The Ponytail Story

My brother sent a photo of my niece wearing a ponytail. She was adorable as always. What else was I supposed to say? “Cute,” or something like that, I’m sure I said. And, I probably asked,

“Why?”

Why this picture of her?

Why now?

“I did her hair,” he had replied. He wanted credit for something he learned. He wanted credit for something he didn’t think he had to learn since her mother lives there too, and he’s a male. And, somehow though he can see her world, he never sees how the world sees her from her eyes.

I sent a photo back of myself in a similar stance, and a similar age. So, it would have been before I had to learn to put my hair in a ponytail myself, before my mother had died.

My brother and I had a conversation years before sort of about writing, but mostly about what stories worth being told. I had shared how hard it had been, even throughout middle school, to be able to put my hair in a ponytail without leaving errant hairs or rolling, loose bumps.

“You could write about that you know,” he had offered.

“What?”

“That you had to learn to do your hair. The ponytail. How hard it was to do it yourself. You know, without Mom.”

I do write, I had written, about my life, our lives, my mother’s lost life in some way. It seeps in, somehow rested, in almost all stories, her absence. Yet, the idea of the ponytail story whenever it occurred to me riding in the car, walking my dog, doing laundry, working out, never seemed one I could write, a story worth being told. Or, perhaps more accurately, worth being retold, again from within the world my eyes see as the world sees me.

Why? Why not now? Why can’t I write the ponytail story?

Recently, I let that question roll around in my head again. I laid across my bed with another marginalized voice in my hand. Punching The Air: a book in verse about the school to prison pipeline bobbing across the page like the ponytail of the white jogger who was murdered in Central Park, a light, wavy accusation told around the white woman. Her death automatically convicted five Black boys, one of which coauthored the smooth poetry and punctuated rap lyrics and all the space in between to catch your breath where there is no air to breathe.

So, how could I write the ponytail story? I asked myself again.

In the same week, I turned open Furia the Argentinian young woman who wants to tell the story about what it means to pull her hair up in a way and for a reason that tugs at the roots of all the women in her story, particularly the blackness the author admits her character would not have the space between the black print or her own skin, to tell. Hers is the father who never really sees inside her world because she cannot exist in his. With the book on my lap, my own father was to my left and there I sat, not on a couch but in privileged warmth of the geography of my belonging and address wrapped around me. The blanket I tugged around me is dirty but still white.

Although I have a ponytail story, mine is not the one that most need to hear. Before I finish this blog post I flip to notes I saved, one in particular about the bumps and too tight, not quite right, hairstyles that cause headaches with unidentified tension.

“The rising generation is not only inscribing themselves into the narrative but also demanding to be the center of all their worlds, textual, visual, fannish, and otherwise. Thus. . . we are left with the possibility of infinite storyworlds. Though this plurality of possible worlds might represent a crisis for some audiences, it may provide an answer for emancipating the imagination for readers and fans who have for too long inhabited the margins—real and imagined.” (156)

Like this generation of writers, hope will rise, like a ponytail bounce.

Ponytail stories to read:

Furia by Yamile Said Méndez

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

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