Karen worked all day Saturday. It was the only thing she knew of to take her mind off her hair, and what she had decided to to. As long as she was hunched over her desk, concentrating on her long list of tasks, she didn't have to think about Tuesday, and cutting her hair. She worked through lunch and dinner, grabbing only a quick snack from the machine around seven. She stayed until 11:15 at night, drove home, and collapsed into bed without getting out of her clothes, and without unbraiding or brushing her hair.
On Sunday, she washed her hair for what she thought was one last time. What had once been a couple of hours on Sunday evening had turned into an all-day affair. On this day, she stretched it out, wiping all other activities from her schedule. She unwound her braid, the braid that Joey had helped her make the other night, and slowly brushed out the loose strands. Every once in a while, she would stop and examine her hair, running the silky smoothness of the strands through her fingers, or holding it up to the light. Braiding or unbraiding her hair was always a time-consuming task. Every time she pulled a section of hair into or out of the weave, she had to pull the remaining length through her fingers to separate it. The closer to her head she got, the longer she had to pull, with one hand maneuvering hair through the other, always being careful not to tangle what had been pulled. Where it had taken her and Joey 45 minutes to make this braid, it took her almost two hours to dismantle it.
She gathered her hair, looping it over her left arm, and went next to the linen closet next to the bathroom. She took out a stack of towels, and carried them into the bathroom, placing them on a stool next to the shower. She gathered a fresh bottle of shampoo and conditioner, and after taking off her sweats, she stepped into the shower. She hung her hair on three hooks that had been installed when the shower was built. The hooks were Bill's idea, and helped her keep her hair off the shower floor. She turned on the water, and got to work.
After lathering her scalp, she worked her way down the length, gently moving her hands downward, coaxing the shampoo towards the ends. As she worked down her hair, she moved her hair around on the hooks, removing a section to wash, and replacing what was just done. To a casual observer, her routine would have looked complicated and scientific, but to Karen, it was just second nature. Her hands moved quickly, her motions automatic after years of practice. After reaching the ends with shampoo, she reached for the detachable shower head, and worked her way back down the length, washing the shampoo towards the ends at the same rate she applied it.
Conditioning was done the same way, only she left it on her hair for five minutes before rinsing. She turned off the water, and reached outside the shower for a towel. She began the long process of drying her hair. When it was waterlogged after rinsing, she was careful not to hold it all at once. It weighed close to twenty pounds soaking wet. Towel after towel became damp as she slowly worked her way down the length, never pulling on her hair, but allowing it to slide through the towel. She finally emerged from the shower and looked at the pile of towels on the floor. She grabbed the last two towels, her sweats, and a comb, and walked out to the balcony over the living room.
All the comforts of home were within arms reach of her favorite chair at the edge of the balcony. Books, a television, a telephone, a small refrigerator, pen and paper, all that she could want over the next seven hours while she let her hair air dry. She laid a towel out at the head of the chair while holding her damp hair off of the floor. She then crawled in, laying on her back, her loops of hair on her chest. She found her ends, and slowly fed them over the back of the chair. She could look at two different mirrors to monitor her progress as she let her hair down. When it was finally taut, and she could feel the tug against her scalp, she settled into a comfortable position, picked up a paperback, and began reading. Her hair streamed from the balcony, making an improbable sight as it plunged past the second floor, to within six feet of the carpet on the first floor.
Minutes later, the telephone rang, making Karen jump in her seat. She picked up and said hello.
"Joey! Did you make it back alright?"
"I left a few messages for you yesterday, did you get them?"
"No," Karen realized. "I never checked. I had to work all day."
"Well, I never did get to say thank you at the airport the other day, but I had a great time. It was so wonderful to see you. Are you feeling better?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, when I left you, you were crying. I felt terrible the whole flight home."
"I've been fine, Joey."
"I guess the real reason I called is because I'd like to see you again."
Karen's heart started pounding when she heard this. She had tried to keep Joey out of her mind, at least until she got her hair cut, but couldn't. If the business about her hair hadn't come up, she would have told him what a wonderful time she had with him.
"I'd like that too, Joey."
"I've arranged a follow-up with a client I met out there, and have some vacation time coming. I can stay until you want to throw me out."
"When would you come?"
"I can fly in Tuesday night."
Karen stiffened. Tuesday, AFTER her haircut.
"Sure, Joey. That would be fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Joey. I'd very much like to see you again." How would he like her without her hair?
"And Karen, could you do me one favor?"
"What's that, Joey?"
"Don't do anything with your hair until I get there."
"Please Karen, just wait."
"I've already decided..."
"Just one day, Karen. That's all I ask. For me. Please?"
"Just promise me you will wait."
"I can't promise you, Joey, you know that."
"Just think about it. Please?"
"Would you still want to see me again if I cut my hair?"
"Of course I would, Karen, you're wonderful with or without your hair."
"You're just saying that."
"No, Karen. Look, I'll admit that I love long hair on a woman, and yours, well yours is incredible, spectacular - I can't even describe it. Just thinking about it is turning me on. But that isn't why I want you to wait."
"If I really thought that you wanted to cut it off, well, I'd be disappointed, but I'd understand, and I wouldn't think any less of you. But I don't think you want to do it. You feel like you have to, like it is your destiny or something, but you don't want to. Like I told you before, I think you will regret it hugely if you cut it. You will regret it for the rest of your life. I don't want you to go through that, Karen. I don't want to see you hurt yourself."
"That's sweet, Joey, but..."
"Hey listen, I've gotta run, but please think about what I'm saying. My flight pulls in at 9:05, will you be there?"
"OK Joey, I'll see you then, and I'll think about what you are saying."
The last part was just to calm him down. She was done
thinking, and ready to act!
Joey's call had forced her to think about cutting her hair again. She spent the trip back from the airport Friday night deciding to do it for sure, and then put it out of her mind. The next time she wanted to think about it was when she walked into the salon on Tuesday. Otherwise, it was life as usual, or so she thought.
The decision process stormed her mind again as she hung up with Joe. Being somewhat analytical she had always weighed the plusses and minuses of her hair, and she ran through them again.
She reached back and pulled her hair back up. She took the comb, with large, wide teeth, and started running it through her ends. As she worked her way back up, she let her hair down to hang again. Twenty minutes later, she settled back in.
After five hours, she reached back and felt her hair. Good! she thought. Time to brush it out. She always enjoyed this part of her routine. Brushing transformed her lifeless nearly dry rope of hair into the silky, shiny tresses that felt fresh and seemed to have a life of their own.
As she had done every day for the past thirty years, she moved to the edge of her bed, sat down, and began brushing. She never failed to look on in fascination as her hair seemed to grow in body and become soft and completely dry. It was as if washing had bound the individual strands together, and brushing liberated them.
Though there were many reasons she had trouble taking care of her hair, her arms weren't one of them. Thirty years of brush strokes, braiding, and carrying her hair had done better for her arms than any gym ever could. She looked at her arms and felt the muscles. Very firm, a little big, but not un-feminine. Another plus!
Once brushing was finished, she decided to leave her hair down. She also decided to call in sick Monday. While one side of her was ready to cut her hair, the other side wanted to enjoy it one last time. She wouldn't braid it until she was leaving for the salon on Tuesday.
She started unbraiding her hair at 8am, and it was now 7pm. She went downstairs and fixed a light dinner, her hair following her around like a bridal train. She couldn't remember the last time she had let her hair down like this. Sure, she would let it down to watch TV, or curl up underneath it to read a book, but letting it flow around the house? She also slept with it loose Sunday and Monday night, carefully spreading it out at the end of the bed.
Strands snagged frequently as she moved about, and each time, she doubled back and carefully removed her hair from the hazard. She found herself removing her sweatshirt, and sweatpants, so that she wore only panties, and purposely moved so that she could feel her hair touching her skin as she did things around the house. She bent over to pick something off the floor, and felt her hair cascade over her shoulders. She leaned over again and again, timing it so that the cascade seemed to move in slow motion. She got on her knees, and laid down, and felt the caress of her hair.
She lost track of time, and went to bed at 2am Tuesday morning. She slept fitfully, and finally climbed out of bed at 7am, having slept maybe 2 hours. She kept the thought of her impending haircut out of her mind, thinking instead of anything else. Her stomach hurt, and her insides were a mess as she braided her hair. Her appointment was for 10am, and it took half an hour to drive to the salon. She couldn't eat breakfast, and finally decided to just get in the car and drive around until it was time to get to the salon.
She did not coil her hair, but held her braid, placing
it in the passenger seat of her car. As she drove around, she thought about
Joey coming that evening. "What will he think about me with shorter hair?
I hope he isn't too disappointed..." She thought about what he had said
on the phone on Sunday. Would she regret it? Maybe at first, but then things
would be alright. Think of the freedom!
Joe was distracted the entire weekend and Monday. While Karen was struggling to keep the thought of cutting her hair out of her mind, Joe was consumed with thoughts of Karen. Images of her standing in front of him at the foot of her bed, surrounded by that brown cape filled his mind. Images of her smiling just after she had let her hair down were there too. Such youth and vitality! All let loose by that hair! Images of her with short hair also entered his mind. He imagined her with a shoulder length flip, or with a pixie cut. He imagined her with hair to her waist, and in the styles that the women in his office wore. Each time he imagined her with shorter hair, she looked sad, and had a tear rolling down her cheek. He would try to put a smile on her face, but it just didn't work.
"Hey, what's up, Joe," asked Ron a coworker and friend. "You look down. What's the matter?"
"I don't think you would believe me, Ronno."
Joe told him about meeting Karen in San Francisco, saying she was a high school classmate. He talked about their dinner, and how well they got along, and how great she looked.
"But what has me down is her hair."
"Her hair? Why her hair?"
"You'd have to see it to believe it, Ron. She kept it up in this huge bun all day. I knew it was long, good looking hair, but Ron - Oh man! She let it down for me, and I almost creamed in my pants. I've never seen anything else that came close. there was hair everywhere!"
"How long was it?"
"It was so thick and beautiful... chestnut brown, and it had to be every bit of fifteen feet long."
"Fifteen feet? You're shitting me. You are definitely shitting me!"
"No shit, Ron. It was real. I brushed it, I braided it. It was like a dream."
"OK, so you're not shitting me."
"You know Debbie in accounting?" Debbie had what Joe considered the best hair in the company. Thick and butt length.
"Yeah, she's got long hair, and a lot of it."
"Well imagine her with fifteen feet of hair. That's Karen."
"I don't think I can, Joe old boy. So what's the problem?"
"She wants to cut it off."
"All of it?"
"I think so."
"Yeah, that's it. Ron, this is the most incredible hair on the planet. She wants to keep it, but feels like she has to cut it to get control of her life."
"Did you talk to her?"
"Yeah, but I'm not sure she heard me."
"So what are you going to do?"
"I'm heading back out there Tuesday, But I might be too late."
"Can you go earlier?"
"Wish I could, but I've got that big meeting at noon tomorrow."
"Looks like all you can do is hope for the best."
"Yeah, Ron, that's right. She's a honey, Ron, a keeper, and I don't want her to hurt herself."
"Well, give it your best shot, loverboy. Maybe she will change her mind."
"Maybe, Ron. Maybe..."
Karen pulled up to the salon at 5 of 10. She nervously gathered her braid, and walked through the front door. She realized this was the first time she had ever been in a hairdressing salon. She had seen them through the windows, but had never stepped inside. This one had been talked up by a few of her friends. The stylists were understanding, and careful.
"Can I help you?" the woman said, and then gasped as she saw Karen's braid looped over her left arm. "Oh my!"
"I'm Karen Willis," she squeaked through a dry throat. "I have a ten-o'clock appointment."
"Have a seat, it will be just a minute." The woman turned back and walked to one of the stylists. Karen knew they were talking about her, and could see heads turn and stare at her one by one. Karen sat down and placed her braid in her lap. She had it looped tightly, four times around, so it formed a pile about eight inches high in her lap. She absently thumbed through a magazine while she waited, occasionally touching her braid. She had never been so nervous in her life.
Karen looked up to see a woman slightly younger than her with long blonde hair to her butt.
"I'm Ellen. Why don't you come on back. You were supposed to be with Mary, but I usually get the long hair clients. This your first time here, I guess."
Karen nodded yes.
"I don't think I've ever worked with hair as long as yours, can we see it?"
Ellen reached for the braid and slowly uncoiled it. "Jane, come here please and take a look at this."
"Oh, my goodness!" Jane said. "You've got incredible hair!" Both Jane and Ellen held her braid out, and it stretched to the far wall of the salon. "How long have you been growing it?"
"Thirty years," Karen whispered, wishing they'd stop looking and get down to business.
"Thirty years! That's a long time to grow hair. It looks so healthy! You've obviously taken great care of it," Jane said, handing the braid back to Ellen. "Be careful Ellen!"
"I once trimmed a lady with hair to her ankles, but I've never seen anything like yours. It's so beautiful! You must be so proud!"
"Yes I am..."
"I wish mine would grow longer," Ellen interrupted. "This is as far as I can grow mine and keep it looking good. You are very lucky, but i'm sure you have heard that before."
"Yes," Karen said, and paused.
"I still don't believe this," Ellen said, as she held Karen's braid in her hands. "So what can I do for you today?"
"I want to c..." Karen stuttered. "Cut it, cut it off."
"No... this?" Ellen asked, holding up the braid. "No, you don't want to cut it off, do you?"
"Yes. Please." Karen reached for her braid by her chin. "Cut it here, and then give me something like she has." Karen pointed to the other stylist, who had a shoulder length layered cut.
"Are you sure? It's so beautiful. It's such a big step!" Ellen said, eyes wide open.
"Yes, please do it. I'm sure."
Karen's hands started to shake. The moment was here, and she was going to do it. She felt like throwing up, and her heart was beating a mile a minute. She felt tears welling in her eyes. She repeated "Ok, Karen, you can do it," silently, trying to compose herself.
Thoughts raced through her mind. Am I doing the right thing? What will short hair be like? I can't believe you are finally doing this! Is Joey right? What if...
"Are you ready?" Ellen asked. "I've never done this before, so you will have to bear with me. I'm going to loosen your braid a little and tie each of the three sections just below where I'll cut. That way you can save your braid. Are you really sure you want to do this? I don't want to do something you might regret. I can't put it back once it's cut."
"Yes, please hurry," Karen said, barely audible. Her mind raced, she had to concentrate to control her body and keep it from shaking.
"Omigod, omigod, omigod, omigod... " she repeated silently. She felt lightheaded.
"OK, here goes," Ellen said. "Last chance! I really don't want to do this."
Karen's heart pounded. Boomp-a-boomp-a-boomp-a. Her mind screamed.
"I'll count to three. One..."
"So you want to grow your hair long? That's nice."
"I'm serious, mommy! I don't want any more haircuts. I want long hair!"
"Okay, dear, whatever you say..."
Karen smiled as she remembered a conversation with her mother when she was nine. Thirty years ago! "Mom didn't think I'd go through with it," she said to herself.
She thought back to many conversations and occasions which marked the growth of her hair. Moments she treasured, and some she laughed about, every time she thought about them.
Like the time her father asked her if her hair was too long. He said it just like that: "Don't you think your hair is getting a little too long, Karen? Maybe you should get a haircut."
"But I like it, Daddy! It is getting real nice now." She was sixteen at the time, her hair fell just below her knees. Her father was concerned that she was spending too much time on it, time she could be spending with friends, or on school activities.
"It means alot to me, Daddy, and it isn't too much, and my grades are good."
Her mother and father had many a discussion about her hair. "You just don't understand what hair can mean to a woman," her mom would say. "Karen's hair is a part of her, and I think it is great. Besides, someday she will get tired of taking care of it and cut it off. Let her have her fun!"
She remembered back to the day she knew she had hair that reached the floor. Her roommate broke the news to her Freshman year in college. "Karen, stand up straight. Now look straight ahead."
"Your hair, it's touching the floor!"
What a feeling that was! It was a goal she set in high school. She also knew she wasn't ready to cut it, or even trim it back a little. She wanted more, and pledged to grow it through college.
"Naw, seven feet? Lemme see it. I don't believe you."
"No, I'd rather not."
"No, I don't think so."
Karen remembered why she quit the bar and party scene in college. She was a minor celebrity because of her hair, and all the drunk guys wanted her to show it to them. Some even tried to pull it down off of it's perch on top of her head.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Joanne, a hairdresser friend, running her hands through her hair. "So long, so beautiful! So thick! So much of it!"
"Thank you," Karen replied sheepishly, enjoying the compliment, but never quite getting used to it.
"How long is it? Ten feet? If you ever cut an inch of this, it will be a crime! How do you manage?"
One anonymous conversation with her father, who was brushing her then eight feet of hair went like this:
"You're never going to cut this, are you?"
"No, Daddy, never."
"Isn't it too much for you?"
"No, not really. I enjoy taking care of it."
"Well, You do a very good job of it. I don't think I've ever seen more beautiful hair."
Her father loved her and supported her, but was always somewhat short on the compliments, so when he talked about her hair, it always buoyed her for weeks.
The moments blurred together more and more, until all Karen felt or remembered was her hair, surrounding her, sliding aginst her skin, covering the floor.
One final vivid image, that of a young boy handing her a brush.
"Oh Joey, how did you... why did you... It's beautiful! but why?"
"Well, you have such beautiful hair, and I know it means so much to you, and I thought you might use it at college and maybe think of me..."
"Joey, I can't! This is too much for you- where did you get the money?"
"Oh, it was nothing, really. I want you to have it."
"That's so sweet of you, Joey, but - "
"Please take it, please??"
"Well only if - "
"Only if you are the first one to use it. Here."
And he started brushing her hair.
Karen woke up in bed, and shivered, holding herself. "I have to get to the airport," she thought.
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