Sunday, February 5, 2012

Turned out Naked

I am 13 years old.  My mother tells me it is time for a haircut.  She says it is too bushy and I spend too much time in the shower.  I am unnerved by her ordinance so I try to sooth her by admitting that I know it takes more time to rinse the shampoo out so I won't wash it as much and I will use less shampoo.  I am sorry.  I will go put it in a ponytail right this minute.  But, despite my desperate pleas, she tells me I will have it cut within the week.  My eyes are wetted with acid tears and I try not to let them spring forth.  I do not want to draw attention to this scene. I am inwardly hysterical.  How can I possibly exist in the world without my hair- my shroud?  Perhaps she only means for me to get a trim- a few inches at worse.


I bank on slowly slipping away from the room  as my way out of this incomrehensible situation.  I feel as though maybe, if I tread lightly- a creeping shadow- all will be forgotten.  Perhaps this might have worked had my step father not been nearby.


He jumps to his feet.  He is a tornado-arriving in front of me red-faced and seething.  How dare I talk to my mother that way?  I will do as I am told and I will do it NOW!  I am addled by his sudden outburst and more so by his command.  What exactly is it that he wants me to do?  Should I call a hairdresser and make an appointment?  Should I find some scissors and trim it myself?  I head for the drawer below the telephone where there is a phonebook, but I am gated by his arm.  He spits his words like an ally cat moving in for an attack- why am I moving?  Do I have permission to move?  Your mother has told you to do something!  My mother goes back to chopping vegetables as he locks my hair in his iron grip.


He is moving fast across the expansive lower floor of the house.  I am leashed by my own hair- a tangled dog- and soon I have lost my footing.  He does not break his stride as I hit the floor.  He is slowed, but even though he is dragging me by my hair now, we reach the stairs.  He is momentarily stopped and bellows at me to get up.  As soon as I am back on my feet we messily ascend the wooden staircase.  I trip on every other tread.  My shins audibly crunch- sharp pain steals my breath. 


In the bathroom, he deposits me on the toilet, opens a drawer and pulls out rusty scissors.  I have never thought to fight for anything before, but in the moment that I realize that he is about to take away my hair- my only veil, I eek out my refusal.  I am met with a slap to the face.  Blood blurts from my nose and as I reach to tend to it, I hear the first slice and all but my frantic heartbeat is still.  I stop my futile struggle and sit lifelessly.  Perhaps if I stop struggling there won't be any more damage.  Maybe I can mitigate the situation with a change of tact.


I throw my arms around his waist.  I wonder if I can effect him with warmth- be a child again- his soft play thing.  I will him with my mantra;  please no more, please no more... I can live with the loss that the first cut has delivered, but please, no more.  As I inch closer, putting my heart and soul into holding him as though I can infuse him with the magical spell of my sincerest wish, I feel the hardness that is the bulge in his pants as he takes up as much hair as he can at once and cuts it with scissors that sever me like a hungry alligator. 


In five minutes I am an island in an ocean of my own hair.  A guttural moan rises from my darkest hollow.  I am bereft- there has been a murder.  The grieving is unmanageable.  I sit for a long time.  If I don't move, perhaps I will wake from a dream and sigh a tempest of relief.  But, I am becoming aware of my body, stiff from sitting, and I arrive at a moment of reckoning.  I will have to look at myself.  My ascent is to the top of my own Everest- so daunting, seemingly impossible.  When I finally peak and confront the mirror, a chill runs through me colder than any mountain top could deliver.  In all of the empty places within me now live bustling creatures, endlessly working under my skin, making me grope and rake at my flesh in an effort to settle them down.  But as long as I am so naked as this, they refuse to be still. 


I have never felt so exposed.  I am hideous from every angle, colored by browning blood.  I pick long skeins of hair off of the floor and place them on my face and cry into them, suck air through them, beg God to make them a part of me again.  Please don't turn me out naked, Dear God.  My grief is all consuming.  I cannot go on with my life as I am and I have made a choice that quiets everything. Holding my tresses, I make my way towards comfort.  I find my box of mirror shards and lay a cold searing edge to my wrist. 




...


This was one of the hardest memoirs I have written.  At the time that this happened I learned that life can change so extremely in such a short time. Everything was terrifying. Instead of succeeding in ending my life, I acquired a whopping case of sever anxiety.  Knowing that anything could happen, that could be so devastating, placed a kind of live fear in me that never quieted.  Up until that moment, things had been weird, but now I was beginning to know unmitigated fear. Worse, I knew fear of fear.

I did mean to end my life.  I didn't cut deeply enough.   This was not a cry for help unless help came in the form of eternal rest.  My wounds were never tended to by a professional.  Things were "taken care of" at home.  Though I skipped school for as long as I could without notice I had to walk my nakedness into the front lobby eventually.  It was unspeakably horrid.  

About three years ago, I had my hair chemically straightened.  The result was so flawed, to speak gently of the mess I saw in the mirror and held in my hands, that the exact same feeling of demons crawling beneath my skin returned when I realized I would have to have it cut off.  I was in crisis. The body memories were unbearable even under the influence of some pretty strong anti-anxiety medications. I had had enough Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to reason through my tears and got it over with as quickly as possible. As the hair fell from my head, I cried at first. But as the cut started to take shape, I saw my face and my Self as who I am now.  I felt a lightness of being as the flashes of angst wained. I realized that I was loved, protected, and strong enough to face the world that had for so long been in my periphery. 

Have I chosen to "go short" since?  Actually, I have!


3 comments:

  1. Its interesting what pains us the most--When I was seventeen, my mother throttled me till I passed out. I had bruises around my neck, and pin point broken blood vessels in my eyes (and gums)I hurt to swallow for a few day.
    I can write and talk about this casually, because, it was not rated "worst"--(it sound like the worst, and it was the most violent she ever was, but she was involved and physical.. I had her attentions. There were compensations.

    The worst is much harder to write or talk about. Its sound (in retelling) like an act of indifference. and that, INDIFFERENCE was much harder to deal with than her rage and violence.

    (we had fights, too about hair... and the last time i let her come at me with a scissors I was 15--I wore my hair long from then till just recently--Now its notsuper short, but shorter than its been for years. and now, Its just hair. it grows back, (and i can (and do) cut it, or i can let it grow. Its not important any longer.)

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  2. God, Helen- your accounts are horrific. I am sickened and sad. I agree that the pivotal moment when you realize that your flesh and blood does not care about you is the most painful. Thank God for the love we have now. <3

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  3. I very much felt your pain in this post. I had a similar experience. xoxo

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