Hands grip the back of the chair while Faydra sews weft after weft of straight lines into my scalp. I sit still, stirring small talk above my head with Faydra and another young woman friend. My brain’s so busy pretending I want all of this–the lengths and lengths of platinum hair not solely mine, the courtship I’m divulging in, the alcohol we dip into when the Cinderella weave is complete. But the occasion for such throbbing blows to my scalp is not so vain as hair length, nor so shallow as the depths of leftover wine glasses that will eventually pepper the living room in morning’s glare.
As with any relations between man and woman, this cannot be readily defined. And I’m such a professional pretender by now that even my friends are fooled. They don’t know that I had to chop off my hair for fear that it had seen too many men, and that the mirages of these men were coming between my lover and I. Now we fight, together and a part yet always in anterior spaces which once housed immense amounts of happier, hard labor.
Before we called it home, our families had joined together in ripping out carpets and walls, painting and repainting, sealing and resealing every little inch previously lived in. This place of preemptive bliss was created just for us to dwell in. Alas, he preferred his bros and I preferred my books. “How and must we give up or in or out for ourselves? For each other?” we’d ask on high.
A few weeks prior to Faydra’s weaving, when I had arrived home with my hair chopped about my ears, he offered me a few glances. And so the shock value was wasted on me. As if I could be easier to love with all of the hair (and what it had witnessed) removed, I’d thought. I began to follow him ’round the house, silently begging for him to notice. One morning I trapped him in our bedroom and asked him to tell me which he preferred: the old Lace or the new.
His preference: women with long hair, he sighed.
That it was natural that way, he explained.
I felt every bit of a beast as his words defined me as “not enough.” Perhaps I’d morphed into Laura Marling’s “Sophia.” Or maybe I’ve always been one hot step away from Desperation’s grasp.
Desperation is the new form of flattery, I thought and thought. And then I stopped following him about our perfected walls that we wished would crumble in, burying us whole,
woman and man alive. (My apologies, D. H. Lawrence.)
And so I sit, my hands gripping a black armchair while my lover’s words, and lack thereof, envelope me. Unsure of how I arrived here again, I stifle a cry in our back room using the moon for solace. I must’ve woken again from the sound of his light snores and crawled back here so as not to wake him. Restless was a proper description when my lover found me a month ago, in this very same room, atop the treadmill with a White Russian in hand.We both laughed, not talking about obvious limitations of combining the two.
But now. Now the salt of my sweat, my indecision, my tears has swelled my skin.
Before another sob springs forth, I pick up my mobile and phone a friend I haven’t talked to in a few years.
“Hello?” she asks. Instantly I want to hold her and her, me. And yet she doesn’t sound entirely the same as the girl I met while washing faces in the bathroom on our university dorm floor.
“Hey,” I mumble.
“Lace, you okay?” As she asks, I realize she might not be, too. The muffled tones behind her ears suggest a party with friends and drinks to be had. But I push on.
“I can’t stay here.”
“What? What do you mean? I can barely hear what you’re saying. Is this about grad school?”
“No, no, no. It’s him. And me. I’m going to be swallowed up, here,” I say in between hard swallows that taste of bitter chalk.
“Lace, I told you that you should’ve applied here. You need to move out. Focus on school. On your caree-”
Dead. Just dead tones.
“Are you there?” I ask, knowing she’s too far gone, in the party, in school, in the great state that is Texas.
I pull myself a part from the chair, and start to wash my face, still thinking of her. How I used to tell her jokes while she washed her face. And once, after a terrible clash with her boyfriend, she cried and cried in the bathroom. I opened the door, picked her up, handed her a bar of soap. And as she washed her face, I told her a joke about a duck walking into a bar, and she laughed so hard that she almost drowned in the sink. “Art Student Drowns in Sink,” the university paper would read. And that’s all we’d have left, I thought as I made my way back to the bedroom where my boyfriend still snored.
Pulling the sheets up, I touch my face, my hair. As I close my eyes, the women from my bookshelves accompany me. In lieu of counting sheep, I count each literary woman’s long mane that I see–a vision of dreams before dreams truly come. Their ropes of hair cover their breasts and coil out to protect me and mine–an armor of warmth about our newly shared bodies. Edna Pontellier is there, hair wet from floating about her body in the ocean. Janie Crawford is there, braids intact, undefeated, as she beckons me to walk down the street–head, chin, shoulders, heart raised up, up, up. As I walk with them to my dreams, they issue forth this braid of strength so that I may truly appreciate the pain of letting go, the pain of Faydra’s needle and thread.