When I was a young child I was obsessed with growing my hair down to my feet. I don’t know where I learned about Lady Godiva, but she was instantly inspirational far more than the expected Rapunzel. I wanted hair so long I could wear it.
I grew competitively. Before each visit with my Aunt Kathy from Arizona, I was determined that my hair would be longer than hers as if I could will it to grow. She even tricked me into eating the crusts on my sandwiches under the guise that crusts increase the length of your hair.
Then, I think sometime around 8 years old, I saw an infomercial for Locks of Love. I could grow with a purpose. My hair could bring normalcy, restore confidence, and make someone feel happy. Honestly, my hair was long enough that I could have gone the next day to donate it. Still, I clung to it. For years after that, I told people that I was growing my hair with the intent of donating it. I no longer grew hair that belonged to just me, I had a responsibility. The years passing and me “growing with purpose.”
When I made the transition from 6th to 7th grade, which at the time involved leaving the elementary school and going to a new school for junior high, I finally took my first big chop.
The Torah Portion for my birthday opens with the laws concerning a “beautiful captive.” What do you do with a beautiful woman captured in war? First, she must shave her hair and grow out her nails. You will no longer clothe her as a slave and you must give her a month to mourn her father and mother. And then you can take her for a wife.
There is a lot to unpack there– starting with the enslavement and subsequent marriage of a woman whose parents you presumably murdered in said war. But I am not going to unload this particular suitcase here. This is only the first of 74 laws that are included in the reading aligned with my birth. Today, I only want to focus on the hair.
Leaving behind her old life and entering into a new life, starts with shaving her hair and mourning the closing door of her past. I relate more to the woman than the man the law was written for. Somehow, I have timed my big cuts to come in periods of transition. There is something powerful in a physically fresh start. As the long braid separates from my head, I feel the literal weight of the last several years coming off. The big cut makes me feel so light, I practically float for weeks after.
With each cut in the past, I have surprised the people in my life with the sudden and drastic change to my appearance. The big chop is a big secret until it happens. Here, in a new space with people who have only met me with my long hair, I will show up one day as the woman they met and the next as someone completely unexpected. The mix of delight and startle has always been thrilling to me– I love to see the look on their face when they realize I am standing in front of them and just what I’ve done.
This week, for the first time in my life, I was the one surprised. Just mere days before my hair salon closed for the pandemic, I drove my mom to her appointment with David at Rootz. One of my earliest political memories is coloring while David colored my mom’s hair and the two discussed Bill Clinton taking advantage of his young unpaid White House intern. David is chosen family. He is an artist, excellent at his job, passionate and knowledgable. He takes good care of my mom and every few years he cuts my hair.
This week, I came in to say hello and let him know that I was ready whenever. Turns out, he was ready right then. So for the first time in all these years, the face mixed with startle and delight was mine looking back at me from the mirror.
It had been a long wait. The last I cut my hair was when I entered grad school in 2013. I thought about cutting it when I graduated in 2016, but everything still felt so unfinished. There was so much I wanted to do with my Master’s thesis and the incompletes from my kidney stone days continued to loom over me. It would have been fun to cut off my hair while substitute teaching. The kids would literally roll on the floor if I made a good joke– the best audience would certainly have a loud reaction to my drastic change in appearance. But I did not indulge myself with their reactions, clinging to my unfinished long hair instead.
It was in November or December when I finally decided that it was time. I had been thinking about it for around year, starting when I was in Israel and finally making the decision all these months later when I found myself with a romantic interest for a man nestled in the forests of the Colorado mountains– I was ready for a fresh start. It was time to look to the future and figure out just what my new life looked like. With the loss of Bandit, I had no idea what my dogless life would be. My business asks me to travel, and I decided I would embrace being a vagabond. I hoped to stay on the road, splitting my time between Colorado and Wyoming. I made the call to David before the mountain man called things off with me. Probably for the best, like many men in my life, and not all romantic interests, he communicated his preference for women with long hair. But see, just as my hair no longer belongs to me alone– it definitely does not belong to them.
To the braid, laying on the tray next to me, I spoke my well wishes for its next owner. I hoped my hair would serve them well and bring them happiness. I reminisced about the fun I had with my hair this time– utilizing it most during Halloween by braiding it into snakes for Medusa or weaving it into deer ears for a doe. I considered the loss this hair grew with me through– both my Grandma and Bandit, my Uncle Delmer, my Aunt Marcia, my best friend’s mom, my next-door neighbor. This wise hair stuck with me through grad school, unemployment, and the start of my new business. It made me feel beautiful during my sister’s wedding. In fact, my hair made appearances on the dance floors of wedding receptions in Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, and Nebraska. I drove across the U.S. with this hair– it joined me for my research in Georgia and family stories shared in Washington. It danced and tangled in the winds at home as well as on the Oregon coast and the Tel Aviv beaches. It was there for rejection and hope. I wondered about the new life it would have, what changes it would bring to this stranger. I feel an intimate connection with a family I will never meet– the people who wear my hair now. Do they feel the echoes of the life my hair had with me?
The woman from my Torah Portion, her life has already changed. She has lost her family and her old way of living. The instructions are written as her actions– I changed part of it earlier to emphasize her enslavement and bring more culpability to the man who is to be following this law. But, really, the text calls for her to cast off the garments of enslavement and to take a month to weep for her parents. She is the one who must accept this change and that acceptance starts with shaving her hair. It starts with a fresh, lightened load. A cut to make room for new growth.