Hair

Gimme a head with hair
Long, beautiful hair

—from Hair, title song of the musical (Rado/Ragni)

It was all because of a boy. I will call him Casey.

He sat behind me in eighth grade math class.

One day while working out some algebraic thing (that should give you an inkling of my math prowess), I felt a gentle tug on my hair.

“Don’t look back,” Casey whispered. “What did you get for number one?”

I froze.

I shouldn’t do this. It is wrong.

But I leaned ever so slightly to the right, shifting my paper to the left…

I heard Casey’s pencil scraping away against the paper behind me.

He was cute. At least, I thought he was.

I had long straight hair and glasses. I was shy. A good student, mostly. Except for math.

I should probably tell him this.

As the papers were being collected, I turned around: “I’m not all that great at math.”

He leaned back in the desk. “I ain’t either. It’s my third time in this class!”

He smiled. He had curls.

My heart melted.

I worked a lot harder on my math and made sure my paper was aligned just so…

One day as the class was filing in, Casey took his seat behind me and said, “Your hair is really long.”

This was before I’d heard of Never state the obvious… I replied, “Yeah.”

“It’s like, almost touching the seat.”

“Yeah.”

Inside, I glowed.

Outside of math class, I only saw him from a distance. Wearing his jean jacket, standing quietly with a group of friends, mostly girls who smoked and wore makeup and large hoop earrings that peeped through their feathered hairstyles…

This must have been what gave me the idea.

I told my mom: “I want to cut my hair.”

“Really? All you ever wanted was long hair.”

True, due to years of horrible, life-scarring shags, Mom… “I am tired of it. I want to do something different.”

“Well, Rachel is going to cosmetology school. I bet she’d cut it for you.”

And so it was that Rachel from across the street came over to our kitchen one afternoon.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked. She regarded me with wide green eyes full of apprehension.

“Yes. I am sure.”

“How short do you want to go? What sort of style do you have in mind?”

“Maybe to my shoulders and feathered back.”

She nodded. It was the current rage. Everybody was wearing it.

She sat me on a chair, draped me with a cape, brushed my long brown hair that fell past my waist. She put the brush down and picked up the scissors and the comb.

“Are you SURE you’re sure?” she asked.

Yes. I am ready.”

“Okay then.”

She put a ponytail holder in my hair at my shoulders, and with a couple of grating slices, my long ponytail fell in the floor. She picked it up, placed it in my lap, and began to cry.

She cried the whole time she snipped, sliced, and created exactly what I’d envisioned.

“I love it!” said my mom. “You look like a different person!”

That was, after all, the point.

“Your hair!” gasped my friends at school. “It looks great! I can’t believe you cut it!”

I got to math class early and tried to make myself busy…

Here came Casey, ambling in, taking his seat…

It took a minute, but then:

“Whoa. You cut your hair.”

Warmth flooded my face; I dared not turn around. I bowed and let my newly-layered locks sweep over my cheeks.

“Yeah.”

Worth it, worth it, worth it!

At least, I thought so.

And that’s the end of the story.

I do not know what ever became of Casey. I can’t recall seeing him after that year, really. I presume he passed eighth grade math, finally. I somehow managed it. He must have been in dire straits, indeed, to copy off of me. For the record: the teacher knew. I saw her watching us one day, which terrified the life out of me, but she did nothing…did she figure there was just no point, or no hope, for Casey? Or for me? I wonder…just as I wonder about the outcomes of many decisions made for the most dubious of reasons, but the truth is, I never regretted cutting my long hair.

It still grows pretty fast.

*******

Hair Photo: Peter Berger. CC BY-SA

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approachOn Day 8, I am writing around a word beginning with letter h. I’ve often modeled Georgia Heard’s “first times” and “last times” Heart Maps with students and teachers as a means of brainstorming writing ideas. Sometimes I’d list “the last time I had really long hair” or “the first time I cut my long hair” as a possibility. Here’s one of my “last times” maps. I’ve written a few of these stories. I’ve finally gotten around to writing the hair one here, at last.

37 thoughts on “Hair

  1. Some Algebraic thing captures how I feel about math too. Imagine my surprise when my first long-term subbing job was in Algebra I, General Math, and General Science. I dutifully did my homework every night and came in early to consult with Mr. Vickers (my own 8th grade Math teacher) about my homework before being ready to teach.
    Is that your hair? This was the most surprising line in the slice: “She cried the whole time she snipped, sliced, and created exactly what I’d envisioned.” I was sure that you were going to get a hacked haircut from Rachel.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes – some time ago WordPress changed the caption function; it will not display like a normal caption in small font anymore. As I don’t want my first line of text to be a caption, I started moving the credit to the bottom of the post. It’s purely an aesthetical preference.

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    • Poor, tender-hearted Rachel! I don’t recall being afraid she’d botch it. I had so many horrible haircuts until fourth grade that maybe I ought to have been afraid, but I wasn’t. I was determined. I chose that photo because of the back view, approximating what Casey would have seen – it is almost exactly like my hair then, and far better than a school photo-!!

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  2. I was worried something traumatic happened at the end with Casey not liking the cut, or even something with your neighbor making a horrible snip in the wrong place. I am so relieved to know he didn’t really matter in the end, the cut went amazingly well, and you loved the end result, also showing your commitment to the decision.

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    • It’s an amusing memory on several counts, and I suppose some might say it was a poor reason for chopping off long hair I’d wanted since kindergarten. I think for me it marked the start some of needed assertiveness I hadn’t known before. It’s all I remember of “Casey” and sweet Rachel. Thanks so much for your response!

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  3. On my way to post my slice, I saw yours and had to read it. I love the details we garner through dialogue. Rachel’s tears are so palpable and audible! I too wanted long, long hair as a child but it never worked out that way. Thank you for this crisp, clear memory!

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    • So glad you stopped and that it reminded you of that same desire – what is it about wanting long, long hair? Glamour? Style? A million things, probably…thank you so much for walking back in time with me, and for your words.

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  4. My hair NEVER grew that long so I was always with the Dorothy Hamills or Farrah Fawcett attempts. I loved how you kept readers in suspense as to Casey’s response. Maybe the ending is so important because it’s not what readers hoped or didn’t hope. It’s unusual to find a story that just ends, but much more aligned to real life.

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    • Dorothy and Farrah-! Iconic hairstyles. I couldn’t pull the Hamill off but it was amazing on some of my friends. I once told a cousin that I wanted to do my hair like Farrah’s and she howled with laughter – “You? Like Farrah?” Oh, my poor psyche… but about the story: Hadn’t thought in these terms but when the main character achieves the goal, the story is pretty much done. Although it wasn’t much of a goal, Casey noticed. Mission accomplished! in 8th grade, I never even thought past that.

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    • So true, memories resurfacing unexpectedly. All it takes is the right stimulus. My hair is a couple of inches past my shoulders now – medium to longish, I suppose. This past year during COVID it grew as long as it’s been in a number of years, and once again I was glad to have it cut.

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  5. Your hair must grow fast to have had short hair cuts and then still have it so long by 8th grade! I always wanted longer hair than I had, but at school we always had to tie it back in a ponytail, bunches or plaits so it seemed a waste. Good on you for getting it done and not regretting it. I can’t imagine cutting hair while crying without snipping off a bit of finger!

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    • My hair wasn’t cut in four years, 4th-8th grade; it grew from my shoulders to my waist in that time. I never thought of Rachel snipping off a bit of finger while crying – YIKES. She was such a sweet and maybe anxious young person, now that I think about it. She didn’t want to be the one to cut such long hair and was afraid I would be sorry. All’s well that ends well. 🙂

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  6. I know this was not the point of your story, but I am glad to read that other people had these cheating moments in their past. As a teacher I have to catch myself, being so shocked that a student might cheat, when in reality there is often a lot going on behind it. I had an experience when I was in 3rd grade when a kid named Benny had just come from Vietnam, and he was always copying off of me. It bothered me that I might get in trouble. When I complained to my mom, she surprised me. She said, ” Mrs. I. knows about it. He’s just learning English. It’s probably good for him to just be copying words correctly and learning what they mean.” We “worked together” for the rest of the year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fascinating little comment-slice here, you and Benny…and yes it is encouraging to know we weren’t and aren’t alone! These cheating stories beg the question: What help did these students need that they weren’t getting? As in, why’d they need to resort to this (a little different maybe for Casey vs. Benny, but still)? Honestly, as to the point of my story: That was the only thing holding Casey and me together, lol.

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  7. Such a rite of passage, that first haircut aligned with one’s newly minted perception of trends. My hair would never grow that long; the curls would turn to waves, which turned to frizz by mid-back. I got the feathers my sophomore year, with that move to El Paso. Oh, those mornings with extra time built in for the curling iron! I’m glad you didn’t regret the cut.

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    • I looked at my middle school/junior high photo album after writing this post and laughed at the exact same hairstyle on all my friends, girls as well as boys, moving from 7th to 8th grade. My hair has always been stick-straight, Chris, although the texture’s changed a bit under this color … and, I had cowlicks, so bangs, especially when I was small, were absurd.

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  8. My heart needed this post today. My almost 12 year old daughter wants to cut her long, beautiful locks into a pixie cut. It’s her body, so her choice. However, I will probably shed silent tears as I walk her into her hair appointment. It’s funny to think about how attached people are to hair.

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    • Wow – I am grateful to know that the post brings you some measure of peace about your daughter’s pending haircut! Our hair is just so symbolic of who we are. Your daughter must feel ready for a light-hearted change… hang in there. 🙂

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  9. Fran, I just finished reading Sherri’s post about hair, and then here I am reading about yours. You know, what strikes me is how deeply our HAIR is tied up with our identities, with our self-concept, with the way we move about this world. For what it’s worth, your hair would have been the hair that I envied all throughout school: straight. Tame. Smooth. Pretty. My frizzy curls. Heavens. I spent the first 25 years of my life fighting those guys!

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    • We were definitely having a fun hair day, weren’t we? You’re right about our identity being wrapped in our hair; it’s so symbolic. My stylist points out that it’s the first thing you notice about a person. She also says that some of her clients would go without eating before they’d quit getting their hair done! My youngest son has your hair – thick, curly, with a mind of its own – but beautiful.

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      • I would agree that hair is the first thing we notice. Maybe it’s also because how we wear our heads translate to how we carry ourselves as well. And…my younger son has that same hair, too. And my same complexion and build and smile. Actually, he looks exactly like my late father at every turn – always has.

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      • Yes. Sometimes I wonder what he thinks about living under his grandpa’s shadow, or how that might affect him – or whether or not he’s noticed that it has!

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  10. Gimme a head with hair
    Long, beautiful hair…

    My favorite musical! Such a great way to begin this Slice. As I was reading it it made me think of the Boy Meets World episode I watched yesterday when Topanga cut her hair to prove a point. I had long hair too & I can imagine if the boy I had a crush on in 8th grade had said something I would’ve cut it then too.

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    • Such catchy music, isn’t it? The song popped right in my head as soon as I decided I’d be writing about that haircut. What amuses me is that I was willing to do something so extreme just to have him notice, and that was enough. 8th grade – sigh.

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  11. What a great story! I can just see your feathered haircut.

    I love how you infused Georgia’s “first times” and “last times” Heart Maps – a great idea to think about for writing slices!

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  12. I got a Dorothy Hamill hair cut in 9th grade that totally transformed the way I looked and how I felt about myself. This middle school story sparked that memory. I should write about my hair!

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    • A meaningful memory, major hair changes at that age – I do hope you will write it! The Hamill was all the rage and if a person had the right hair – it was just beautiful. I note from recent commercials that Dorothy herself is still wearing it!

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