Monday, March 19, 2012

The Happiness Challenge: Day 19

I'm not known for my patience, so once I cut my long hair between my sophomore and junior years of college, it never really stood a chance of growing out long again. Until.

Until May 2008. I suddenly, almost overnight, found myself facing a divorce, and I'll be honest: It felt like my entire world was spinning upside-down and out of control. Every decision was being made for me, and what I wanted didn't matter.

I desperately needed something, anything, that I could control. Standing in the kitchen of my soon-to-be-vacant apartment later that month, as I canceled a hair appointment I just couldn't muster the energy to sit through, I decided that I wasn't going to cut my hair again until … when? Until it hit my shoulders? Until my divorce was final? Until I felt in control of my own life again? I didn't know. Maybe I thought long hair would be my disguise, like it would somehow transform me into someone else. I clung to my hair as though it was my life support. I was determined. Defiant.

My dear friend Sara told me once that her first husband preferred her hair short. She had shown me an old photo, the square kind with rounded edges, faded yellow. I could still make out the fiery red hair of the woman smiling back at me from beneath a pixie cut. That Sara. My Sara had fiery red hair, too, but it cascaded down her back. She tossed it over each shoulder as she walked. It always seemed to float midair behind her. If that unmistakable smile was her entrance, then that hair was her dramatic exit. She told me that, after her divorce, she had refused to cut her hair. She needed control over something too. She was determined. Defiant.

Each time I left the salon without chopping off my split ends plus four inches was another victory on my quest for control. Every half-inch of growth felt like another step toward happiness. I told Sara because I knew she would understand.

By the time my divorce was final, 14 months later, my chin-length hair was nearly to my shoulders and I felt an odd sense of accomplishment. But still, I didn't—couldn't—cut it. Ponytails. Messy buns. A side braid. Sleek and straight. Pinned back on one side. Loose curls around my face. Each new style represented possibility, and I was afraid that cutting off my hair would be cutting off those possibilities.

I know it sounds silly and theatrical and maybe even slightly schizophrenic. I realized I was—I am—emotionally attached to my hair. I worried to friends that maybe I was hanging on to something unhealthy, that my hair was a metaphor for hurt and anger and bitterness. Maybe I should cut it all off just to prove that I could. They laughed and told me that was ridiculous. Amy understood. A hair cut gone wrong had left her long locks far shorter than she wanted, the bob choppy from new layers. It would be close to two years before she could face another trim. Her hair was her identity too. Then, last April, Sara passed away and suddenly growing out my hair wasn't about my former life or my divorce or anything sad. It was a connection to my wonderful, beautiful friend, something only we shared. Cutting it was out of the question.

When I look in the mirror, I'm reminded that every inch represents where I was then, and who I am today. Oh, the cliche. But I like this girl. I'm proud of her. It sounds so very dramatic. And, at the time, for me, it was. But in the vast and messy landscape of life? This was just my thing, and I'm okay. My wounds have healed to scars. They've made me a better friend, more tenderhearted and understanding. Less judgmental and more empathetic. I can't control life, I never could. Long hair isn't a disguise for my sadness or hurt or anger; it's my blonde badge of courage, of hope and determination and happiness.

The word "happiness" would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. —Carl Jung

(I wrote this post while listening to "Fly Over States" by Jason Aldean on repeat for close to an hour. [I really like to beat a good thing into the ground.] If someone finds me tickets to either of his Atlanta shows or the one in Birmingham, I'll be the happiest girl in the whole USA. It would be the perfect ending to this happiness adventure.)


Laurie said...

WOW. I very vividly remember this journey to who you are today. Whether long hair or short, I see the beautiful person that you have become. I am proud to call you not only my sister, but my friend.

Jen said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! Every time you look in the mirror, you're reminding yourself how far you've come and you should be so, so proud. You're a wonderful friend and an amazing woman to have gone through so much and still come out with such a kind, giving heart. Just like Sara!

Valerie Payne said...

Best. Post. Yet. I started crying just from reading the comments then worked my way up. I love your hair, and I love you too.

Matthew Lepore said...

Such a sweet comment.