When I was young, I desperately wanted red hair. Not highlights. Not kind of red. Fire engine red. Stop sign red. Anne of Green Gables red. I was already smart in a way that annoyed my classmates, living close to the maritime provinces with an elegant name that people constantly misspelled. My raven black tresses simply would not do. Two things kept me from asking my mom for a trip to the salon: the amount of chemicals she already applied to straighten out the kinks, and the fact that red wouldn’t really go with my chocolate complexion. I didn’t stop wanting Anne’s hair, though, even if I didn’t have a slate to smash over some boy’s head.
In my mid-twenties, I have somewhat adjusted to the shock of finding myself older than Anne. I watch Colleen Dewherst remind Megan Follows to keep her dress clear of the wheel as she leaves for the White Sands Hotel to give a recitation. I’m thinking ahead to The Highwayman and Josie Pye looking askance at Gilbert Blythe for giving Anne a standing ovation when I notice something that never really registered before. Anne announces, “I can’t go up on that stage, I can’t! They’ll be merciless if I fail!” and I am not surprised that I know exactly what Diana will say. What surprises me is how deeply I know the next phrase. “You have never failed at anything in your life, Anne Shirley,” sounds harmless enough, but I am both a perfectionist and someone who tends to take things literally. If Anne had never failed at anything, surely what Diana really meant was that Anne would never fail, that Anne was not allowed to fail. I had never known where my own fear of failure had come from but here it was, informed by a scene in one of my favorite movies. I rewind the tape so that the text of the script could fade in the background behind my own voice speaking the words I needed to hear: “I will love you whether you fail or not, Anne Shirley.”
Tolonda Henderson is a poet, a librarian, and a Harry Potter Scholar. Since 2011, she has been writing and performing from the perspective of a fat, queer, neurodivergent African-American woman. Her work has appeared in Freeze Ray Poetry, Yellow Chair Review, and Open Letters Monthly and her visit to Prince Edward Island in 2008 was a fulfillment of a childhood dream.