"Don't you ever miss combing it?" a woman I hardly know asks me with a bite from across the table. "I just need to keep my hair clean," she continues.
Her golden tresses cascade down her shoulder as she tilts her head to one side. Like clockwork, she runs her fingers through her hair, then drops the blonde whispers wrapped around them to the floor. I've seen this move before -- ah yes, nameless shampoo commercial.
"I've always hated my hair," a friend at the table shares. I can relate.
Our water glasses sweat and sparkle from the late afternoon sun shining through a nearby window. I drop my eyes to my wine glass -- Malbec -- and take a sip to gather my thoughts and to wash down the emotions bubbling up in my throat. I'm not sure how we've arrived on the topic of my hair.
"I don't like the way cornrows look on the scalp," another friend chimes in, "and even though it's probably easier, I just don't want my daughter to make the statement dreads make."
The statement? Am I making a statement? I take a swig of wine this time, lean against the back of my chair and cross both arms and legs. I feel myself disengage.
I remember the day I decided to cut my hair.
I stare into my sad reflection on the other side of the mirror with butterflies in my belly and kitchen shears in one hand. I make the first cut just an inch from my hairline at the divide between my past and my present. Years of long, processed hair tumble down my face to the floor. The girl in the mirror smiles. There's no turning back.
I remember the one time -- the only time -- Paul threw me into a pool.
I push back from the poolside table -- satisfied -- and stretch out in my seat with bare arms and sticky ankles crossed. My dear friend sits to my right, her husband is across the table, and Paul is to my left. Beads of perspiration run down my back and soak my tank top even though we are shaded beneath a large, backyard umbrella. The guys stand to clear plates as my girlfriend and I continue our conversation between sighs of contentment. Her son splashes in the pool.
Eventually I stand, just as my blonde-haired, blue-eyed boyfriend playfully approaches me from behind. He lifts me up; I scream and flail. He tosses me into the water. Fully dressed. In the scorching sun of the San Fernando Valley. Two days after a six-hour trip to and from a South Central LA hair salon to get my relaxer retouched.
I fire rounds of angry expletives, without pausing to think or to breathe. Time stands still as I scream and shout at Paul, while he and our friends (AND their little boy) incredulously watch my crazy tirade. I'm pretty certain they've never heard me raise my voice before. All eyes are locked on me as I emerge from the pool dripping with rage; I go inside.
I remember the tears I shed for weeks following the kitchen-shear-haircut.
The water in the open shower is warm, but never quite warm enough. I rub shampoo into my scalp and caress the short, tight curls atop my head. I feel warm inside. I feel joy -- and relief. I am soothed by the sweet smell of lemon verbena shampoo and the healing ointments of olive oil and myrrh. As I gently wash my hair, lather and years of self-loathing and pain run down my shoulders, my arms, my back, my feet and down the drain. Hot tears prick my eyes and spill down my face. I am dripping with gratitude.
I remember the $120 I dropped every six to eight weeks on hair appointments and the subsequent hours spent in traffic on the way home. I remember the welts, the burns and the yellow crust on my scalp from the relaxers that sat on my head just a bit too long. And I remember the day it all ended. I remember when I realized that this hair need not be combed, so I stopped combing it. I witnessed what can happen when I finally stop fucking with it, and let it be.
I uncross my arms and legs and reach out this time for the cool glass of water beside my glass of wine. I take a long drink before I finally speak up.
"The thing is -- for the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I love my hair." My friends at the table smile warm knowing smiles and regard me with acceptance and love as our food arrives.
And then, we move on.