My hair flows and floats down, soft. It lifts in the breeze. Dark, dark brown. So pretty. It brushes my shoulders and my back. Down to my butt. When my hair is down free and loose, I can sit on it. Mother braids it every morning for school. She says that is neater. It is more grown-up and neater in braids. My hair feels soft on my skin. I have never had a haircut. I have thick hair. It is thick and soft and long, down to my butt. I love my hair. It is Virginia, 1952, and I am the girl with long hair.
The only bad thing is some days the boys at Abingdon Elementary School chase me home trying to pull my pigtails. One boy Ricky yells “Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring!” and “Pocahontas!”
This year two bad things happened. Grandpa died. I said why why I don’t know why Grandpa had to die. I miss Grandpa. Where is he? Poor Grandma. Poor Daddy. I knew Grandpa my whole life.
The other thing, I went to the hospital for two weeks. My hair got so dirty and the nurses wouldn’t let Mother wash my hair there. I had to have an operation to take out my old pendix. It hurt so bad. After visiting hours Mother came outside the window near my bed and talked to me. She said she could hear me screaming and was so worried what they were doing to me. One thing they were doing was the nurses were putting the wire where I tinkle. They put the wire in again and again. It wouldn’t go in right. A bunch of nurses. It was terrible. It hurt. Then after the operation my middle hurt so bad I wet the bed instead of getting up on the bedpan. The nurses had to change the sheets again and again. I didn’t mind. Somebody could have washed my hair.
I feel better now.
Mother washes my hair in the kitchen sink. I climb up on the stepping stool and lie down on the counter on my back. Then all my hair is in the sink and Mother washes it and scrubs it and runs the warm water on my head to rinse it. It feels good when Mother washes my hair. This is every week, and this is how my hair always shines in the sun. It feels very good. I sit on the back porch and dry my hair in the sun.
Then it goes like this.
Mother says, “You’re getting so big. I’m proud of you.”
“Thank you Mother.”
“I think you might want to have big girl hair now. Maybe you’d like to have short hair like me.”
“I like my hair. I like it long.”
“You could wash it yourself. You can take a shower like me and wash your own hair. How about that?”
“I don’t know. I like you to wash it.”
“Well, I have Lynnie to take care of now. You’re the big sister. She needs me too.”
“I know, Mother.”
“It would be a big help to me if you could wash your own hair.”
I’m getting afraid of having a haircut.
Lynnie was born and Mother forgot me. Lynnie took Mother away. She was my mother. Now she’s Lynnie’s mother. I was the only. Now Lynnie is the only. I’m supposed to be happy. Mother lets me take Lynnie for a walk in her baby buggy through the apartment back courtyards along the sidewalk. I do like to hold her. She isn’t crying so I can’t hold her. So I pinch the tip of her little finger real hard. Then she cries. Then I can pick her up and hold her for a minute. She feels nice to me.
Mother takes slides of me so the family can remember my hair was long. I have my back to the camera. I am wearing my slip. In another picture I am wearing my red valentine heart ballerina costume. All down my back flows my brown hair.
Mother is busy. Mother is so busy.
Mother takes me in the car to Garfinkle’s Department Store, to the children’s barber shop. A barber shop. The bald man says don’t cry. I close my eyes. I hear the scissors cutting into cutting cutting my thick soft hair, brown hair, my long hair. Cutting cutting one braid gone. Cutting cutting the other braid gone. My long hair gone. That I could sit on when I was little. I open my eyes when he says he is done. My hair is fluffy around my head. For Mother I don’t cry.
“That looks so pretty, she says.” Mother shows me a certificate from the barber shop. It says I have Graduated from Babyhood. I am seven years old. The man hands me my braids in a box. My brown, thick braids. I am shocked to see them dead in the box. Like Grandpa. Cut out. Like my old pendix.
Shower. The water is too cold. The water is too hot. Soap in my eyes. Mother never got soap in my eyes. Mother never touches me now. No reason to hug. She is so busy. When I was little I would lie on the kitchen counter with my hair in the sink and Mother washed my hair. Once a week. It felt lovely. Then I would dry it sitting on the back porch in the sunshine. Clean and sparkling. Shining. In summer. I would have lemonade. That was mostly when it was just Mother and me. Now I’m a big girl. I’m a big sister. Short hair dries fast.