Friday, February 1, 2008

trusting delilah

Anthonis van Dyck (1599-1641)

To carve an elephant from a rock, you simply carve away anything that does not look like an elephant…

She was there in front of the mirror with scissors, and had hoped to carve from among the wisps, a self she might recognize. Every day a snip here, a snip there. But with each lock falling away onto the cold bathroom floor, she grew less familiar, less recognizable.

Finally she made the appointment. She had two options (maybe three): acupuncture, a mammogram, a haircut. She chose the haircut.

She taps on the thick glass of the salon door early in the morning. The hairdresser is there, in the quasi-dark, dressed as if for a date, and she swishes across the floor to the door and when the door is opened, she enters the calm, fragrant world of the eternally feminine.

She explains to the hairdresser the situation, the endless days of snipping, of seeking. The hairdresser nods understandingly, more understanding than a therapist or a doctor.

“You understand,” she confides, “this is a last resort.”

The hairdresser seats her in a thick-cushioned chair from the early 1900s, and massages her tense shoulders. Her hands are so warm, so reassuring, that all the hours of the last two years fall away to the pine floor. Then the scissors flash, and the wisps fall. Some of them are gray, already betraying the New Year’s Day henna.

The whole procedure takes only a few minutes. Much too soon she must pay and walk back out into the bright morning light, the bitter winter air. But the hairdresser confides one last thing. “For me,” she says, “it is this…” and she lifts her skirt slightly to mid-calf to reveal a blazing purple iris. “I’m getting rid of it.”

Walking to work she doesn’t try to capture a fleeting reflection in the glass; she doesn’t rush to the bathroom to apply make-up or put on earrings; she just walks, noticing the levity, thankful that she has freed herself from the tyranny of the scissors. She is no longer who she thought she was an hour ago, a month ago, a year ago, and she doesn’t yet know who she might have become, but she might not, she thinks hopefully, she might not even care.