I do not know if I should cut my hair.
It is very long. Some people call it obscenely long. It’s the color of wheat, and very often air dried so that it falls in irregular waves down to just above my thighs. When I brush it, the brush seems miniature and gets very heavy in my hands, as if it is passing through hardening mud and not soft hair. At its longest, my hair reaches the tops of my thighs. At its shortest, my hair lands at the twin points of my elbows. I used to braid my hair into long plaits with bright colored bands at the end. I used to wear headbands of all colors and styles. But, now, with the hair being so long, the addition of anything, even a little silk headband, feels like too much weight.
When I look in the mirror, I can see that my hair is beautiful. It falls around my face and guides the eye down to my body, which, I think, is better looking than my face. When Gale looks at me, he follows the line of my hair down to my chest or my waist or to my hips, which curve out like the sides of wine bottles. He never looks me right in the eye. He mostly looks at my face for a moment before looking down and away, as if my face hurts when seen. I don’t blame him. My skin is so pale, paler than usual because it’s been so cold out. The fall was so long, and the winter too, that I haven’t left the house much. My mouth is long and wide, like a frog’s. I used to wear lipstick the color of apricots and would arrange my lips so that I would look like I was pouting or about to smile, but we’ve been together for so long my lips lost their luster. Now they wilt off to the sides, hanging loosely in my face, almost like they’re about ready to slip right off. I have two moles on my cheek, in a line, running diagonally from the outer corner of my right eye towards the cheekbone, which I used to cover up with make-up. My nose is softly curved, like my body. But, whereas people seem to like a softly curved shape, nobody wants a curved nose. At least, we don’t.
I spend a lot of time on my hair — an inordinate amount of time. Washing and conditioning is a long and arduous task. The shampoo foams wonderfully around the scalp, but it loses potency as I guide it down the length of my hair. By the time it reaches the ends, it has faded entirely. I go through conditioner by the gallon. Sometimes I go through half a bottle in one shower. This is something that makes Gale mad. He doesn’t want to pay money for something that goes down the drain. Once, Gale came in to shave while I was showering, and I caught him glaring at the gobs of white conditioner that slid along the bottom of the bathtub towards the open mouth of the drain. He was disgusted, I could tell, and he wrinkled his nose and eyes like it wasn’t just a quivering pile of conditioner, but instead a drowned and bloated sewer rat. After that, I never really got the drowned rat out of my head, so now, when the shower clogs up with hair, which it often does, and the water puddles around my ankles in burbling swirls, I imagine dead rats floating just underneath the water’s surface, and I get shivers all over my body.
When I am out of the shower, I then have to use a line of products. I first use a detangler so I can get a brush through my hair. The detangler smells like almonds (which Gail once cruelly reminded me is the smell of cyanide so that I would feel like I was inhaling the scent of poison) after the detangler comes, a serum that promises to make my ragged ends glossy and polished. Then comes a spray, which hangs in the air like a purple perfumed fog. It too promises me things. It promises to make my hair strong and healthy.
These products are not cheap. It is something that Gale reminds me every day before he leaves for work. Since I am between jobs, and because the winter is so cold, and I am so tired, and because Gale has been supporting us for so long and I can’t ask him to pay for something so stupid and vain as nice hair, these are probably my last bottles. It does seem foolish and vain to be sad about something like that. But it’s so cold, and I don’t go anywhere, and we haven’t had anything nice in so long that losing something even so small and stupid as hair stuff feels monumental.
In addition to being expensive and stupid and vain, my hair also takes a lot of energy and strength to wrangle. My arms often get severely fatigued. I have become sore from blow-drying it on several occasions. I try to let it air dry as often I as can, to save myself pain and time. Gale doesn’t like this. He hates the wet patches I leave everywhere my drying hair rests too long.
“It’s like being around a fish,” he says and curls his mouth grossly. He does not like fish. But he also does not like having to help me carry things when my arms are sore from battling my hair, so he lets the air-drying go. But sometimes I feel him looking at my wet hair with so much revulsion that I try to will my hair to dry immediately. It never does. I should admit the wet patches on the furniture do look like they’re from a fish. And sometimes the spots don’t dry right away, and then the whole apartment smells green and dank like mildew. And sometimes, if I fall asleep on the red couch, as the ceiling fan spirals dust above me, the wetness will really sink in and spread out and will be moist to the touch for days afterward. The red will come off on your fingers and will stain like blood.
When I get dressed, my hair wraps around buttons, or gets tucked under straps, or zipped up in the silvered teeth of my jacket. It exasperates Gale, especially when I have to enlist his help in the detachment of the hair.
“Well, why’d you zip up your coat like that?” He will grumble irritably, wrenching the zipper up and down, pulling my hair in horrible, sharp tugs. The pain explodes visibly into bright stars, which I blink away. “And with your head at such an angle? Don’t you learn? Put your hair up! Put your hair up before you get dressed!” But ponytails collect my hair into a focused line of swinging weight, which throws off my equilibrium and makes me dizzy. It’s best to leave my hair down so that it can blow around me. Equal distribution. I’ve learned to give Gale a big smile after he wrenches my hair out.
There have been a few times this winter where I loved my hair. When I leave the house, the cold weather is unbearable. The sun stings my face, and the wind clings at the lines of my nose, jaw, and ears. Gale is cold too, hustling ahead of me to the car. He hates the cold even more than I do. He lived and raised in various southern states. He is older and says that this makes his skin thinner than mine, thus more susceptible to cold.
As he hustles ahead of me, his hair, which hangs around his jaw in brown curls, catches the sunlight and refracts it back into my eyes. The combination of the horrible sunshine and the brightness of his hair blinds me, and this is where my hair saves me. I have learned to dip my head forward so that my hair slips around my face, forming an impervious wall that glimmers. If I keep my head down, my hair will shield me. The cold will then be bearable, and the sunlight blocked. But then, of course, that means I have trouble seeing what’s in front of me, so I have to move slowly through the frigid air.
More often than not, Gale shuts the car door on my hair. He closes the door for me because he always helps me into my seat. He was raised to treat women right. I used to love this at first. When we began dating, it was summer and humid, and the feel of his hand on my arm and his smile at me through the hot, black shadows struck me as romantic and sweetly old-fashioned. The slam of the car door would shudder through my body, sending waves of pleasure throughout. But, now, in the thick of a gusty winter, my hair will blow up and out of the car in the wind, and he always seems to slam the door shut before I have the chance to pull it back. It infuriates him when this happens. He wishes I thought ahead. He recommends that I wear a ponytail, or that I tuck my hair into my coat, or that I just fucking cut it. If he’s pissed off enough, he won’t let me open the car door to free it, and he will stomp to the driver’s side and get in and then drive us away. When we get to our destination, my hair will be frozen over and icy white. Silently, I’ve cried many times.
But, when I see my friends, they exclaim over my hair.
“It’s so beautiful,” purrs one, reverently stroking the strands near my elbow.
“You are so lucky. It has been forever to get my hair to this length! I don’t think I could ever get hair like yours. I am so jealous,” says another, waving a curling wand as if it really will do magic.
They want to brush it and touch it and take pictures of it. They call me a fairy princess. They say I’m Rapunzel. They say every girl wants hair like this. When we go out, they love to parade me, making me walk ahead of them. They say I’m stunning and that I’m special. In the bar, boys come to ask me about my hair and ask to touch it.
Gale hates it when I go out. He says my friends are just using me for attention. He says that boys don’t care about me. They’re just using me to break the ice so they can talk to my friends or, worse, using my hair as a way to get into my pants. I agree with him about the boys. None of them are as interesting as Gale, anyway. They all have clean, scrubbed faces and running shoes and buttoned shirts. They have never read a book or played an instrument or traveled.
I’m not sure that Gale is right about the girls. Sometimes, when we are together, I will see a look pass between them. They will look at me and then at each other, their eyes slit, and they will move their mouths like they are holding back a laugh. At other times, I will feel their hands pushing at my lower back, herding me ahead of them, touching the ends of my hair, it feels like I ’m being shoved towards the edge of a huge pit. It’s moments like these that make me wonder if Gale is right about them. I don’t see them as often as I used to, anyway. It’s too cold to go out. I’m just too cold.
When the moments where I like my hair fade away, the world can feel like a trap. My hair gets caught on everything: tree branches, the backs of fold-out chairs, lamps, the sharp corners of bookshelves, wire hangers, door handles, silverware, tables, shopping carts, purse clasps, rings, bracelets, everything. Once I got my hair caught around the dark knob of the bedroom dresser. It got so hopelessly tangled that I had to wait until Gale came home from work to help me. It took him a full twenty minutes to untangle me, by which time he was furious. He swore, and I cried (both an apology and because of the pain) as he tugged on my hair, leaving innumerable, purpled bruises all along my scalp.
After times like that, I do think about cutting my hair. When I’m at my lowest, I have fantasies about all of the different hairstyles I could have. How would I look? What kind of person would I be without my long hair? A girl in all gold with fluffy bangs and wavy hair that falls to the top of my breasts, which have perhaps grown smaller because I, too, have become more petite and more powerful. Or would I be a girl mysteriously clad in silk jackets and thigh high boots with the tiniest and sleekest of topknots? Or, perhaps, even a girl with hair wickedly dyed deepest of blue-black, which moves about me like the threatening lines of a snake.
In my most extreme fantasies, I envision myself taking clippers to my head and shaving it all off. I imagine the hair falling in dense piles around my feet, obscuring the floor from view, and my head shorn, free, and lighter than it has ever been. But, always, my fantasies are tainted by doubt. Would I feel lighter without the weight of all of that hair? Or would I feel empty? Short hair would be more manageable, yes it would be less time-consuming. Shorter hair might save me from a lot of pain and frustration and a lot of little fights with Gale. But should I get rid of it all for a might? Doubt rages inside of me as the vision of my denuded head blur and corrupts until I look peeled, devoid, and incomplete.
And then, to cast further doubt, there are times, when we lie in bed and my hair coils smoothly behind me, as the sun sets vermillion and blue, and shadows dapple our entwined bodies, where I forget how long my hair is. He will gently stroke my hair and my face, his rough fingers snagging, and this is when I feel as if I could never cut it. The way it moves through his fingers, like cobwebs, and the way it lingers in his eyes, and the way it leads his hands to my throat, then chest, then below: all send shivers of pleasure down my spine.
This feeling does not last for long. Eventually, the shadows deepen and night falls, and we will turn away from each other. This is when I will have to make a choice. Either I have to lie on top of my hair so that it is stretched tightly down against my back, where it sticks like glue, or I will have to lift it to let it rest on the pillow and then endure Gale complaining that it’s in his eyes or mouth. Most nights, to save us from bickering, to prolong the sunset, I will opt to lie on top of it. Sometimes I will sleep the whole night on top of my hair, trapped by the weight of my own body. When I dream, I dream of webs and crows and towers and golden brushes and vines and scissors and falls from great heights that never, ever seem to end.
I know that someday I will have to cut my hair. It cannot be allowed to grow forever. But there is always a further day, someday, when I can cut it. It’s so bleak and cold now, and the snow drifts up around the sills, and there isn’t much money, and my hair drapes over my shoulders, silky and warm, like a blanket. Maybe one day in the spring, when the weather turns, and the sun comes out, and the spring anemones (poisonous and bitter, but still white and star-like, touched all over by hoverflies) push their way up from the cold soil. One day. One day. One day.