I unwillingly listened to a friend’s spiel that hair is only an accessory. She argued that there’s really no longer a scientific reason for the hairs coming out of our scalps, unlike our eyelashes and nose hairs that protect our eyeballs and nostrils from dirt and dust.
My friend was trying to persuade me to chop off 10+ inches of relaxed, or chemically-straightened hair, after my failed attempt to “go natural.”
Earlier this year, I decided to retain the curly-textured new growth and gradually trim off the processed part. I needed to ease into it because I was uncomfortable with short hair. But my fragile hair started to snap at the point where the two textures met, which was closer to the roots than the ends.
I hadn’t prepared for a sporadic and drastic change in length. I also wasn’t moved by the pep talks from women who have always worn short hair and can only achieve length with the aid of wigs and hair extensions. I’d never think some shit like that. Clip-ons and sew-ins are the accessories, providing temporary versatility for buns, ponies and shoulder-length waves. Eventually, they come out. But my own hair? For the most part, that’s supposed to be permanent.
The longest my hair has ever been before I tried to play natural haircare stylist.
I started growing my hair out during high school. My senior portraits reflect that stage of not really knowing how to style it, a major challenge for a hair amateur like me. But it was much better than my early junior high days when I experienced breakage for the first time because I had no clue about proper hair care.
I thought I could hot curl and press it every day like I ironed my clothes. No one told me hair smokes and burns. My mom sent me to a hairdresser to reverse the damage I caused. She let her deal with giving me an appropriate, fabulous style, ranging from dated asymmetrical cuts to a shaved nape with horizontal parts. I maintained those styles. Somehow. Until senior year.
I initially attributed my desire for longer hair to wanting a different, fresher, or perhaps mature look for the important next four years of my educational journey. I couldn’t let the college and military men overlook me. Oh, and of course recruiters for internships and ultimately full-time employment. I had to look polished for interviews. No way was I entering freshman year of college resembling a ninth-grader.
In retrospect, my decision was much deeper than trying to appear older or professional. Shorter hair highlighted my facial structure and features: a heart-shaped face, broad around the forehead and pointy at the chin, with a too-large-for-my-small-face nose. Traits that I inherited from my father. That was cool during my pre-teen years when I adored everything about him. Not so much as a late teen and beyond.
I grew up in a single-parent household as an only child with my mom. My dad lived less than two miles away. He’d come over and we’d play the game board Trouble or a few of the card games he taught me. I’d stay up and watch TV with him until my mom announced my bed time and then I’d look forward to the next Friday night when he’d visit again.
It was many years before I fully understood that schedule.
When I was 15, my mom passed away and I moved in with my grandparents, who lived a very quick walking distance from my dad’s house. His home was so close we could see it from our backyard when the trees weren’t in full bloom. Yet his visits became oddly infrequent. And short. As in minutes.
For years I blamed his wife for his inability to come by. But part of me wondered if my mom encouraged the bonding and the visits weren’t his idea. Could it have been possible that I was part of a package deal where he’d see me only when he could come over to see my mother? Or was it simply weird for him to sit in my grandparents’ home? Possibly. But if I was not welcome in his home, as his wife made sure everyone knew when I was 19, then a few hours of discomfort wouldn’t hurt.
The answers about his distance became irrelevant. The damage was done and feelings of hidden resentment arose when he fell terminally ill and certain individuals actively tried to instill in me a sense of obligation and guilt — while I steadily tried to rebuild, accept and forgive, in my own time and on my own terms. I still vividly remembered the exclusion while he and the world wanted to suddenly (and finally) acknowledge I was his daughter.
“I was his daughter for 36 years, not three,” I once said.
I hate when people address me by his nickname instead of my own name or rave how I look just like him. They go as far as posting those comments on my Facebook wall where it’s akin to permanent engraving until I delete them.
I didn’t address these emotions before he passed away, mainly because I’m not confrontational and I keep everything inside hoping they eventually disappear. But I wish I had said something. My feelings seem to intensify as I tackle this hair issue.
And here I thought so-called daddy issues would manifest themselves in the men I choose. I never imagined they would surface in the mirror.
My new, shorter hair this past August. Now if I can only cut those sides where I currently hide.
I’ve begun to cut my brittle hair in stages. Right now it’s in an “angled bob” to cover his chin and nose – “his” because when I look at me, I only see him. But I try to convince myself that he did the best he could. It’s becoming my mantra so I can reach closure on my own. And take the next step is chopping off these sides.
Perhaps my friend is right and my hair would merely be an enhancement if I didn’t use it for another purpose. While it may not shield my scalp from foreign matter, my naturally long hair is my emotional cover.
Follow Teronda’s sometimes vodka-fueled opinions, reflections and observations at @skinnydcwriter.