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  • “Five years,” is what I told people who asked me how long I had been letting my hair grow. I would hesitate for a moment as if I could not remember, but I knew. My hair went well past my shoulders to the bottom of my ribcage. I woke up in the morning and had to wash, condition, and brush hair five years long. The bathroom mirror reflected five years hanging around my face. With a month and a half left in my junior year of high school, I had it cut. Short.

    Sophomore year I joined track. This meant bringing hair elastics to school every day to tie my hair back at practice. They pinched my hair and pulled at my scalp. At meets I waited until right before my events to put my hair up. I followed my friends around because I didn’t know what to do before the running started. They had thin spiked shoes they wore only when they ran on the track and had to explain to me the difference between a four hundred and a four-by-four. According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, an athlete is someone “trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.” I was neither trained nor skilled. I was the last to finish in every event I ran. I was the kid with the ponytail.

    In the beginning, I hadn’t planned to have it so long. I found a picture of a man in a hairstyle magazine when I was in middle school; he had bangs that covered one eye. The photograph was black and white. His lips were pressed together, his brow slightly furrowed. He was serious. He was mysterious. I let my hair grow and imagined what Kieran would look like as an adult. His face was long, his chin sharp, his eyes heavy with knowing a thing nobody else could. The cloak he wore was the color of marsh grass in fall and fading. A longsword, cold and gray, hung on his back; he did not carry a shield. He furrowed his brow slightly and pressed his lips together. He said little. He had little to say.

    The fall of junior year I was away at a semester program. There were forty-two of us: eleven guys and thirty-one girls. Some of the girls liked to braid my hair. The first time, one of my friends started a braid below my ears. I thought it looked feminine, but it was nice to have my hair out of my face. The skin on my neck was cool. The next time she braided it I asked her to start the braid above my ears. “Okay,” she said. I sat smiling while she did so. When people braided my hair, I was calmed. I felt like a cool cotton blanket was settling on my scalp. I was also still, and this made me aware of my body. Stillness and awareness of the body are two of the chief goals of Zen meditation. Monks sit and if they move their teachers hit them with a stick. Sometimes they sit eight hours a day for a month. Zen monks should have other monks braid their hair while they meditate. Then they would not be hit with sticks.

    Girls can’t braid my hair anymore.

    I had it cut in late spring, an unusually warm late spring. I still did not have a sword. I was back from my semester program. Nobody at my high school wanted to braid my hair. They were used to it. It was only a big deal after I cut it without telling anyone. I walked past a classroom and a girl said, “Is that Kieran?” Two people did double takes after say hello. The first thing anyone said to me that day was “I guess saying you got a haircut would be the understatement of the year.” I said, “Yeah.”
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