BY KARA VAN DE GRAAF
The women in my family lose their hair as they age. I never noticed. As a girl, I believed they were always that way: painted face, hand full of rings, a haze of stiffened hair with a hint of hard bone showing through. This was some other phase of womanhood, tighter and leaner, a change that never would happen to me. But change has a funny way of showing up. Now, at my age, photos reveal a slow creep of scalp at each phase of my life, a ghost-self haunting younger days, always just beyond my grasp. I worried more about my bones, that death would come from the inside, the white haze of calcium leaching until I broke. But no, my mind is hazed mostly with fleeing hair, dark in the drain. I’m scared to change. All my life I believed in beauty, envied those girls whose bones showed through their sweaters. Power is having a face for the ages, a pair of lips that could cripple a man, a line of them always waiting outside for you at school. I wish it were only a phase and not a sunken song that plays forever underneath. But phases don’t last until your thirties. And which death is worse? The hazing of being a teenaged girl, the little mirror in your locker, so you always obsess over lip gloss, skip lunch, brush your long hair? Or this changing body that becomes my mother’s more each day, the slow show of age like a play actors repeat until they fall over, the script set in your bones? In high school we read a play: Delilah, whom I imagined in boned corset and heels, beguiling Samson with her wiles at each phase. Oh, how I wanted to be her, but I know now it’s wanting that ages us, the sin swimming inside until all our eyes can see is haze, a kindly blindness. Will the God I worship ever change? I think of my grandmothers and their wigs, their fingers always scratching, desperate to conceal what was shorn away. We were always both—the crippled hero, the deceiving beauty, conjoined in bone. This is real tragedy: to know yourself only by what is fated to change, to be cut from you strand by strand. And what is left at that phase? A handful of hair streaking your scalp, an old photo of your face under the haze of glass, the one that looks just like your grandmother at age sixteen. A girl I never knew in girlhood, a woman whose glamor always fazed me. Her body’s gone now, buried bones, though somewhere underground a haze of hair is sprayed sticky to her skull, preserved in a coffin, where she can’t change or age.