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April 26, 2024 Nonfiction


Mona Kirschner

Wigs photo


Long before I wore wigs to punish the men who had punished me, I wore them to channel Selma Blair. I was thirteen, my flat chest leaned over the bathroom sink. We were both brunettes, but that’s where the similarities ended. I used a hairnet left over from a school-mandated trip to the soup kitchen, securing my stray baby hairs before crushing the wig into place. I was crazy about Cruel Intentions, watched it over and over in my parents’ living room. I loved how her body looked. Waifish like a ballerina but still brimming with sex. Her eyes slightly slanted like a cat’s, but warmer. Her alabaster skin, her severe, beautiful face.


The wig was cropped at my chin, part of an old drama school costume, Moulin Rouge maybe, sleek and black with a light fringe. I posed in my bathroom mirror in my tank top and ratty pajama shorts, applying icy pink eyeshadow with my fingers as my mother made dinner downstairs. I bought an electric toothbrush to use as a vibrator and thought about Selma Blair on my bathroom floor. My bathmat was fluffy white, oval.


When I think about my attraction to women, this memory serves me to remember it was there before I was afraid of men.




At seven, I begged to cut my hair off. My parents said no, so I did it myself. I often used to get mistaken for a boy. People would be horrified, embarrassed when they realized their mistake. I never minded, what a relief to be a boy, a creature so far away from what I was served.


I used to dream of going to school in a strawberry blond wig. It would be set into two dainty braids with light pink elastics, resting on my shoulders. In that fantasy, I’d eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread for lunch, like the girls at my school did, instead of the rice and beans my mother carefully packed, which I’d eat hidden inside a brown paper bag. My short, thick black hair standing out in the sea of yellow and white.


Then, it was about conformity. When I grew up, it became about power.


I created clay pigeons. I was Riley with her wavy, platinum blond hair – the sorority girl I’d never be. The dark red Shelby rejected growing up with those midwest curls fell loose on her shoulders, a faint halo of frizz. Lexie loved old cars, her mousy brown pixie cut grazed her neck, emphasizing her delicate jaw.


My laugh would be different in each one.




At nineteen, I was raped by a man named Elijah Zysman when I was so drunk I could barely see. In his bathtub, I lost one of the silver heart earrings my father had given me on Valentine’s Day at thirteen. I don’t know why I was in his bathtub. I’d lost my virginity only six months before.


I have flashes of memory sitting on the cold sidewalk outside. I remember exactly the tone of the coral pink underwear I was wearing. My favorite dark jeans. Painful shoes. I didn’t understand why there was blood. I don’t remember how I got home.




The movie Closer came out in 2004; I saw it ten years later at twenty-two. I couldn’t get Natalie Portman out of my head, the scene in the private dance room, refusing to give her real name, yet taking his orders, touching her toes, still maintaining control. The tears in his eyes. I bought the iconic cropped pink wig, wore it in a dank apartment with fluorescent lighting, an angry, cruel boyfriend watching me closely as I smoked menthols in thick cotton socks, exhaling while looking at myself in the dirty mirror.


He used to kick me out of his car in jealous rages, leave me stranded somewhere in the middle of the night. In the beginning, we’d have sex three times a day, in the morning before he left and at night, and during his lunch hour he’d drive back home to fuck me before returning to work. I never stopped to consider if I enjoyed it. It was painful a lot of the time. But he didn’t mind.




At twenty-six, a powerful executive of the company I worked for grabbed my ass as I walked by him sitting at a high table at a party. Vestiges from a long conference roaring around him, red wine staining his small mouth, his short, navy-suited legs crossed.


He did it casually, quickly and aggressively, taking what he knew he could. It was my first big meeting. I’d chosen my gray slacks and white sweater carefully, had baby wipes in my purse to clean the nervous sweat from under my arms between meetings.


Don’t fucking touch me.


He laughed. Told me to give him a break – his wife was dying of cancer. Several other men saw. They were enraged. All lined up to back me, fueled by whiskey and a sense of righteousness.


I saw everything. We'll report it.


He's a monster. Disgusting,


 Every single one backed out the next day.


Don’t mention my name. But you should definitely say something.


I just don’t want to get involved, Mona.


It took me years to report it, to speak to the lawyers as my hands shook, wrapped around the phone cord in a cold conference room. One of them was kind and careful with his questions, had a Jewish last name. Nothing ever happened. The wife died a few months later.


What did you think we would do? Fire him?




When I turned thirty, I was single for the first time in years. I bought a blond, shoulder-length wig and wore it to a hotel bar in San Francisco with white marble counters and said my name was Catherine. I feel her smile rise from somewhere inside me.


Catherine is a legal aid, orders double Screwdrivers, gives light handshakes, tosses her head back when she laughs. Catherine is from Florida.


Yes, my parents still live there. They have a German Shepard named Rocky.


The men at those bars all looked the same. One syllable names and bad breath.




At thirty-one I moved to New York. There’s a nightclub in Brooklyn called House of Yes. A come-as-you-are sort of place, where dressing up for no reason is encouraged. It’s somewhere to get high and lost. To embody who you wish you could be. To live as someone unscathed, an empty blue sky. To feel briefly loved, pretend it's a story that ends well. There were live shows with trapeze artists hanging naked from the ceiling, cocaine-fueled conversations in mirrored hallways, waiting in line for the single bathroom where we all told each other how beautiful we were.


Babe. You’re stunning.


It made me feel strong. Isn't beauty so strong?


The first time I went I got ready in the bathroom of the Williamsburg apartment I shared with a fiancé, tiptoes on the dirty black-and-white tile. He was gorgeous and bipolar, tall and charismatic and never wanted to fuck. He read Chomsky in the living room as I stuck little plastic jewels under and around my eyes, coating my mouth in baby pink as the dog watched sadly from the floor. Leaning over a different sink, applying the same childhood intentions with a different body.


He’d promised my family he would honor me, love me for the rest of my life. He wrote a speech, wore a suit, bought a vintage ring. I cried on my knees from relief, leaned into his chest as he enveloped my body in his, finally safe.


Years later, I would cry on our floor, the one I cleaned obsessively, doing his laundry unprompted but manically. Buried by depression, strung out like a feral cat on alert for his moods, never knowing who I’d wake up to.




I wore my favorite wig to House of Yes; a dark silver one. Not bright like polished flatware, but moody like a raincloud. Thick and long with a slight wave, cascading down the middle of my back and around my shoulders with bangs that covered my right eye.


I dabbed sparkly silver shadow on my eyelids with my middle finger in a pale blue dress made of thin, shiny fabric. I’d close the door quietly as I left so as not to wake him, he didn’t want to come. I’d leave cheap glitter from my dress on the floor as I shrugged on my coat. Sitting on the M train into Bushwick with my legs crossed.


At the club people asked me what my name was. Men, mostly.


Sloane. I’d lie, smiling up at them, pink and green lights flashing across my face.


That’s a beautiful name.


Their attention awoke a sleepy animal inside me.


Sometimes, I would keep the wig on overnight, not ready to let go. I'd wake up with it scattered on my pillow, quiet, dismembered. I'd put it away shamefully, it looked so different in the light of day.




I’ve never had friends that are men. I like women. I prefer women. I can trust women. My male friends would disagree with that statement – uncomplicating their affection. But one by one, they all turned out to be the same. Their intentions so much cleaner than the hands they seemed to lose control of. Their agenda was playbook. Married, single, old or young. It contributed to my growing ego, but I always knew it was more about power for them than attraction. So I studied it. 


One of them teased me once, if I identify as queer, why was I still messing around exclusively with men?


I laughed.


I have unfinished business.




When you first meet someone, there is always a moment before they decide who they want you to be. What side of you they are comfortable seeing. I like to lean in when I watch people conclude I am sweet. Kind. Easy going and good natured. A cool girl.


In some ways I am those things. Naturally I am good, like my dark wavy hair, long and thick, that has become a weapon and a blanket, falling over my eyes. Friendly, smart. someone who cares about the people around me. I have a good heart. I am generous and loyal.


But I am also other things. Things I am as proud of as my goodness. I enjoy ripping into someone that never saw me coming. To continuously impress myself with my ability to exert power over the powerful. To intimidate. To use every inch of a man’s desire for me to my own benefit. Tossing my hair and squinting my eyes. They shine when I do that. It gets you every time. I shine on command, but you think it’s about you. It was once, but not now. To have your dick down my throat far enough to make me gag, I’ll get on my knees wherever you want, drink cheap beer and still impress your mother, I’ll pick the wine and flirt with your friends just enough, I'll be fucking game. I’ll make you love me and then I win.


Once you experience abuse, it brands you. An attraction and familiarity to it forms. It becomes a part of you, it follows you. Drives you towards it rather than away. There’s no escaping it.


But there is a pattern to abusive behavior. You can learn it. You can beat them at their own game.


You create a decoy. And you offer her up instead.




Sometimes, I like to wear a long auburn wig to bars with outdoor picnic tables on the Lower East Side on weekdays, meet nice boys three beers in. I don’t fuck them most of the time, though sometimes I do. Lawyers with good hairlines and nice Jewish boys from Long Island. Tattooed baristas ten years sober with chunky silver rings.    


But every time, I fantasize about being cruel to the men that I meet. Cruel in the way they have so often been with me. Imagining ways I could hurt them, but unsure how to do it in the way I want. Not to embarrass them for one night, something they’d forget about in a few days, or to hurt them physically. But to make them feel safe.


Then take it away.