I have long hair—originally brown with some gold bits, depending on the amount of time I spent in the sun, and now that same color due to the contents of boxes I buy about every 4-6 weeks.
But that isn’t what I want to talk about. I want to talk about my mother. How she always had short hair, in every picture I’ve seen of her, and all through my life. How her pixie nose and sharp chin looked beautiful with short hair. How she wore her hair that way in part because of the time and place where she was born—1936, in a suburb of Washington, D.C.—and in part because she was a lesbian, or bisexual, depending on when and who was asking.
Of course, she didn’t get to say that to the world until she was 66, and separated from my father, and trying to reconstruct her own identity in a world that was suddenly less certain but more accepting.
I adored my mother and idolized her. I liked pants because she wore sporty clothes, and disliked dress shoes because she valued comfort. I liked sports because she did. I didn’t like much salt on my food because she didn’t—and she didn’t because her father had been hypertensive, so their food at home was under-salted. Some things I had no control over: my smile showed my big front teeth, like hers did; my chin was always round and often double, unlike hers.
I don’t know why, as soon as I felt I had a real choice, I decided to grow out my hair. I had short hair from age 6-14. And for most of that time, I wanted long hair. I envied the girls at school who had long, shining, straight hair. I pulled my t-shirts up and over my head so they hung like long hair down my back, and I swung those t-shirts around like a coquette on the dance floor of my bedroom.
Maybe I saw that I looked better with hair hiding some of the roundnessness of my face and neck, how a little mystery about my features worked better for me than the more naked look that showcases a chiseled face.
Maybe I chose long hair because the first time one of my neighborhood crushes held my hand, it had been a long time since I’d had a haircut. He was 2 years older and way out of my league; perhaps he had noticed me at last because of my hair.
Maybe I chose it because at some level I sensed my mother’s real sexuality, and I was most definitely interested in boys—so long hair was an easy way to differentiate myself from her, to have my very understated adolescent rebellion and become my own self, start to claim my own sexuality.
My hair hasn’t been shorter than the tops of my shoulders since I was in high school. I still prefer sneakers to heels. My siblings tell me, now that she’s gone, how very much I am like our mother: I have so many of her mannerisms, her body language. I am glad to carry her in my body like that. But my hair is my own, and I still toss it around when I’m dancing, and that’s good, too.