Serially Lost, Part One

“Here, Em, let me fix your hair in a ponytail,” my big sister Linda said to me one summer day.

She gathered my hair together in her hand, and suddenly, I heard the snip, snip of scissors and felt that ponytail of hair detach from my head in one great clump. I was probably about eight or nine years old, with thin curly hair that got tangled when brushed or combed. The days of leaving curly hair unbrushed and uncombed had not yet arrived; vigorous daily brushing was still quite in vogue.  There was a struggle each morning with much whining and protesting on my part when my mother dealt with my hair.

We were in our summer place, Muldavinville, and my sister and her husband had their own bungalow there that summer, with my two little nieces.  My sister is 13 years older than I am, and she was the heroine of my childhood and teenage years.  She wasn’t bound by the religious rules that I fearfully tried to keep within: she colored pictures with me on the Sabbath and served bacon and shrimp in her apartment.  When we went shopping, she casually engaged in conversations with the salespeople and cashiers, while I, shy and tongue-tied, looked on in envy.  She was everything beautiful and accomplished in my eyes, and that was why I still remember this hair-cutting day.

I’m sure that my sister just wanted to help end the hair brushing wars, tired of my whining and probably of my mother’s complaining about it.  She must have known I didn’t want my hair cut, so her solution, in her efficient way, was to do the deed and end the struggle.  What she didn’t realize was that I didn’t just lose my hair that day; I lost my trust in her.  I understood then that she was capable of deceit in order to accomplish an end she felt was valuable, and I felt betrayed.

I am sixty-six today, and my sister is seventy-nine.  We live about 4 hours away from each other in the South, and we are all that is left of our immediate family.  Our parents and two brothers are gone.  We keep in touch and enjoy each other’s company; we are friends as well as sisters, now that we are on a more level playing field.  I still have tremendous respect for her and love her dearly. I suspect she would not remember this incident from my childhood and would be surprised that I do.  Why do I?  I lost my hair and my trust that day, but they both eventually grew back.  What remained is the experiential knowledge of how dishonesty can damage a child and a commitment not to betray a child’s trust.

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