In 1989, like all new recruits on the way to US Army Basic Training, I went through a few days of
hazing processing. What I remember most about this time was saying farewell to my cheap peach blush and black eyeliner
and how we were constantly harangued to get our hair cut. You may keep your hair long in the Army, but while in uniform you must wear it up and back and held with no more than three clips which must be the same color as your hair. It must remain above your collar at all times. I wanted to keep my hair long so I learned how hide it. I became a Masterbraider. I spent my entire military career with a migraine and a line of fellow long-haired soldiers at my door asking me to braid theirs high-and-tight. You’d never fail a neck-up inspection under my fingertips, guaranteed.
I braided her hair on the regular while stationed in Texas. She’d ball up her brunette locks just enough to get her down the barracks corridor and into my room. She had long, white, curved fingernails. The vitamins, she’d say. She looked like she bathed in pearls, like she floated everywhere while us mongrels marched in the dust. Restricted physical training, she’d say. And her hair. That hair was the thickest, most lustrous head of hair I’d ever worked. No rubber-band could contain it. I’d start to weave her locks and they’d immediately spill through my fingers like Cristo’s treasure.
She was pregnant and I was mesmerized. At 19 I’d never really known a pregnant woman let alone lived and served with one. I braided her hair and in doing so, ingratiated myself to her. She was soon discharged but her impression upon me lingers to this day.
A 19-year-old’s body shaped by the military is a national treasure. Mine was. And in a very different way, shaped for a very different purpose, so was hers.