My hair and I have lived separate lives. There have been times when we seem to have followed a similar trajectory, most mostly I think we are together by chance.
It began life as a halo; wispy silky strands that fell upon my cot pillow as quickly as they appeared, embroidering it with gold. It grew long and fringed, then bobbed and short and long again, almost without me noticing. It rose and fell with the seasons and the years and my mother’s whims.
When I was eight she took me to her hairdressers with a picture of a pageboy and instructions to cut my fringe so short that there was nothing left to hide behind. I am not sure I have ever recovered from that.
At seventeen it went scarlet in response, I thought, to the shock of exams, before taking on a more gothic hue and roping itself into tangled locks that I knotted with coloured rags and ribbons. Carrying its weight and wearing it like a badge that stated my intentions, I strayed out of school and into a far away university where I became known as the Girl with the Purple Hair. But really, it was the Purple Hair with the Girl; I was content to live underneath its shadow in relative obscurity.
A teary afternoon behind rain-streaked glass, steamy on the inside and alive with the insect clip- clip of scissors saw the last of the purple locks fall to the floor, swept up and away like the vestiges of my mismanaged romance. I was the Girl with Nothing, no identity salvaged. ‘I look like a six year old boy!’ I wept all the way home and the pain of that almost transcended the dull ache of my heart.
It was sober and sleek for my first job; empowered and even sleeker during subsequent promotions while I spiralled out of my depth. It went away completely in the aftermath of the illness, to return tentatively as brittle and curly as a wiry dog. I would look at myself in the bathroom mirror, hand over my head, then hand over my face, trying to decide which one was me. ‘Why did you desert me?’ I scolded, but nevertheless touched it gently and lavished it with expensive conditioner to prevent it from littering my pillow again.
I believed that hair and illness hung in a fine balance. While one stayed and grew strong, the other would not come back.
‘You look so different, it suits you,’ said my friends. But of course it didn’t. It never has. It has only suited itself.
Nowadays I am red-cheeked and brisk, feeling my old age like a delicate gift. I get on with things, a real do-er. I run groups, nurture my grandchildren and my garden with kindly absent-mindedness. I am busier than I ever have been, but my hair is finally still; white and peaceful in its old-lady crop. I have forgiven it; it has, if you like, found peace.