I can feel my palms sweating. Even after all these years of dating, the first time is always stressful. This one is especially thrilling. I can hardly wait. It's been a long time since I saw Gayle the last time.
I can remember back to 1970. I was 8 and she was 13. Back then those 5 years meant that a whole world separated us. I needed a babysitter, and Gayle was available. The neighbors had recommended her. So Mom and Dad let her sit for me. I can remember the first thing I thought was that she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She was clean, a little thin from the pictures I still have of her back then. She had clear blue eyes and a wide grin. But her hair was what made her special. Golden blonde and past her backside. Almost mid-thigh. I could not stop staring (neither could Mom and Dad!) They had dozens of questions, but had to go to their party. I bet they even talked about her hair when they got there.
That night I will never forget. We played a few games, watched some TV and I don't think I said three words to her. I wanted to be extra good so she would come back the next time.
Over the next few years she came back a lot. Sometimes twice in a month. Each time her hair was the first thing I saw, and all I could think about for days afterwards. I can remember when we saw Crystal Gayle the first time on TV, and Gayle turned around and tossed her hair and declared she would never cut it. Ever! I was thrilled. Because I knew that she would come back and I would see every inch of her hair as it grew.
Gayle had been our babysitter for years before I had enough courage to ask her if I could touch her hair. Until then it was always sitting next to her, it would slide down her shoulder and touch me or I might lean over her on the couch and smell its fresh scent. We might roughhouse around and I would get tangled, and we would have to stop, and she would untangle me. And then quickly, she would braid her hair so it would not be in the way. But when I was eleven I asked if I could touch it. Brush it. Feel what it was like.
By then it was past her knees. It was thick and heavy. Not as heavy as I thought it would be though. I remember that. I ran my fingers through it, and felt it against my face. Then, as if she sensed what was happening, Gayle pulled away. Uncomfortable. The next few times she came over, it was braided, and safely tucked away.
Not long after that I didn't need a babysitter anymore. When I was 13 she was 18 and headed to college. Her hair was just past the curve of her calves. Everyone admired her hair, and remarked what a lovely woman she had turned out to be. I knew that she was lovely, she was the measure by which every woman I ever knew was compared. It was 1975, and I did not know if I would ever see her again. But soon, summertime became my favorite time, because Gayle would return from college. I would see her at the mall or around the town. She had kept growing her hair. In fact it seemed to grow even faster, because by the time I was 16 (and she was 21) she kept it braided and it still touched the floor. But as I dreamed of laying my hands on her hair, on the day when I could go to college and see her everyday, she had other thoughts.
In the spring of 1977, Gayle got married. Her husband was a greasy guy she had met in college, and I knew I didn't like him from the start. Not just because he had my Gayle, but because he was so indifferent about her hair. And I found out how much I would hate him later, that on the day before her wedding, she cut her hair. All of it. At his urging, she cut her hair to the middle of her back and got a Farrah Fawcett perm. It was so ugly. I could not go to the wedding after I saw that. I stayed home and cried.
She and her husband moved to someplace else, and I thought I would never see her again. Until this year. I was lurking on an Internet chatroom, when 'Crystal' came in. We soon began to chat, and it wasn't long before I realized it was Gayle. We talked a lot. She had not stayed married more than 2 years, but had a daughter. She had become a hairdresser and opened a shop in her new home. There she and her daughter worked, and did a fair business.
I had to know and asked her about her hair. She laughed and said, yes, she had grown it back. But would not tell me how long it was. She said I would have to find out myself. So that brought me here. Over a thousand miles from my hometown, sitting outside a beauty shop, in my car, waiting for her.
I can see two women inside, but that is about all I can see, the curtains in the windows hiding almost everything else. She told me not to be early, but I got there about 15 minutes early anyway. I was too excited to wait. Both women exit the shop and I am stunned to see what look like sisters, each as beautiful as the other. I guessed that one must be the daughter, and Gayle. Well, she was even more beautiful than I remembered, even at 43. I take a moment to realize that they both have their hair up. And I look trying to see how long it is, but aside from a massive bun of golden blonde hair, it is impossible to tell.
I hug Gayle, and give her a peck on the cheek, and reach toward her bun playfully, but she knows me and holds my arm with a grin saying with her eye: "Wait." Gayle introduces me to Hope, her daughter, and I can see that her daughter is just as wonderful and gracious as Gayle is. And judging from the massive bun she is wearing she has kept the family tradition of long hair alive.
Over dinner we get caught up on the past 22 years we have missed. I tell them about my string of disappointing relationships and they tell me about theirs. We laugh at Gayle's stories of me as a boy, and I embarrass her with stories of I remember of her as a girl. As the evening draws to a close I drive them back to their car. Gayle makes a point of handing her keys to her daughter. My heart leaps. I know right then that Gayle will go back to my hotel with me tonight.
Gayle talks to her daughter over by their car, and I stand by my car waiting. She and her daughter exchange a quick hug and Gayle comes walking back. Her daughter stands there with a strange look on her face. And when her mother gives a signal (I missed it, I was mesmerized), her daughter undoes her bun.
I can hear Gayle talking, but it's distant, like narration over a documentary. As I see rolls and rolls of hair unfurl from Hope's head. It tumbles down her back, her legs and past her knees to the ground and makes a little pile at her feet. "I never let her cut it," I hear Gayle say, "Her hair is almost 8 feet long!" I turn to her, unbelieving. Trying hard to watch her daughter gather up the loops of hair at her feet and get into the car and look into Gayle's eyes at the same time.
Gayle smiles. She knows my secret desire. "Mine is still
longer, though" she says as she slides into my car. I can barely drive
to the hotel.
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