I wrote this last February:
I keep my hair in one tapering braid that goes all the way down my back to my bum crack. As far as I can tell, it grows two or more inches each year. I have a recurring nightmare that someone, usually my mother, is threatening to chop it all off, which terrifies me because Joe, right before he died, told me, “Never cut your hair; it’s beautiful.”
My hair is indeed beautiful, medium brown with red highlights, somewhat wavy, and though I’m now 48 I still haven’t got a speck of gray on my head. But it’s always in that braid. Or, if I feel like celebrating (when I get under 170 pounds I certainly will), I make two or three braids, or maybe a French braid just to be fancy; it’s healthier than Budweiser or chocolate cake or jumping into Boston Harbor in the middle of winter just because the scale moved a half pound.
Rarely do I let my hair out when others are around. When I was in the hospital, a woman kept asking me if she could see it loose, and I told her sure, after I shower she could perhaps stop by my room and see it (as if my hair had been a newborn litter of puppies, sheltered and protected by Mama herself). But when it came time, I didn’t invite the woman in, using the excuse that we weren’t allowed in each others’ rooms. I felt–well, shy.
I was listening to news on public radio of the ever-growing tension in Iraq the other night. Someone from the BBC interviewed an Iraqi woman, who, speaking of how soldiers (were they American? I can’t recall) raided her home: “I didn’t have time to cover myself,” she said, “not even to cover my head.”
I get it. I truly understand. Hair comes to us in any language, whether we live in Baghdad or Bangor, Tehran or Brooklyn. In it is the intimate nature of who we are, and it is each individual’s choice how much of it to reveal. To adorn with beads, to shave, to braid, to cover. To be proud to the point of shame. To consider it so special it must remain unseen, the mystery, the part of his sweetheart’s head a yellow-ribbon soldier first sees–as she emerges from a cab, from the subway, from her green, green yard–and in awe, with utter abandon–he kisses her smooth cheek, and touching her flowing hair at last, calls it home, a place of comfort, a place of infinite and precise beauty.
I’m happy to say that my weight is under 160, and my hair has grown even longer (more to braid and celebrate!).