My mum takes my author pictures. I figured it was about time I changed them because the official photo – the one on the inside flap of The Accident Season – was taken in 2012. Also my hair is about four shades darker & sixty centimetres shorter now than it was then.
This summer I got my hair cut. This is particularly noteworthy because prior to that my hair was long enough to sit on.
I’d had long hair for a really long time. I liked that it was the longest. I liked that small children could climb up my plaits. I liked that seaweed tangled in it when I swam, that small birds set up nest in my perfectly messy bun, that when I shook my head it rained hairpins.
When people saw it they assumed I’d always had long hair. Those who knew me as a child recognised me by it. They remembered how at the age of eight I’d have panic attacks before getting routine trims at the hairdressers. They remembered how after I read the book Strongbow: The Story of Richard and Aoife by Morgan Llewellyn, I started threading stones through my plaits like the Celtic princess so I could fight my enemies. (Mostly I just gave my own arms bruises.) They could picture me at eleven, hair a long brown blanket down my back.
But I didn’t always have long hair. I got it all chopped off – the whole blanket – just after I turned fourteen. For years I kept slicing it shorter & shorter, dying it darker or bleaching it lighter, until one day at seventeen I got my mum to buzz it all off with a razor.
My hair grows fast. Like that character in A.S. King’s I Crawl Through It, it Pinocchios whenever I tell a lie or a story – & I tell a lot of stories. When I went to university at nineteen it wasn’t so much that I grew my hair out than I just stopped cutting it. Within days it touched my shoulders. Within weeks it reached my waist. By the age of twenty it’d passed my tailbone. I snaked it into braids that developed a life of their own, stroking friends’ cheeks and strangling my enemies.
When my hair grows it forgets. It forgets its ends ever belonged to a teenage girl who wore mismatched boots and denim dungarees with poetry books in the pockets. It forgets its roots grew from the same scalp as the girl with bitten fingernails and kohl-rimmed eyes. It forgets each follicle also belonged to the girl who climbed abandoned buildings in the middle of the night, who jumped off piers fully-clothed, who snarled at strangers, who sang sad songs in hospital beds.
You could argue that hair can’t remember in the first place, so it couldn’t possibly forget. But look at the two-inch curl I just grew telling you that story.
So I got it all cut off. Fifty centimetres donated to a charity for children going through chemotherapy & another ten, later, to my bedroom floor.
These days I cut my own hair, alone in front of my bedroom mirror, with just a couple of clips and a very sharp scissors. I don’t have a plan or a pattern. I just sort of hack at it until it looks the way I want it to. But I’ve learned that my hair is forgiving. If I amn’t trying to tame it, it looks good. It remembers. It doesn’t want perfection. It gives fewer fucks. It’s choppy and uneven and thick and unpredictable but it’s also the perfect metaphor. I used to spend so long straightening and pulling, plaiting and pinning, chasing perfection. Now I just put a bit of curl cream on my palms, fluff my hair up and go. Magic.