The first few weeks of quarantine were punctuated by can’ts: I can’t go to work; my kid can’t go to school; we can’t leave the house. It was frustrating, but a little exhilarating in its novelty, because ultimately, it was a relinquishing of power that, from a glass-half-full perspective, felt freeing. I began to see my home with new eyes. I cooked and cleaned more. I adopted a cat, which multiplied into kittens. I returned to old hobbies and developed new ones. I had more video calls with friends and family than ever before. And I did all of these things with the wide-eyed, breathless zeal of one who’s been slammed into an alternate reality.
The novelty faded quickly, however, and the new, daily reality began taking its toll. I lost a friend to COVID and sobbed at my desk, scrolling through our Facebook messages from just weeks prior, stunned and angry. I watched more Black men and women be murdered by police, and then followed the resulting media circus, simultaneously buoyed and horrified by the ceaseless virtue signaling and calls for action across all of my feeds. I sat on my couch; I leaned against my kitchen counter; I lay curled up in my bed, trapped inside the house, scrolling, always scrolling. I could barely be bothered to think about my physical appearance.There were so few people looking at me. Why should I care?
When I began growing my locs seven years ago, I had a very clear goal: I wanted to keep them for the rest of my life. I sat in my loctician’s chair and pictured myself at 70 years old, puttering around my garden, far from any cramped, garbage-flecked metropolis, my locs a multicolored, beaded, messily braided tangle down to my waist. I was feeling very settled seven years ago: secure in my relationship, my job, my young urban life. Things felt stable in 2013, more or less, and isn’t that the joke? My hair means nothing in the true scheme of things, but it’s something that’s mine. More and more, I’ve been toying with the thought of cutting it off entirely.
I’ve always been somewhat of a glutton for introspection, filling journals, literal and digital, with my internal meanderings. Now, I can peer into my various screens to glut myself on other people’s snapshots and rambling minutiae as well, each one its own kind of mirror, presenting me with point after point of comparison. I do this while I play in my hair, because that has its own calming, meditative effect: I gather my locs into a bun while I Zoom with friends; I shake them out of a braid while I roll my eyes at Facebook statuses; I gather them all to drape over one shoulder as I stare into the steamy mirror after a shower.
I feel as though I am looking at everything, everything, everywhere, all the time, because I want to stay informed, because things are breaking more quickly than they can be fixed, and I feel a sense of responsibility for that brokenness. Even so, I crave my old tunnel vision. Whatever I have gained in awareness, I now severely lack in focus.
The thing about locs is that they require regular upkeep to stay presentable — at least, presentable by my standards. Each individual loc needs to be retwisted from the root, after a thorough wash and conditioning, so that they can all continue to grow uniformly, each coil trained into cylindrical submission. It’s a painstaking process, and a very temporary one: After a week or so of normal life, after a few weeks of new growth, the hairs at the scalp begin to frizz up once more — much faster if you exercise, or merely exist in a place that makes you sweat. I have seven years of growth to show for my patient adherence to this lifestyle and its monthly toil. I would retwist them myself about as often as I would pay for a loctician to do it for me. I’m proud of the progress that I’ve made. The compliments I receive are lovely.
A few days ago, my daughter gazed up at me while I brushed my teeth, admiring the length of my hair. And she asked me, not for the first time, if she could have locs, too, and if they would grow to be as long as mine. I looked back at her through the mirror, glad that my mouth was otherwise occupied, because I didn’t know how to respond. I can’t stand to live in a world where her eyes are so bright and the future feels so murky, so unstable. But I rinsed, dried my mouth, and then picked her up, resting her on my hip as we looked into the mirror together. She’s getting so heavy; soon I won’t be able to do that anymore. She grinned when she caught my eye in the mirror, twirling one of my locs with her finger. I don’t remember what I told her, but I don’t think it matters.
Still, there is something unspeakably delicious, right now, in staring at myself in the toothpaste-flecked glass, too exhausted to Windex, and fantasizing about breaking this cycle. Throwing away that old ambition and starting again with something new. I keep looking at myself, until my own face seems to melt into something alien and strange, until my selfies are pure, ridiculous self-indulgence, divorced from any shame because these mirrors are mine alone, and what does any of that old shame matter?
In a world where sharing has become instinct and moral imperative, creating infinite, boundless feedback loops of what we call connection, I get to play God in this very insignificant way in my home, in my quarantined dominion. I could pick up my scissors and just do it right now. Thick, reddish-brown locs littering the sink like small, lifeless snakes. I’d scoop them up and throw them away, then rinse away the evidence, a literal weight lifted from my neck and shoulders. The thought is a thrill every time.