My mother describes my hair as ramen noodles, my aunt calls it hay, and my father a broom.
On first listen, Miley Cyrus’ ‘Can’t Be Tamed,’ felt like my hair’s anthem. My voluminous and unkempt hair may be the boldest thing about me. Perhaps also the loneliest.
It struggles to find a friend, a companion who sticks. Literally.
My hair sits on my head, usually in the shape of an untamed bun. This hairdo isn’t a choice – it’s a short term solution to a lifelong problem, a band-aid for something chronic. My drawers will tell you of the friends my curls have lost: an assortment of beautiful hair clips and brushes split in two–some remnants of which I may never be able to wash off my hair.
My hair is the death penalty for convicted hair accessories. Perhaps losing them to the graveyard of my scalp was a rite of passage: of understanding loss, minutely; learning how to let go; knowing not all affections are reciprocated.
I cannot possibly narrate this story without mentioning my brown, glassy hair-band: a hair-band I grew so attached to, that I gave it a name.
No human friend has ever been the object of my affections the way Mona was. I vividly recall the day I first met her; sitting on my cousin’s dresser: wide and resin-toothed. From the get go, I knew it was a match made in curly-hair-paradise. From then on, Mona and I were inseparable. My mother says I wore her like a god-fearing-parishioner wears the cross; I think it was more of an adolescent commitment to a fashion statement. A powerhouse duo of a superhero and sidekick, I was the Robin to her Batman. Had it not been for the stringent rules in school which exclusively preferred white ribbons to be adorned in a student’s hair – Mona and I would be classmates, too. Sturdy as ever, my confidante held on to me even as I ran around in playgrounds, tripped down stairs, and found myself playing yet another round of ‘lock & key’. Every night as I tucked her into my bedside drawer, I felt safe knowing she would be there the next day.
Once, after a claustrophobic four-hour family road-trip, we made our way to the beach. T-shirt, silver-flip-flops, and Mona holding up my hair, I ran into the water. Wading in the tides, staring into the vast horizon: I noticed my hair had broken free, nothing holding it in its place, right above my hairline. At that moment, a panic washed over me, pun intended.
Desperate. Frantic. With a heaviness in my chest, I began foraging through the water. In what felt like hours but was probably however long a wave takes to subside, I found her, under my feet in the sand: standing strong against the waves like a resin Joan of Arc. An imaginary weight, almost as heavy as my fear of losing Mona, was now off my chest.
I knew it meant something, that even the sea – snatcher-of-hope, sandal-thief, salty, voracious – couldn’t take Mona from me. I found myself believing a little more – in fate, in perfect pairs.
Weeks later, my cousin Emmanuel came to visit. I walked into my bedroom to find myself witness to an incomprehensible tragedy: Emmanuel sitting on the bed, beloved Mona in his hands – split in two. Emmanuel squawked an apology in horror, fear, and perhaps guilt.
I was devastated. I needed to mourn my soulmate – humanely.
So, I held a funeral for her.
I wrote her a little eulogy — addressed to ‘My dear friend Mona, I will miss you clinging to me.’; put it in a tin box with Mona’s lifeless remains, and buried it under the bougainvillea tree in the garden. A sticky-note attached to a twig, dug into the soil like a flag waving in memoriam, read:
Friend and loose-hair-strand-police.
Lost too young, but never forgotten.”
What followed wasn’t a burst of anger, but an eerie calm. I was certain, I’d never find a hair-band as efficient as Mona. Maybe I was afraid I would.
Eventually, I moved on, as one does.
Losing Mona, as much as I wanted to believe it at the time, wasn’t losing a part of myself. It was a lesson in attachment, growth, and grieving; in learning how to let go of parts of me I thought were essential, when they no longer are. I’ve had multiple hair-bands, clips, and ties ever since. None as precious to me as Mona.
Perhaps that is a good thing.
I have learned that letting go is synonymous to growing up. I can now rejoice in impermanence; even thrive in it.
My mother says I wasn’t quite exactly born with curly-hair. I once had straight, silky tresses, caressing my shoulders. My friends make juvenile jokes about how this is a metaphor for my own sexuality. Maybe it is a metaphor about change, and growing up; about permanence, and its illusion; about transience and its inevitability. Maybe we are all meant to have a Mona, until we learn to hold our hair in place.