good friend Caryl passed away (they had worked together from the beginning) a bit of Mikel left too. We laughed a bit less and cried a bit more. And then, Mikel got sick. I thought we would go on forever but life had a different plan. December 23rd was our last visit together. I dressed up for him, put my hair in a extra big french roll and wore some of his favorite jewelry-- he always noticed every detail of what I was wearing.We kissed, held hands, caught up on family--he remembered that it had just been my mother's 96th birthday and he wanted to know that Camille was good-- and talked about the future of the Salon. He never once gave in to the idea that he would leave us all. But I saw his pain and it became difficult to carry a conversation. So I stood up, kissed his forehead and closed his eyes with my fingers. I told him to rest and that when he woke, all would be well.
I do believe that all is well now. He is somewhere far from here and far from his pain.
When I am in front of a mirror to do my hair, he will always be there behind me lifting my spirit and getting my hair to go to new heights. "The higher the hair, the closer to heaven" it is said.