In case the title of this post didn’t clue you in, I’m about to give a brief history of my hair, inspired by the series of increasingly drastic haircuts I’ve been getting leading up to pre-surgery head-shaving. It is thus completely understandable, even admirable, if you choose to stop reading. Can’t say I didn’t warn you.
And so it begins.
Welcome to my Hairstory. But only part one of it because yes, I’m willing to stretch this into two segments.
The most meaningful instalments of my Hairstory are, naturally, also the traumatic ones: these stories, mostly of accidentally-too-short cuts, are plentiful and reach back to my early youth. Who, after all, remembers a good haircut for more than a day or three?? I certainly don’t. But the bad ones, especially those afflicted by the parental units—they have true sticking power.
Considering that I generally put more effort into cursing my hair’s unpredictable ways than I do into styling it, it’s strange what a strong emotional bond I have to my unruly mane. I recently came to the realization, though, that it’s not so much the hair itself that I’m attached to (although I am, yes, technically physically attached to it #irresistibledadjoke), and it’s not the idea of looking like a weirdo that most concerns me when I think about going bald (though that thought does, of course, cross my mind). No: my “thing” with maintaining hair long enough to braid—and the “long enough to braid” is key, as will make more sense when I stop babbling and get to the point—reaches right back to childhood. To a crucial piece of my personal Hairstory, if you will.
This, however, would benefit from some setup.
When I was really little, I had ringlets that would’ve been angelic if I’d allowed my parents to brush them. Instead, they became a source of stress and anxiety for all involved in my haircare routine as they slowly matted into mini dreadlocks, five-year-old me’s inadvertent version of cultural appropriation. There were vague (OK, not-so-vague) threats of “we’ll cut it all off if you don’t let us comb it out!” every once in a while, but, too self-assured for my own good, I assumed that my mother and father wouldn’t follow through. These were, after all, my princess curls (/dreads).
And then, one summer afternoon so many years ago, I sat down at a children’s salon in Victoria for what I swear I had been told would be a trim. I recall thinking that it was taking much longer than it normally did for the usual a-little-off-the-ends business to which I was accustomed. I was about to say something when I was turned around in the fancy swivel-y chair so that I could admire the hairdresser’s handiwork.
I looked like one of the brothers from Home Improvement. And not the cute one, either.
To my parents’ credit, their strategy was successful, in its own way. It took, as one might expect, years for my hair to fully grow out, but as it did, I became obsessive about keeping it tangle-free.
The thing is, my hair is thick and wavy, and when left to its own devices, it can’t help but tie itself in knots. Once it reached a certain length, I began waking up almost every morning with a head of matted tufts. I could carefully control how I cared for it during the daytime, but while sleeping was another matter.
Was another mushroom cut in my future? The clock was ticking, and panic levels were rising.
It was around this time that my father was convinced to sign on as a Beaver leader (this, my friends, is another story). One of the skills that he taught his five-year-old charges was the fine art of braiding, which meant that he had to learn how to do it himself. Whoever’s idea it was, and this is a matter of debate, he started to braid my hair every night before I went to bed as a tangle-prevention measure. It was effective in that regard, but it soon became first and foremost an important bonding ritual (so much so that when a few years later I chose, of my own volition, to get a haircut that turned out to disallow braiding, I had an uncharacteristic meltdown).
I would like to add, for the record, that I recently mentioned the nightly hair-braiding ritual to my dad. My expectation, of course, was that we would then engage in a lengthy father-daughter reminiscing session about these before-bed plaiting moments, which meant so much to me, as evidenced by how many times I’ve talked to my husband about them. Dad’s reply?
“I don’t remember that.”
I’m going to give him a pass and blame it on old age. (Sorry, Pops, but you brought it on yourself. When’s my birthday, again?)
He did, however, remember my reaction to the haircut mentioned above. Some hair-related memories are, apparently, too trauma-inducing to fade.