Through the years I will own a heather-blue, wool ski cap that itches my head and causes my forehead to welt; a black polar fleece fez which will sit high on my head but leave my ears cold and exposed, and me looking like some Ukrainian refugee. Â The fez will have flaps which come down and cover the back of my neck and ears, but then I will look like an Appalachian refugee—and a cold Ukrainian trumps a warm, back-holler hillbilly any day. Â I also will have a brown knit skull cap that my wife will make for me one winter when we will be trapped inside by an ice storm and there isn’t anything else to do and besides, I’d will need a cap when we finally can go back outside again. Â Â Finally, in the center console of the second truck I will own will be a blue, polar fleece ski cap that I buy at Old Navy because it is only $5 and I will figure if I am ever stranded, I can wear it while I wait for rescue.
Mostly, I will never wear these hats. Â They will sit in a dresser in the basement ready for the inevitable day of really cold weather—which in Portland, Oregon comes once a year, in December or February, when the city gets a requisite day of snow. Â But here is what I will learn after I get divorced: that if I wear a hat and gloves when it is even slightly cold or raining outside, I won’t mind being out so much, and I might even enjoy it. Â This might seem like common sense to you and something I should not have to wait 44 years to figure out. Â Maybe you are an adult on the East coast who has been wearing a hat all your life. Â Or maybe you live in Denver or Jackson or Bend and know that 60% of a body’s heat loss is through the head. Â I probably learned this, too, but I am also told that I don’t look good in hats—particularly ski caps (will they even be called this in 2009?). Â My mother tells me only boys wear these types of hats. Â I don’t know what she says girls wear, but I’m sure she thinks it should be something stylish and jaunty, worn high on the brow (not pulled down low like a Neanderthal or a serial killer), a hat that just grazes the tops of the ears. Â The problem with a hat like this is that they stopped making them in 1958—well, except for berets, but I am told I don’t look good in these, either. Â And besides, only pretentious writers wear berets.
But, in 2008, I will get divorced and truly embrace my sexuality, and then I will realize that the reason I never wore a hat was because I thought they made me look butch. Â Which I was, am, will always be. Â But it will take a girl embracing this in me to make me understand that not only is it okay to look like a big old lesbian in a Carhartt jacket and a polar fleece hat, it is preferable to looking like a cold and miserable lesbian who scowls and complains whenever she has to go outside in the winter.
It also will take 21st century hair products for me to embrace hats. Â Before, when severely inclement weather forced me to wear a hat in order to avoid contracting pneumonia, my head would heat up and my fine, thin hair would lose what little body my gel or hairspray imparted, and stick flat against my head, making me look like a 12 year-old boy. Â But with 21st century hair powders and glues and polymer gels, I will be able to take a hat off, palm the top of my head, and reconstitute my hair.
One winter after my divorce I will be in Central Washington, hiking over the frozen Columbia plateau. Â It will be so cold I will think, I’ll just grab that blue cap out of the truck and slide it over my noggin. Â I’m out here alone tromping over buff-colored grass that’s so frozen it’s not even cracking under foot, and it seems ridiculous not to wear a hat. So even though the navy blue will not be the exact right blue to complement my black Carhartt gasoline jacket (with quilted arms and a blanket lining), I will snatch the hat and pull it on. Â It will cover my ears and sit so low on my forehead that it will almost touch the outer edges of my eyebrows. Â But it will do the trick. Â I will start to warm up.
Then I will do something surprising—take a picture of myself. Â I will feel warm and happy—a rare day free of the millstone of “should”Â that hangs around my neck. Â The landscape in its sparseness will fill me with quiet. Â Freezing fog will have covered the bare branches of the Garry oak trees, turning them into land-based coral, and the Ponderosa pines will look like flocked Christmas trees. Â Between the white ice, grey fog, and the dark of the trunks, branches, and my Carhartt coat, the world will look like a black-and-white photo. Â My red Irish cheeks and my blue cap will be the only spots of color in the picture, and I actually will like the way they stand out in the photo. Â Like it so much that I will do another surprising thing: Â I will upload the picture to my Facebook page. Â It will not occur to me that my friends might comment on the picture, but they do. Â No one will say I look like a Neanderthal, a serial killer, or a ball-buster. Â No one will say, Where did you get that ugly hat?
Kate Carroll de Gutes is a writer, trouble-maker, and wry observer. Kate started her career as a journalist, which means that she is a stickler for the truth (capital T) and that her writing is almost always sparked by some event or thing outside herself. Her writing has been featured in various anthologies, newspapers, and magazines, and on the web. She lives, writes, and rides her bike in Portland, Oregon.