hobart logo
When the World Was Ending, We Wore the Cornrows. We Twisted our Coils, and We Waited photo

Blackhawk, Ms. March 26th, 2020

___

It's a good time to be bald.

To be a small child in a good home, maybe. 

To have braids.

To be a some kind of style, or a some kind of someone, that is simple, and allowed to be blissfully-naïve.

___

Hair should be the last thing on your mind, it really should, but you can't help but run your fingers down your twists, thinking about how Godly it had been when you’d gotten them done at the braiding salon a month earlier.

The parting is crisp, singular individualized shapes of triangles and squares, and like a stained-glass window, the detailing is intricate and artistic. This kind of precision is rare, very few hair-braiders are talented in this way whilst also maintaining the integrity of your edges.

They start at the scalp, the texture of the extensions rough and thick, the color an inky black, and they extend down to your hips.

That length, serves as the sole inconvenience—when you sleep, they slither underneath your shirt, scratching—and you are all about eliminating the things that disrupt your peace these days.

In quarantine, in front of a camera, and much earlier than you had planned, you take some of the extensions out to shorten the length.

In an hour, you go from Rapunzel-length to a much more modest breast-length.

You feel lighter now, and more capable for whatever you will need to do in the future.

You think about how fitting it is, the inevitable haircut during apocalyptic times. 

___

Because you are free, for now, for the end of the world, you get a jar of Sulfur 8 hair grease from off of the store’s shelf.

Just the sight of it sparks salivation, the generic smell of hair grease has always done that to you. It is a scent that, much like a new car, or a fresh pair of shoes, or leather, is so very singular, and signature, setting itself off from all the other smells in the world.

You check to make sure that the product hasn’t been tampered with, you breathe in the scent, and the air seeps from out of your face mask, steaming your eyeglasses.

That scent is your childhood, it is the simplicity that you crave.

___

With the twists in, you'll just have to grease your scalp every few days with a mixture of the Sulfur 8, rosemary oil, lavender oil, and peppermint oil.

With this mixture, you can recall the sizzling sounds of the hair grease set against a hot comb, melting through your kinky texture like butter. You can still feel a heavily-slathered finger gliding along the sections of your parts with the product.

This mixture is a blend of the many mothers who have cared for you hair over the years, and African and Ayurvedic hair remedies.

It is tradition, and rediscovery, and discovery coming together.

___

With the twists in, your hair regimen will go as follows:

  • Washing them once a month with a low-suds’ing shampoo, to keep from compromising the integrity of the style.
  • Spraying them twice a day with a water-based leave-in-conditioner, to keep the hair underneath moisturized.  
  • Greasing them thrice a week, to protect the scalp, stimulate growth, and to seal all of the moisture in.

If you are careful, your temporary freedom will last at least ninety days, but outside of this, when the rest of the extensions will be ready to fall to the floor, so easily, so desperately, you don’t know.

You haven’t planned that far ahead, yet.

___

There is a very precise history here to which you do not have the power or privilege to recall the memory of.

You cannot bring about a witness to offer you their testimony.

You cannot pull a history book from off of a shelf that highlights your grandma and her mama’s morning, and night routines.

These things that you naturally know are the pieces of all the stories that you’ve heard, and intuitions passed down to you from birth, now embedded deeply in your bones, in the body that you live in.

It is there, all of the testimonies and histories that you will ever need to know, existing as more of a feeling, rather than fact, letting you know that this is how it’s always been done, but especially in times of crisis.

With your whole self, you believe that these twists were made for more than just the beauty that they bring you.

That the head-wraps are not just intricate fabric-made crowns, but there to protect you from the scorch of the sun, from the madness that it could bring to your mind.

In a not-too far off past, you can see the cornrows planted along the backs of your ancestors’ heads, freeing their hands for the other kind of corn rows that they were forced to plant, and pick from.

It has always been important to keep those hands free. 

In the not-too far off past, free for them.

In the very-current future, free for us.  

You look all around you, and every older black woman in your life has the hair that will ensure their survival.

Your mother, with her waist-length locks.

Your Aunt Nanny, with her salt-and-pepper afro.

Your grandmother, who just a couple of months ago had long locs as well, had suddenly, very suddenly, took a pair of craft scissors to them, and sheered them down to a silver fade.

That suddenness at the time, had disturbed you.

 It was one thing to cut your hair after a consultation with friends and family alike, to proceed with the decision after mentally weighing the pros and cons.

It was an entirely obscure thing to self-butcher your hair in solitude, which in the south, often suggested only the worst of predicaments—sickness, a loss of some part of yourself, a drastic change in sexuality or lifestyle.

The significance of that suddenness lies in now considering that your grandma had known that this was coming all along, because older people have a tendency to sense these things, to note the patterns in time when a new terribleness was on the horizon.

___

You listen all around you, and every older black woman in your life is talking about all the things needing to be done to their heads.

Your mother, debating Bantu Knots, and if she should let the black-blue of her vegan hair color fade. Already you notice that it is becoming much more ginger brown with silver-silk-tinsels throughout it.

Your Aunt Nanny, lightly-arguing on a Friday afternoon for her hair to be done by your Grandma, and your Grandma lightly-arguing back that there’s not enough hair on her daughter’s head to do such a thing: 

Both of them light-arguing over the status of their hair, whose is shorter, longer, or nearly-bald, and the exchange ends as all the others usually do, with each one calling the other one crazy.

___

There are the friends who still get perms, who don’t know what to do now that all the shops are closed.

There are the friends who will experiment with bolder hair-colors, and gender-breaking styles, now that there is no one to offer them unsolicited judgements.

There are the friends who are too overwhelmed with their own individualized sadness, and anxiety now, to even consider washing it, and these are the friends that we check on the most.

But between all of your friends, over the phone calls, through texts, on the Zoom Apocalypse Parties on Saturday nights, the general consensus is that it is the best time to just leave it alone—ends safely tucked beneath themselves to discourage the breakage of them, the breakage of us.

___

You think about the fantastical beliefs surrounding the beauty of our greatest great grandmother’s hair. That the length, and thickness, and blackness of it all was obtained by some kind of magic forgotten by us modern-day greatest great granddaughters.

You believe, that there simply was no place for the things that we do now, where we’ve learned to turn our kinks into lengthy Shirley temple curls, and intricate updos. 

For our ancestors, their terribleness was not guaranteed with a certain expiration date when things would once again return back to normal. That every day, for them, was a pandemic in which they’d become accustomed to the disease. This disease that targeted those with only a certain kind of skin, uprooting them from their homes, and controlling their lives in the most heinous ways until they would become an entirely new being.

No longer African, but some modified, watered-down, and well-behaved version of that.

What was a glamorous hairstyle set against this kind of antagonist? 

To leave it alone—in twists, or braids, or head-wrapped—did not only serve to protect the hair, but it would prevent the strain of having one more thing to do.

In time, the decades would pass, and their hair would flourish to become something for the granddaughters to marvel at, and play with, even. It would present itself as a treasure, one that they forget that they even possessed, and they would remember their beauty, and how womanly they were.

 With that new time here, when they would look up, the worst of the New World’s history was behind them, ready to be replaced with a different kind of terribleness.  

___

It is said by the older black women in your life, that for a black woman, there is nothing worse than the unkemptness of oneself.

Skipping showers, and dirty fingernails, and un-brushed teeth, all shameful, blasphemous failures no matter the current condition of the outside world.

You are never to sit in your personal filth, to sulk the day away beneath your bed’s covers.

Instead, you are expected to get up, to get clean, to do.

You used to think that this ideal had everything to do with vanity, with some inane inability for us, for even a second, to be human for just a few breaths. As you feel the reality of this new world in your bones, the familiarity of it passed down to you like a genetic-trait, you know that underneath all of that it is instead the inept need to maintain the preservation of self, and sanity.

That if you lose who you are, who would be there to take care of your loved ones, when you are the only one who has ever done so? To outsiders, we are already undesirable, and ugly, and menacing, and to combine that with the possibility of disease is the absolute guarantee of our death. 

We are what the world looks too with a harsher eye.

The strong superwoman, that dare not catch the crazy.

That dare not fail.

That dare not behave in some uncharacteristic way that suggests that we have become a further mutilated version of our already modified, watered-down, and well-behaved African self.

There are so many others, even outside of our loved ones, who depend on us, on that stability.

Even though those harsher eyes are more comprehending now, sometimes, and less inept to control our bodies as they did our ancestors, sometimes, you know that even the slightest slip of yourself, in this world that is losing itself every day, is not to be entertained. 

You cannot leave your body to failure, your hair to the wind, your hygiene forgotten, your family and home to recklessness, because if you fail in these ways... 

When you are the greatest great granddaughter of your greatest great grandmothers who have already endured the worst of the world’s years?

When you have all the hair grease you could ever want, and cool air at night, and modern medicine?

Then maybe it would be a sign that there was nothing left to save.

You fall into anxiety, into self-pity, into the worst fantasies imaginable, wondering how it is that you cannot handle any of this when you have it all so easily.

Later, you find yourself moving.

You have to move, because somehow, they had found a way to. 

___

Everywhere around you, all on the news, highlighted as statistics on social media sites, they say that we are the ones that will die from this the most, that somehow, even though we are a minority, that the status of this will be reduced even further. Why are we so very unwanted, but somehow always wanted by the worst of things?

Maybe it is reckless, or callous, but you decide to let your bones speak to you, to let them talk away, to let yourself relax.

You are breathing now because it is not what they say.

Or about who has had it the hardest.

Or that you currently have it so easy.

Or even about the hair, really.

It is about this simple thing right here, this simple act of taking care of yourself as best as you can, to take care of your sister who will go on to live in the newer New World. Your specific-kind of societal terribleness will be replaced by then. Time, gone. The things that made you cry at night, suddenly subject for satire and jokes.

It seems cruel, unfair even, but this is what the passage of time does, it softens things. 

It is about the preservation of this small part of yourself, of your reality, of the plaiting and or twisting of your hair, of the small acts of your productivity, of the inhales and exhales, of the intent of your mindfulness, and of the consideration of the temporariness of all things...

that eventually go on to save the world, to secure the future.

 

image: Donyae Coles


SHARE