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The Hair I Pay Attention To

On weekends, I vacuumed or swept. I paid attention to the dog hair in crevasses and corners. I marveled at the steadfastness of the floating clouds hiding under cabinets and tucking around chair legs as if blankets for children. I paid attention to that hair, the dog hair, on my sweaters and scarves and socks, a little less than before I started working from home. The vet listed my dog’s color as ‘buff’, and the shades that showed on his body were clumps of white littering each hard and soft covering. The light hair showed so easily. I paid attention to dog hair, more than other aspects of cleaning. Why? Appearances. The white dog hair was more noticeable than a breadcrumb on a counter or toothpaste spray on a mirror. I paid attention to the hair that I believed others would pay attention to, which makes my actions performative. My actions were a proactive stance to what I believed others could pay attention to, or what I assumed they would pay attention to in drawing conclusions about what mattered to me.

When COVID-19 restrictions initially went into effect, haircuts were one of the first extra exposures my father and I had eliminated. The salon room filled with voices, stories, and chairs unfiltered or covered. I paid attention to our hair, growing over ears and shoulders. The length crept forward so quietly, curling and tucking under. I paid attention, to my dad’s hair, because he asked me to. He asked me to cut it, but I knew I did not have the skill. What do others care about an elderly man’s hair? I told him, “It doesn’t matter.” Alongside our hair, our conversations grew. The strands knotted, slipped through. He loved the conditioner on his hair and an increased flexibility in his thinking. I lamented my own hair pulling down with extra weight on the video screen. Why? Because nothing that I did seemed like anything that improved the situation. I assumed everyone was paying attention to the slicked down hairs after summer walks and matted ponytails from winter hats. My actions were a reactive set of common solutions, but not one could get at the root of the problem. My hair’s new length. I hadn’t asked what assumptions I wasn’t paying attention to within myself about how to determine actions I might take that matter.

It’s stress. Curly. It’s COVID. Striped. I must use my right brain. Dry. It’s not gray, it’s light blonde, almost white, from childhood, except in winter there’s no sun to bleach the brown. So? Despite the fact that I couldn’t confirm the color, I started to pluck the hairs, each one, as often as I could. Even though I rarely removed just the gray hair, somehow I was willing to sacrifice more than the unacceptable part to regain a norm of which I was no longer a part, youth.

Shades and textures had always been an abstract to the girl with the dishwater blonde hair worn by so many. In recent mornings, I blow dried my hair. With the extra time I had previously used to transfer coffee and pack my lunch, I stared at strands. I stalked them. I sought them, because I wanted to ignore something deeper, a larger story told by shampoos and stylists. They were the unseen climate, the air temperature, the humidity, and the tools to bend that hair to the appropriate image. Privilege.

This new shade of gray meant I was reaching the time when my knowledge and experience would matter less. However, the styles that were rejected by professional and educational systems were meant to call attention to whose knowledge and experience mattered, and whose never did. Maybe a year like 2020 that so many deemed as lost, made appearances and changes in perception starker. It was easy to wonder how the hair grew so long without being noticed. These grays were just less than visible for years, but they were not invisible. I simply had not paid attention. I had always said, I would let the hairs gray naturally, that I would never use dye. Yet, now that the moment had arrived, did I really want to do nothing? What did it mean to do something?

Split hairs. Long hairs. Gray hairs. Blonde, mostly brown hairs. Lost hair. Combed hair. I wondered what I could do now that I saw they existed so much more than I had ever considered. In recent months, I did remodel rooms in my house, and I clean meticulously, because it matters to me. I recommended a hairstylist to my father where he could be safer. He hasn’t changed who he is, but new knowledge means that he pauses to consider new practices for old habits. And the gray hairs? can cover them, or I can acknowledge they were a part of me. No more looking away. At the same time, no more allowing individual strands to be a distraction from the hair to which I should have always paid attention.


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