In the days leading up to “the cut” I began to look at women differently.
On the Bart, in my dance classes, passing them on the street, I imagined them all without hair. I looked closely. Eyes, lashes, the curve of the neck, the bridge of the nose, collarbones—without hair would they still be beautiful? For that matter, could I? This compulsive examining became a great source of reassurance.
A few times I woke up in the middle of the night filled with anxiety. I’d remember this ridiculous plan and be hit with a frenzy of regret. “Maybe I could just change my mind? Who did I tell? Yes, I can change my mind. I’m not doing it.” I’d reach for the nest of hair resting on top of my head and then fall back asleep, relieved.
These days were a ping-pong of emotions—confidence, empowerment, regret and sadness all mixing together. I was plotting the death of my closest friend and she had no idea. My hair continued to shine and bounce and be lovely accepting and deflecting compliments without care. I loved and loathed my hair.
I decided Sunday, August 23 was the day. My roommate was out of town, and I wanted to go through this process alone should I fall into a puddle of (fill in messy emotion) once it was done.
This would mean I, the girl who has paid upwards of $700 for a haircut and has NEVER considered cutting it herself, was for the first time the master of her hair destiny.
On cut day, I stood in the bathroom eager to begin and feel whatever it was I was going to feel.
I sectioned the mass of curls into ponytails and stared in the mirror, scissors in hand. With the first cut, a cluster at the front of my head, I felt my heart–excitement and terror. What am I doing?
The sections began to fall away, and I got lost in the task of cutting through their thickness. A revelation was taking place.
As the hair came off, I could, for the first time, see it objectively. It was just hair. And it was a marvel. Blonde, brown and auburn shades all twisted and tumbled upon each other. The colors seemed to represent different parts of my ancestry. Ahhhh …. this explains it. The question I most frequently enjoyed to not answer. “Are you mixed? Where are your people from?” My favorite response: Aboriginal and Icelandic. “What business was it of their’s?” My hair had made it their business. It delighted in this attention, to be mistaken for not Black. Well, adios.
I reached for the clippers. They were heavy and industrial. When switched on they hungrily vibrated alive. I was out of my depth. “What if I hurt myself? What if I shaved off too much?”
But rubbing them up and down, back and forth along my scalp was satisfying on every level. The fingers massaged my head as dark clumps were revealed and swept away. It was a Baptism. Then a miraculous thing did happen. I began to see my head—my whole head. I was surprised by its perfect roundness, its smallness. I thought of the doctor shaping it when I exited the womb. He did a good job.
I saw my face. It was a good face, I decided. Not perfect, but good. My dark round eyes, broad nose, plump cheeks–there was no denying my Blackness now.
The buzzing continued though I didn’t know what I was doing. The hair turned in all different directions. There was no apparent growth pattern. “How would the barbershop do it?” I ran the clippers over my head a final time in all directions.
Upon inspection it was not perfect but it would do. I’ve never been a perfectionist.
Looking at this new person in the mirror, I waited for the flood of tears, the sorrow, the regret, the resurfacing of memories now cut away. But they did not come. Instead I felt a lightness, a freedom and then joy and relief. It was done. I also felt shorter and an urge for peanut butter cups and Cheetos. Yes, comfort foods.
I rode my bike to Trader Joe’s to gather the necessary supplies. As I stepped outside I was taken as the sun kissed my scalp. The environment approved.
In the store, I immediately noticed other Black women. They were courteous in a way I do not remember experiencing. “Oh, sorry honey,” when a women stepped in front of me. “Are you looking for something?” said someone who worked there. A little Black girl smiled at me on the bike ride home. I smiled back.
Now I sit on the couch in the sun feeling the breeze play across my scalp, everything is more alive.
I think I might like the girl who was underneath all that hair.