Wednesday, March 5, 2008

decline and fall

It's been said that every divorce is the end of a small civilization and I sometimes reminisce about that very small civilization made up of my mother, my father, my brother and me when we lived in the red house on Cypress Street. At the time, it seemed right and almost effortless to shed our language and customs and to remake our lives in new patterns. Looking back, the loss is clear, the gain less so.

I was seven and I didn't know anyone whose parents were divorced, but some irresistible force seemed to spin my parents apart. "To decide not to decide is also to decide" my mother used to say to me, as she made preparations to leave. When the school year ended in June, she flew out to Vegas for six weeks to get a quickie divorce. She sent us postcards with pictures of flowering cacti and desert animals. When she came back, she told my brother and me that she had gotten a new job and we would be living in another house in another city.

One of the last things I did before we left was to have my hair cut short. Back then, it was almost waist length and a long summer of sun and swimming pools had bleached it to white-gold, with a faint chlorine tinge. I sat in the barber's spinning chair and told him to cut it all off. "Are you sure?" asked the barber, as he undid the heavy ponytail. I met my reflection's eyes in the mirror. I was sure. I was absolutely sure.

28 comments:

Patti said...

Isn't it odd how sometimes cutting your hair can be so representative of a traumatic change or drastic new beginning?

I cut mine much shorter after my miscarriage. I just had to have it short.

I'm still not sure why.

thrice said...

This post makes me post for obvious reasons. I also am a child of divorce. While my parents divorce had me doing the hula, I also swore that I would be better than that and would never break up my children's family. Silly childhood promises.

I'm wondering, is there anything that your parents could have done to make the divorce easier for you?

Tash said...

Ah, hair. I got mine chopped off around the same age for no reason other than it was insanely thick and I was tired of dealing with it. Got a Dorothy Hammil.

My husband's parents divorced after he got through college, and I go back and forth as to whether divorce is easier or worse on older children; on the one hand, they know enough to know it's not their fault. On the other, they know A LOT. There's something to be said for not really knowing. Dunno.

Ahuva Batya said...

This post struck such a personal and sad chord for me. My parents divorced when I was four. There wasn't anything simple, easy, kind, or even remotely understandable about the ensuing chaos, from a 4-year old point of view. I am certain that my first marriage failed because I had entered into it as some kind of example to my family.. "see me, I'm going to get married and stay married forever, just to show you all it can be done!" Turns out, that's a really stupid reason to get married.

niobe said...

Tash: Hey, me too! I initially got a so-called pixie cut (very short and ruffled, with bangs), but the next year, I too had a Dorothy Hammil.

Melissa said...

I always argue with some family members about whether or not it is better to stay together for the children when you are in an unhappy marriage. My position is always to stay together unless extreme circumstances exist. I couldn't imagine giving up my children every other weekend or even worse, only seeing them every other weekend. I think once you have children your life no longer belongs to you and your happiness no longer matters the most. Maybe having lost a child colors how I feel. I don't know. Maybe I'm an idiot in an unhappy marriage.

niobe said...

Thrice: I was a fairly adaptable and self-centered child and, really, my parents' divorce, while sad, was not all that hard on me. My mother's next divorce, however......

Lori said...

My dad also said, "Not to decide is to decide."

My sisters and I have a whole book of Dadisms.

Did you grow your hair right back or keep it short for awhile?

Cutting my hair (not trimming it) always feels like loss to me.

thailandchani said...

My parents were divorced without getting divorced, if that makes any sense. (They lived in the same house but were emotionally divorced is perhaps a better description.) I'm not sure which is more impacting.

wheelsonthebus said...

You are an amazingly concise writer.

Magpie said...

I didn't cut my waist length hair until I was about 40.

Suz said...

It seems that the quote is something that your mother might have said about your father - at least it strikes me as such.

Christine said...

isn't it interesting how something as simple as cutting our hair can mean so much.

Running on empty

LAS said...

My mother left my father when I was 22. I had been waiting since I was 11 for her to leave him. And really, I wish that my father had left her, and had taken us with him, before I even had a chance to know any better. And I don't know why he didn't, except that he was scared that she would have gotten custody of us. Instead, we all just livied in horrible dysfunction, that I can't seem to get over all these years later.

kalakly said...

I too morphed from the Farrah Fawcett to the Dorothy Hamill do..maybe in reverse order I can't remember anymore, but I did it for purely personal vanity reasons, not because of any enlightened sense of me, myself and I.
Neither cut gave me a huge following of swooning boys or the ability to land a triple toe loop. It wasn't until I was in my 20's that I finally found my own do and the hidden talents that resided inside it.
What did you find out after lopping it off??

Megan said...

A quickie divorce in Vegas sounds strangely glamorous – but obviously not to a seven year old.
My parents split within months of me – their only child – going off to university. It was disconcerting but hardly scarring.
And I cut my quite long hair to just below chin length just before my recent 35th birthday. I like it. My hair no longer gets stuck in car doors.

CLC said...

Weird, I cut my hair off around that age. Sadly, mine was too unruly for a Dorothy Hamill- I just looked like a boy.

niobe said...

Suz: It's not at all clear from the context, but my mother was responding to the unspoken question of why she needed to leave right away, why she couldn't at least stay for a while and try to work things out.

charmedgirl said...

i feel kinda like that now, except with tattoos and burgundy hair dye.

Portraits in Sepia said...

I don't know how old you are now but I am sure you are old enough to know that the impact of your parents' divorce never seems to end, go completely away....and when you think you have completely healed something out of the blue smacks you right back in the face to remind you.

luna said...

so traumatic for a seven year old. and how very sure you were says a lot about the kind of child you must have been.

I was 12 when my parents divorced and we all moved out of the home where I was raised -- it was a pretty tumultuous time...

my hub has actually shaved his head sort of ritualistically after several losses... there's something about evolving with change I suppose, or maybe it's claiming the slightest bit of control when we really have none, or maybe it's just cleansing...
~luna

niobe said...

luna: I think you're right. My hair was one thing I could control and, I suppose, it was a form of mourning. Though, of course, none of this reached the level of conscious thought.

kalakly, lori: Mostly, I found out that I was the only girl in my new school with short hair. I kept my hair short until I graduated from college.

Maddie's Mom said...

My hair is usually a good indiactor of what's going on in my life. When Madison died, I chopped it all off and dyed it light brown. When I had my miscarriage I died it black. I've been doing the same things with my hair since high school once I could control how my hair looked. I thought I was odd, but now I see I'm not.

Julia said...

I was forced to cut my hair in the early school grades because it started falling out at alarming rates, and people blamed the constant tight hair bands I had it in for school (now I wonder if someone should've checked my thyroid). I was crushed. I ended up with a Dorothy as well, although across the ocean we called it something else. I grew out my hair several times since then but it always ends up shorter eventually.

Julie Pippert said...

"Looking back, the loss is clear, the gain less so."

My parents divorce, yes, you caught it.

But it was extremely traumatic.

As a result, I overagonize over every decision that will affect my kids. How can I choose my happiness over theirs? People say kids are resilient, which they are, but that doesn't mean unaffected, even for a lifetime.

Amelie said...

My mom wanted to cut her hair, but her father didn't let her until after the confirmation. She went to the hairdresser right the next day.
When we went for skiing holidays the first time -- I was about 10 years old -- she took me to get my hair cut, because that would be more convenient. I cried when we left the hairdresser, I had not wanted it cut. She swore she'd never make me do that again (and she didn't).

slouching mom said...

This post was beautiful. A short story, really, and in so few words.

Lovely.

meg said...

I chopped all my hair off around the same age. And I had a Dorothy Hammil style cut. Not so attractive on me. After I got mistaken for a boy (wearing a dress at the time), I never cut it short again. Not once in 25 years.