Locks This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

August 17, 2011
“When are you going to cut your hair?” my father asked in his stand-offish voice. We sat on my backyard porch, staring at each other.

I knew what I wanted to say, I wanted to say: “When I WANT to cut my hair,” but instead I came out with,“I don’t know …”

“You look like a slob.” His mouth curled around the words; newfound disgust for the Son Who Could Formerly Do No Wrong.

“I like it this length,” I quietly argued, touching the edges of my hair. It would scrape the top of my collar if I lifted my head a bit, hardly “headbanger length,” but long enough for my father (who had his hair cut every two weeks) to get mad about.

“But it doesn’t even LOOK nice!”

I argued, within the safe confines of my mind, that I thought it did look nice, that I was happy with my hair for the first time since … ever.

“It’s disheveled! It’s not neat!”

But, in my mind again, I tell him that I wash it every day, I comb it … I like it.

“It embarrasses me!”

What right do you have, I cry out in my mind, visibly shaking in the real world, to be embarrassed by anything I do? Embarrassed? How typical … how sadly typical. We only go skin deep, my dad and I, only as deep as the physical world. Nothing more. Stick with the superficial world, with “practical things,” and we won’t be disappointed.


Shaking, my hands in my lap. My breath ragged and soft.

“It’s not you! It is just NOT YOU!” His voice tired and upset.

My mind reacts, a flurry of vengeful comments, hateful, stupid actions held back, held in check by the self (inspired by my father most probably) that says, It’s not worth it. Don’t do something stupid because of hair.

Oh, but I do think. He can’t stop me from that. I think, How do you know who I am? You dismiss my every thought as a stupid 18-year-old flight of fancy. My dreams, my hopes, my needing to write are all just immature things that I have to get out of the way before my real life can begin. How can you know me? I scream in my mind. How can you even look me in the eye and say that you know me? You never tried! Since I was four, I wanted to write, but it’s not “practical.” Not enough like an insurance salesman to appease you. You don’t know me. You never will. You have no idea how sad that makes me, how much that hurts me. I wish it didn’t, but it does. It hurts.

“But you know what makes me mad most of all?” he asks, not expecting a response from the undeserving thing that has usurped his son. “It’s that I don’t ask anything of you. I never ask anything of you, and I ask you to do one thing … ONE THING … and you ignore me. You don’t do it. One thing – that’s what makes me mad.”

And my mind screams. You don’t ASK me anything.You TELL me things. I have gone to YOUR church every single week since I was born, and heard people who belong to YOUR church tell me what my morals should be at Sunday school. It hasn’t been MY life, MY morals. It’s been yours. You don’t ask. You give me no choice.

But you know what? I ask in my mind. Do you know what? I think I’ve turned out pretty well. I’ve never come home drunk or high, I’ve never done the stupid things my friends have asked me to do: I’ve been my own person. I’ve spent my entire life in a window, watching my friends do everything, but unable to join them. I’ve gotten fairly decent grades (except several classes, but I’ve tried my best in all of them), and I don’t think I’ve complained too much. You never ask. You expect. And the one time I don’t go along with your expectations, I’m a slob, and that hurts. It shouldn’t, but it does.

“You’re being so childish! I don’t understand.”

And everything, every part of me, wants to fight that statement – I’m being childish. This afternoon, in a restaurant, you pulled my hair … YOU PULLED MY HAIR! That’s childish. That’s abusive. That’s humiliating, to have you pull my hair just to get me to realize that my hair is long. You’ve told me that I couldn’t go anywhere with my friends until my hair is cut.

And I realize that my father is a bully, a childish, brutal bully who will pout and complain and moan until he has his way. He’ll bully anyone into his way of thinking. There is no other viewpoint in a bully’s frame of mind, only his own. A bully will keep pushing, keep demeaning you until finally you just roll over and let him control you. He will hurt you physically, mentally, and spiritually until there’s nothing strong left, only a child who can’t defend himself.

And I am reminded of Samson, in the Bible, who lost all his strength when his hair was cut, but I realize that my strength is already gone. It’s been sapped through years and years of bullying. The subservience has been there since day one. I tried to fight it this time, and he pulled the leash until I choked. Finally, I do speak, but I am surprised that my voice is weak, shivering more than my body is. I’m crying. He’s won.

“But you never asked me,” I say, looking away as though that would hide the tears. “You told me. I wanted to be asked. I wanted a little respect.”

His nostrils flare. I’ve asked too much. “No matter what I said, whether I’ve told you or I’ve asked you, the sentiment is the same. I want you to get a haircut.” And you’ll bully me into it, won’t you?

He sits there, smug that his job is done. I’m crying, desperately fighting the tears, and he’s happy. He’s won. He knows it. He’s just waiting for an answer, a confirmation.

I nod, realizing that the battle was not even about locks of hair, but locks of another kind.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

Site Feedback