Story first appeared here: Intersectantigua.com October 29th, 2020
Waking up today felt like any other day until I realized that I could not leave the house anymore. Wait, no, that is untrue. I could leave, but only for the essentials, they say. What are essentials? What is an essential? I see so many things as essential. Like a hug from my best friend when I am lonely; a drink with my co-workers at our usual spot on the Avenue on Fridays. Essential is now, medicine and food. What am I going to do with myself? They said that there is this invisible danger outside, but what about the danger inside? Do they know if I can stay inside and still be altogether? Did they ask me? I rarely stay in this 2×4 space I call an apartment, just big enough for my 120-pound frame to eat a quick meal, sleep my 8 hours, shower and dress. Who wants to be in this shell for…how long did they even say it was going to be for again? I don’t even know; I just know that it is 9am and I have to look presentable for a meeting.
Ok, so white blouse, black blazer and my hair in a loose but neat bun. Of course, I have to have my face beat to the Gods because that’s my signature. Everyone knows that Arabella Martin does not leave her house looking like she just crawled out of bed. I am not Beyoncé and this face needs to be worked on.
Day one, done. This might not be so bad, at least I don’t have to pretend to like Desmond’s presence as he hovers at my desk, waiting for me to respond after he brings his special ‘Ari Coffee’ as he calls it for me. I never ask him for it, I think he just wants me to like him; I don’t. He is kind of creepy, but at least his coffee tastes good.
I survived the week; I can do this shit with my eyes closed! Work is amazing and at the very least I have less laundry. The news makes me paranoid. I check it every afternoon. I look at the daily numbers update, and my chest tightens. Covid-19 sounds both benign and scary. Too many rules to stay safe so for now I will stay put until my supplies are depleted.
Month one and I have noticed that my hair isn’t its normal silky smoothness. I haven’t had a hairdresser’s appointment in so long and my roots are showing. It’s strange, usually long before this happens, I am in my girl’s chair getting that relaxer in. No one needs to see that shit.
Six weeks now and I can’t stand to see my face. What is happening on the top of my head? I no longer go on video for our weekly meetings; I have told them my camera is broken. This is a lie; my hair is just….
Week seven and the comb catches at the roots. I have what looks like about an inch of growth. I don’t know what I am looking at. I have never seen my hair like this before. As long as I have known myself, I have been relaxing my hair. My mother tamed the mass of nappy hair from around when I was six and I kept up the tradition once I began to work. I remembered her telling me when I was old enough to work, ‘Ari if you want people to take you seriously you cannot have that late for school hair eh.’ So, I always relaxed it. She was right, everyone loved my hair. I loved my hair, until now. What the hell was this thing growing out of my scalp? Why couldn’t I go out to deal with it? Why was I being punished like this?
Month two and the mass on my head has gotten worse. I have tried to comb it, but I don’t know what I am doing. My combs break, my brush pulls at my strands. I am in dire straits and I am ready to cut it off. But what about when we are allowed to leave home? I cannot risk cutting it and looking like a homeless person. I need my hairdresser. She would know what to do.
Dee tells me what I am seeing is just new growth. The thing growing out of my scalp is mine she says. I tell her it is ugly; it breaks combs and it does not lie flat. What do I do with it? She laughs and says, you have to learn to love it, Ari. This is who you are. I do not believe her, and I cry all night. I do not want to be ugly. Why was I being punished like this? I cannot leave the house now for sure. Imagine if someone saw me like this?
Month three. I have been bingeing on YouTube videos and blog posts. I take up the scissors and snip off bit by bit of stringy straight hair. They look limp compared to the mass of curls that have taken over my head. What is growing out of my scalp has commanded my attention in a way that nothing else has before. It has told me that I need to face what I love about myself in a true way. Who am I? What is beautiful? Am I beautiful? I have decided that I am. That these curls growing up towards the heavens are in fact the very essence of who I am as a person. Black, beautiful, strong, and resilient. While I was locked in, I thought I would crumble under the strain. My hair taught me that even in the depths of despair when things looked bleak that something beautiful can grow underneath. The something beautiful was me.