Wednesday, November 5, 2014

If a Woman Have Long Hair

I will never, ever cut off my hair.

It's extraordinary stuff, my hair. Not as thick and dense as Cat's, nor as unapologetically curly as Bethe's, it hovers somewhere in between--a long, complex, casually elegant tumble of nonchalant half-curls that are called 'beach waves' by those who know about such things. It is deep, dark brown, but catches the light in red.

It is not beautiful the way it ought to be beautiful. It does not catch the eyes of men. The one man who was ever in a position to comment upon it found it annoying. His loss. My hair is not here to impress anyone else. It is mine.

I began braiding my own hair in the late nineties, when I was about ten years old. Before then, my mother had always done it for me. My mother's hair is straight as a pin all the way down; she was simultaneously frustrated by and proud of my troublesome, tangle-prone locks. Children are not the mirror of their parents, but the interpretation.

I learned to braid before I first went to summer camp, so I could keep my hair sensibly out of trouble in the woods. But like so many things, what began as an artistic option became a socially imposed necessity.

I do not think that I went out in public without my hair braided, except on very rare and special occasions, from 1997 to 2003. It was always the same: one thick braid, straight down my back, tied with a black or brown elastic. Never a French braid or a fishtail, never one set high on the crown of my head to start, never one plait shorter than the maximum my length could hold.

1997 was when the bullying really started. People whose names and faces are now lost to me extracted confidence and social clout from my tears like petroleum from crude oil. They were so cruel for so long that I almost forgot I did not deserve it. They mocked my behavior, my clothes, my habits, my speech, my smell. But they never noticed my hair, in one plain, unremarkable braid down my back. More fools they.

My hair was where I kept my sense of self-worth, woven tight among the plaits, pulled snug against my skull. Through 1997 and 1998 and 1999, that dangerous knowledge stayed knitted away, and I was the Mme. Defarge that wove it there every morning. The beauty of my hair was my secret. My classmates never saw it, and thus could not laugh at it and take away its value and meaning like they'd done to so much else. My hair was the only thing that was mine about me.

In 1999, I moved away. I wept like I was being dragged bodily out of the Stockholm Kreditbanken.

In 2003 I set foot in a public school with my hair loose around my shoulders for the first time in over five years. It felt like being naked: vulnerable and terrifying. Here was my closely guarded secret--my basic, fundamental worth--on display for the world to see and laugh at. My hair screamed at the world: I MATTER. My hair defied the world to prove it wrong.

It has not. Not yet.

I've yet to forgive those idiot children back in Minnesota who knew not what they did. I suppose I should. I should pray for them. I'm still more pleased with the thought of throttling them with the long, thick, inexorable cord of my hair. You missed a spot.

But now my hair is lying across my shoulder, long and languid, forming absentminded corkscrews while it waits for me to finish blogging and go to bed. It has not been desecrated or chopped off. It is still mine, as much as any mortal thing can be. So I'm off to sleep, and the irrepressible knowledge of my own inherent worth will tickle my cheek as I dream.