For As Long As I Remember / margot bethel

My hair was thick and hot and wild, billowing about my head every summer for as long as I can remember. At school my art teacher, Mr. Pickersgill, would pretend to look for my face by fussing with the back of my head and playfully querying my preponderant jungle. “Where are you, Margot, are you in there?”

No matter what torture I endured to tame it—sitting in curlers on Sundays before church, under a hot dryer to soften the humid-borne frizz—in no time it would feel once more like a stink, dense blanket dampening my thoughts of freedom.

“A woman’s hair is her glory,” my grandmother would admonish all the while in turns yanking and teasing a slim, black fine-toothed comb through my mop, tearing at buried knots, drawing tears and whimpers from between her vigorous knees.

My mother called the natty cluster a rat’s nest and because she had neither the skills nor the stomach to attack it, would simply cut the whole piece out in one, leaving an awkward hollow behind the mess of hair I myself could scarcely comb. Instead of combing it I would ever so lightly skim the surface with a hair-gummed brush, outlining the knotted bump, which only served to accentuate the fur-cloud of unkemptness that was my apparent glory.

Later, of an age when I could, I fantasized about cutting it short. I fantasized about cutting it off, exposing my scalp to the elements, liberating my smothered thoughts, reeling them in, through the suffocated skin, to the surface, to light.

Far away in another land was a woman who had done it already. She was a warrior and a heroine and a role model. She was a heretic and a freak and a superstar all at once.

“I’ll do it for you,” my brother offered when I told him what I had in mind—to free my mind, my head, from tangles, from the heaviness of womanhood. He had the equipment, was a man with permission to cut. Cut it. Cut his. Cut mine.

And so he came to my apartment on the second floor and we prepared the patio with a comfortable chair. He draped me in a towel and handled himself like a bona-fide barber. An extension cord snaked from the living room to the decked patio that looked out onto flowering treetops. “How low do you want to go?” He’d asked, fiddling with the attachments on his clippers. “As low as I can go,” I said.

Buzz-buzz, and my hair fell in fuzzy dark-brown clumps around me. How cool my head felt with each patch of skin the clippers exposed to the balmy air. No regrets, this was glory! Glorious freedom! The hair now cut crude but close, my brother offered to shave it clean with a razor. Yes. Shed the final layer; sweep away every trace.

Remove my glory, my crown; my burden. A feeling so sweet, so brave, so lonely.

•••

Artist, cabinet maker, interior and set designer, radio talk show host and cultural activist, Margot Bethel is the founder and director of the Hub community arts centre in downtown Nassau, Bahamas. In the summer of 2010, she enrolled in the Bahamas Writers Summer Institute. “For As Long as I Remember” is her first published work of creative non-fiction.

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