My sister used to tell me she hated me for my hair. She wanted her wavy, frizzy hair to grow stick-straight like mine, to be left alone by the humidity like mine. She wanted the mousy, tawny color of her hair to be golden like mine. She didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on highlights and dyes and heat treatments, all to have her hair look like mine.
Hairdressers used to tell me their clients paid good money for hair to look like mine. Platinum, gold, straw, honey, sun-kissed yellow—my hair is all these colors, the different hues melding to mimic sunlight at golden hour.
Don’t ever dye it, they’d say.
I won’t, I’d promise.
And let it grow long. Men will fall in love with you for your hair alone.
I love your hair, he used to tell me.
Silky, soft, thick, he said.
I loved that he loved it. Watching a movie, cuddling in bed, the intimate moments in the dark—his long fingers would run through my hair. I would breathe into him, my body relaxing at the tingle his hands, wrapped in my hair, sent down my spine.
I used to hold my breath whenever he got angry, my body tensing, my skin tingling.
What do you want from me? he asked once, his tone dangerous, a warning.
To spend time with you, I replied, my voice small.
Then, bony fingers in my hair, nails digging into my scalp. He pulled me from the couch and dragged me across the floor to my bedroom. My legs kicked wildly, searching for purchase, and my hands scratched desperately at his iron grip.
Do you still want to spend time with me? he sneered later, his body on top of mine on the itchy, uncomfortable carpet, his tall, sturdy frame keeping me down while his hands, still wrapped in my hair, pinned my wrists to the floor above my head.
I’m sorry, I squeaked, my body trembling, my voice barely a whisper. I won’t ask again. I promise.
You have the best hair, he had said. He tucked a stray strand behind my ear and looked down at me, his hazel eyes shining brightly.
He planted kisses on top of my head, behind my ears, on my neck, always brushing my hair aside.
He burrowed his face into my hair and sighed in the dark.
And then I felt his frightening grip, how practiced his movements had seemed.
The burning on my scalp where his fingernails scratched me.
Over and over again, until he grew bored and chose a new target—the girl who had always hated me for my hair.
I promise you nothing is going on, my sister used to say.
He’s lying to you, I used to say.
He would never, she would reply.
The night she chose him over me, I tried to rip my hair from my scalp. My face was a mess of snot and tears.
She said, He’s the greatest person I’ve ever known.
I used to think my hair was my greatest feature.
I used to sit in the salon chair and say, Just an inch or two off, nothing more. Over and over again, for years. My hair never changed.
Months after I had kicked my sister out, after the news broke that he had married someone else, after my sister blamed me—I met him because of you; it’s your fault this happened to me—after I cut off all contact with her, I visited the salon.
What are we doing with your hair today? the hairdresser asked.
Cut it all off, I replied.
Kelsey Wellington lives in Jackson, WY where she works as a wildlife guide in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. She is a passionate outdoorswoman, spending most of her free time rocking climbing, trail running, and mountain biking, usually with her adventure pup in tow. She is currently in her final semester of a graduate program at Lindenwood University, where she will earn her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing. The outdoors serve as her biggest writing muse, and she hopes her writing will inspire others to spend more time outside. You can follow more of Kelsey's work on Instagram at @kels_wellington.