As a child I had very long hair. My sisters would often tease, quoting Jo’s sisters from Little Women, “Your hair!… Your one beauty!”
Where I lived it was kind of rare for an African American girl to have long hair, and people often noticed my sisters and me because of our hair. Men and women alike advised me to never cut my hair. I thought I must be the Black Rapunzel.
I internalized the idea that if you have “good hair”, you just don’t cut it.
Rhema’s hair is also… “rare”. Her thick curls turn into knots before my eyes. Washing and brushing her hair often turns into a small war. And when she gets upset she will often eat her hair. I didn’t know you could eat your hair until I met Rhema. You totally can. And lemme tell you, it causes some problems coming out the other end.
For months I fretted over her hair. I knew I should cut it short, but couldn’t bear to do it. It also bothered me that I didn’t know how she felt about the whole thing. Maybe she liked her hair long. Maybe she could care less. I tried to talk to her about it, but she showed no understanding of my words at all. I felt sad that she could not have her say.
When I learned of my upcoming surgery and the long recovery period, I knew it was time. I began searching for a beautician who would be up for the haircut challenge. I remembered an African American hair stylist named C I’d met a couple years ago – she had a young son with special needs. I contacted her and explained my situation. I told her that Rhema would not tolerate sitting in the chair for long or getting her hair washed in a strange place, that the blow dryers might set her off. I asked her if we could come at closing time when there’d be fewer people. I told her that it all might go downhill really fast. She said, “Honey, come on over.”
We arrived at the salon armed with her iTouch, snacks and bubbles. Amazingly, Rhema did very well except for when they tried to put a cape around her neck. Poor C almost lost her arm when she tried that. C sprayed her hair with water and she and I and another stylist worked together to comb the tangles out.
Then I knelt in front of Rhema and tried to keep her engaged with me while C began working the scissors. Even she was hesitant.
An older woman watching from her chair exclaimed, “Why they cuttin’ the baby’s hair? Why they cuttin’ the baby’s hair??”
I stayed focused on the face of my girl as she changed before me. We felt light and free as my insecurities and her abundant locks fell away.
Silly me. I got a little teary-eyed when it was done.
“There she is.”
Like the sunny day at a carnival long ago when a man stuck white rolled paper in a metal vat and went round and round until out came the most deliciously pink cloud of cotton candy, there she is.