Put the Sun Back in the Sky
To Sony and Sammie, with love.
Growing up, I believed that my thick, long hair was my best feature. When I was a baby, my head remained hairless a touch too long, and my grandmother became worried. She slathered coconut oil on my scalp and sat in the sunlight with tiny me in the hopes that the minerals and vitamins sizzling onto my skin would make my hair start blooming out. And it did. And my grandmother never let me forget how this blessing was all due to her love and dedication, and how much she loves me. She called me gadis Sunsilk, with hair lush enough to be the face of a shampoo company.
Fast forward seventeen years later. I was panicking over a math project. I picked up a pair of gardening shears, and started hacking away at my hair as though it was an unruly hedge. I ended up with swooping, uneven sides and a huge chunk missing from the back of my head. I had to get it fixed by a proper hairdresser, who snipped and clipped until the gap between the ends of my hair and my shoulders gaped like my grandmother’s mouth when I got home.
I liked it. His first response was, no please. it looks bad. And I guess it did. And he never let me forget that this haircut looked terrible on me. Why did you cut your hair? Are you trying to hurt me indirectly? I tried laughing it off. I called myself Velma Kelly and Sally Bowles, and tried (and failed) to block the negative thoughts swarming in my head (it looks bad it looks bad it looks bad).
I tugged at my hair, willing it to grow faster. I googled, scrolling through sources like WikiHow (questionable) and beauty bloggers (slightly less questionable). I asked around, hearing suggestions to use horse shampoo, egg masks, and to get my hair trimmed. That last one baffled me. Why would I cut my hair if I wanted it to grow?
Fast forward two years later. I was panicking over a text that said i need to talk to you. I had poured all of myself into this boy. He came to my room, looked me in the eyes, and told me very plainly: I don’t love you anymore. I’m breaking up with you. I lost the energy to wash my hair for three days after that.
I traded sleep for nights spent asking myself why and what did I do wrong? I scrolled through photo streams (incomplete) and chat histories (tender, distant). I tried willing myself to forget the hurt and move from the familiar, warm relationship-territory into a new kind of friendship, lumpy and uncharted. I kept messaging him, cautiously. He rarely — if ever — replied. I thought I’d be prepared for every curt response, every jab at my taste in music, every letdown — I was used to it, right? I thought I’d be used to it. But this terrain felt volatile, ready to give in and implode if I don’t wrap it tightly enough with my palms. And from the way our dynamic shifted and from the way he treated me, I wasn’t sure he wanted me to hold on.
It’s natural to want to stay friends with someone who used to mean the universe to you, to want the wealth of information you’ve steadily accumulated not to go to waste. I couldn’t just pretend two years worth of shared songs, sweaters, and memories never existed. For awhile after we split, I tried to maintain our friendship. I was stubborn and fought to maintain whatever connection we (might’ve) had. I was struggling, and I was hurting, and my puzzled friends asked me, why do you want to stay friends with someone who hurts you like this?
I didn’t realize I was in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Up until then, I’d thought the way he busied himself and ignored my texts for most of the day was normal. I mean, it would be unhealthy to be constantly texting all day! I’d thought the way he criticized and joked about my looks and my writing was constructive. I mean, he just wants the best for me! I’d thought the way he never gave me a birthday card after I spent weeks crafting a mix CD and sketchbook for him was fair. I mean, I can’t expect him to love me the way I love him! I’d thought the way he gave me the silent treatment and refused to talk after he told me I did him wrong was completely warranted. I mean, I hurt him — I deserve this!
My friend held my gaze and asked me, would someone who loves you treat you like that? Would you treat someone you love like that?
I’d sincerely believed that he was the best fortuity I’d ever come across. And for awhile, he was. To this day, I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when our relationship soured. I deluded myself into thinking he was so good to stay with someone as selfish, spoiled, and suffocating as me. I was constantly made to feel guilty for my actions and emotions, and I grew to believe I deserved it. And he never let me forget that.
Cutting off a part of you in order to grow seems counterproductive, I know. But consider this: if something — or someone — continues to seep under your skin and start gnawing on your self-worth, that wound will fester and turn black. Sooner or later, you will be awash with wounds that are too big and too numerous to be covered with band-aids. Parasites will cling on to you at several points of your life, and often, it will be difficult (I know) to distinguish leeches from lovers. The desire to see them nourish themselves is tempting, I know, but remember that it’s your blood that they are guzzling. Getting your hair trimmed might not necessarily make your hair grow faster, but it will get rid of your split ends — the unhealthiest part of your hair — and make you (and your hair) feel fresher and lighter.
We didn’t see each other for months. I ran into him on the bus one night, and the first thing he said to me was your hair looks horrible. The next day, I was walking to class with a friend when we ran into our mutual friend who was growing a (patchy) beard for a show. He interjected in the middle of our conversation by saying, both of you look very nice today, by the way. My other friend turned to me and said, yeah, whoever said your hair looks horrible is objectively wrong!
I laughed, and combed my fingers through my fading teal-pink hair. I had chopped and trimmed and bleached and dyed my hair multiple times by now. My grandmother isn’t thrilled, and reminds me to lather coconut oil all over my hair every once in awhile. The breeze blew my bangs into defying gravity, and fluttered past to rustle the swelling leaves and flowers budding of this early spring.
The sun wasn’t shining that day, Oma, but I swear I could feel something in me start blooming along with the cherry blossoms.