Axis of Power

I never believed or thought anything about my hair except it was long and I liked it that way. Sitting next to my husband of under two years watching the holiday movie, The Family Man, starring Nicholas Cage and Téa Leoni, I was absolutely smitten with Leoni’s entire on-screen vibe, adorably short hair, included. I spoke my affection out loud, “Wow! I love her hair so much” and like whiplash from being hit from behind, my world’s axis was grabbed by its throat, my flailing hands scrambled to pry away the fingers of the perpetrator, too alarmed to admit the only one present and beside me all along, was my husband.

“You can never cut your hair,” was the coolly, leveled-at-me one-line throat punch I didn’t see coming. Assuming he was joking, or playing with me a little bit because of course he liked my hair, but it was my hair, up until that moment that it wasn’t. There had been a transference of power, of ownership, of axis, and I had not known my body was the battlefield and the bounty in one. “What do you mean, ‘I can’t ever cut my hair’?” I bandied back, skipping my words over to him, keeping my lightness and heart holding onto that which I believed to be mine, never not for a moment until this moment now ever considering the possibility I possessed something that could or would be taken from me. He did not skip with me, nor did he hold my hand while I was playing right there next to him; his words sliced with a razor’s edge, “Your hair belongs to me. It’s part of our prenuptial agreement. You can never cut it.”

(We have no such thing and never ever not for a moment of breath coming out of me was spent on my hair’s discussion or to whom it belonged or didn’t belong, over who held the rights to its length, style, design, or its color, all of which were hanging in this unbalanced breathless space between us and next to me here on the sofa, Téa Leoni paused on the screen in front of me, adorably short hair on semi-permanent display).

I didn’t know I could stand my ground, hold my position, resist his infiltration. These were not the lessons taught or the tools, like scissors, I had been shown how to use. I didn’t want to cut my hair, had never wanted to cut my hair, had cried for days in the second grade when my mother traded me a sucker for a haircut (my sister betrayed me, used her words to convince me this was a great idea, a beautiful outcome guaranteed, and when the deed was done and I stood looking at my shorn head in shock, she claimed the sucker as her own even though the hair stolen was mine and had nothing to do with her; she had not grown it, it did not live on her head, no loss was living in her heart) and suddenly not being “allowed” to do so was my body’s axis being forcibly removed, transferred, claimed, pillaged and my hair’s destiny was now someone else’s plunder. And the rapist and pillager was sitting right next to me.

Never to not be right next to me ever again for any and for all visits to the hairdresser who was no longer mine to claim because my hair was no longer mine to have and to hold. Rather, the self-appointed general assumed his power pose with a half smile (reserved for the lesser ranks) on his salon-facing face, orchestrating, visioning, and directing the handling of each lock I had loved. Bound in the black smock of complicity, my neck held, but not supported, in the sink’s cradle, my scalp burned, the flames stretching, reaching, licking the entire circumference of my skull, the shame I felt smoldering inside showing itself only briefly with one tear’s escape down the side of my face not facing his, while my tresses were transformed into his vision of a great idea, of beauty guaranteed, was to me an unrecognizable mass of Barbie. Bleached-blonde. My Self muted in this his strategic coup against my crown. Shame became my shroud, my sense of Self buried deep beneath the public-facing Barbie hair head held by him, proudly parading his trophy (wife) through one multiple of five years, the scalping, like an honor killing, repeated every 3 months, always standing in his power pose over me: bound, held, and burning for his pleasure, in spite of my ever-present pain.

And in the morning of the fifth year I saw my Self in the mirror and She said to me, “I miss you. I love you. You are still here. I see you.” My tears like a raging river washed clean the battlefield of the body (turned bounty) I occupied and I staged my own revolution: my reclamation of Self. And the lessons I had not been taught were instead forged in the fires of my quarterly burnings, branded on my heart, and I brandished my Love of Self like a pair of deftly-wielded scissors and cut my Self out of that five-year fealty, leaving only those Barbie locks — belonging never to me — in my wake, waking in the sovereignty of my own shorn head and the axis of my own power restored.

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