When we met, I wore my hair like 90s Winona Ryder. A pixie cut, dyed dark. My high school math teacher had told me years before that “men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses,” and his adage had proven true for short hairstyles as well. I hadn’t dated at all in high school and only sporadically in college. But Rob liked my short hair. He said it was like me — spunky.
We dated for five months before he asked me to marry him. With a ring on my finger and a stack of wedding magazines in my lap, I began to long for longer tresses. None of the brides in the glossies wore their hair short on their wedding day. Elaborate updo hairstyles were the standard. I had enough to spike a mohawk maybe, but not nearly enough to satisfy the desires of a hairstylist with a handful of bobby pins and a can of hairspray. We’d planned our wedding for eight months hence, so I didn’t have much time. Time to start growing.
I cut my hair a few weeks before we got married. It was hot, July. I wanted some relief. I didn’t get the fancy bridal updo, but I got Rob. That was more than enough. Hair was just hair after all.
Throughout our 17 years of marriage, my hair changed with my emerging sense of self. Secure in his love, I grew my hair out. Past the awkward in-between “growing out” stage, to a full head of long brown waves. I happily experimented — dyed it, chopped it off, grew it out, straightened it. Each time, Rob would say, “You look great!”
I birthed our four children who held my hair tight as they nursed, weaving its strands between their little fingers as they sighed and suckled. I even let Rob cut it a few times, me sitting before the bathroom mirror in his old undershirt while he wielded the scissors to fix some professional stylist’s snafu. Not many women trust their stylists with their hair, their husbands even less. But Rob was always more than enough for me.
When I could see age 40 on the horizon, I decided I wanted to grow my hair long again. I had committed to embracing my gray hairs whenever they arrived, and I wanted long hair again before I felt the pressure of an ageist culture to cave and wear it short. Rob may have fallen in love with my spunky cut, but he loved my long hair. Even if I wore it in a messy bun most of the time. I treated myself to balayage, just to stay hip. He called it my “rockstar hair.” My hair was like our future — long, full, healthy and full of shine.
I cut my hair the day before he died. It was hot, July. I wanted some relief. I would never have cut it if I’d known that day would be his last. My stylist straightened it, complimenting me on how well my highlights had lasted. I texted Rob a picture. “Cute!” he replied. I smiled; his opinion was the only one that had ever really mattered to me. I was excited about my new style.
But when I looked in the mirror the next day, after they had told me he had died, I no longer recognized myself. The person I used to be — his wife, his confidant, his lover, his companion, his editor, his co-adventurer — she was gone. Death had taken her away from me, like the stylist who’d cut and swept away my curly tresses the day before. Even my hair said, “You’re not the same anymore.”
In the six months since Rob died, I’ve started growing out my hair again. I don’t feel spunky anymore, so short hair just won’t work right now. Maybe I’m longing to go back to those years he loved me so well. Maybe it’s just time for a change. I don’t know. Even when my hair is long again, Rob’s death has secured this truth: I will never be the same again. No hairstyle can change that reality. I’m a different person now. And it’s time to start growing.