Cut My Hair

Anna C. Kelley

Cut my hair, I say to Dad as I scoop it up then let it unfold down my back, and he says, But it's so beautiful. He pumps the chair and swivels me around to face the mirror, scissors, clips and razors lined up below it and shining like a surgeon's spread under fluorescent lights.

His nose whistles like it always does when he's concentrating, holding a breath that finds an escape, visualizing a style and the strokes it would take. His eyes narrow and his shoulders hunch like they always do, but this time he doesn't tie the beautician's cape around me. He flattens my hair into a curtain between his palms, moves his hands from root to tip with his fingers pointing towards the floor and says, But it's so thick.

I've worn my hair in a bowl cut above my ears, all straight and severe against baby-fat cheeks; I've had it chin-length and permed into penny-sized curls; I've had it bobbed, weaved with extensions for senior prom, layered, shagged, pixied, cotton-candy pink, and now, for the second time, it's nearing my ass. It reached my waistline last year because I hadn't seen Dad in awhile. When he finally came to visit, he cut it in the hotel room and ten inches was all either of us was ready to lose. Ten inches tied with a rubber band at one end. Ten inches which is now snake-coiled into a one-gallon Ziploc, dated, and stashed in his drawer of my ponytails, each a different length, each with a different date. These bags are my growth lines on a doorframe.

But my hair has grown back and is too long and I tell myself, I'll go short, a bob with a slope, more like a wedge, but I'm having trouble committing so when I tell him to cut my hair and he sighs what a shame, I change my mind because he'll miss it.

I'll miss it. I'll miss hearing that it's beautiful, my only feature said to be beautiful. My distinguishing feature. People say, She's the one with the long, coppery hair. Men twist it to turn me on. They weave it into their hands, break it apart between fingers and thread it over their palms in a long, gentle pull and if I cut it I could lose the feeling it leaves, the tingle left like expectant breath on the top of my spine.

My mostly-unrequited-love from the summer of freshman year in college said, I love girls with long hair. He loved to run his fingers through it.

We were on his parents' porch when he said it, his t-shirt hugging his Atlas shoulders and chest in the humid air, heavy air that seemed to make us swell in our clothes. Moths hurled themselves into the light above his head as moths tend to do, made an audible plink in the silence between us, ricocheted backward into the dark and flung themselves again into the flame, as moths tend to do.

My hair was short then. Parted down the middle and wrapped in two tiny buns on the top of my head. So tight I could feel the pull at my roots.

We talked about us. He'd be going back to Ames, me to Iowa City when school started up again. What he didn't say was, I like you but not enough to keep this going. What I didn't say was, Let's try anyway.

I saw him last summer, five summers after what could have been our summer, my hair ending somewhere between my eleventh and twelfth ribs.

It's great to see you, he said and it felt genuine. Wow, your hair is so long, he said.

I smiled and wrapped it up, afraid he'd think it was for him. Afraid he'd want to run his fingers through it. I could only hurl myself into that flame so many times.

Not that long, I said.

It looks healthy, Dad says. What have you been using?

I don't know, I say. Something organic.

It grows so fast, he says.

I know, I say. Will you cut my hair now?

Find a picture of what you want, he says.

But I don't think I'm quite ready yet because he gathers my hair into a ponytail and I feel the pressure on my scalp, the long gentle pull, the tingle.

Anna C. Kelley
was born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa, a town bordered by the Mississippi River in the country’s Driftless Zone. She received her M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from Minnesota State University Mankato where she also served as Prose Editor of Blue Earth Review and taught Composition. Though she enjoys the freedom of not firmly rooting anywhere for the time being, she looks forward to someday returning to her home in Iowa and drifting less.