Original Illustrations by Lauren Walker
“Your head is like obsidian,” she says to you, her hand passing North and South and East and West smooth across the surface, erasing away smudges, blood stains (but not scars, no, not scars, never scars) and the exoskeletons of memories bashed against a windshield.
You recall all you learned from geology classes as she continues to stroke your head. The glass forms because something very hot turns very cold, very quickly. This explains what’s happening right now — your body cooling rapidly against hers. Her skin broils, it could turn you into a naked volcanic glass statue and you would not really be surprised. And you would not mind.
You had hoped she would have compared you to hematite — you really like hematite because it is an iron ore mineral and thus, much more indestructible — but she didn’t. And you choose not to dislodge yourself from her body. Your jawbone rocks against her sternum. Her heart convulses inside the earth, thundering so quick against the surface, you worry it might shatter. “I think you are beautiful,” she says. She is referring to you.
You think about your head. About your hair. About obsidian. About how your hair once resembled rows of long black coffins. About how when you first shaved it nearly four years ago, you watched the bodies crash down onto the pavement like suicidal paratroopers jumping off a Ju 52 into a theatre of war.
It was July 7. You picked that date because it was the anniversary of when you fell in love. Or more accurately, two years to the day you first met Delilah.
You loved her like you love Texas summers. The real fucking hot kind like being wrapped in plastic and left out underneath the shadow of a cactus in the Chihuahuan Desert. The real fucking hot kind that you look forward to each June because you’d rather be a pond of sweat for 69 consecutive days in 100 plus degree heat than shivering as the cold slowly licks your bones clean.
When it’s cold, your organs freeze. You feel nothing. Hypothermia sets in. And limbs start breaking. That’s the beginning of the end.
Delilah takes up mansion-sized space in your head. She bought property the first time you kiss in Adams Park.
She eats your breath, like a dragon bouncing back a bellow of its own fire, rescinding the ball of flame into the pit of its own belly. Everything — the world, her, your youth — ends on a choked cough, sucked down her esophagus, through her intestine, her stomach, pumping into her heart, released. Her tongue tastes of nicotine, mint, and the burn that if you keep chasing after her, you will wind up like Ícaro.
She loved your long hair. She pulled it as you made love. She combed it into trenzas. She valued it when y’all went out in public together, holding hands. She loved you.
But Delilah was always the sun, lighting Ícaro’s wings on fire with matchsticks, and watching him nose-dive back to earth.
You make love on your 28th birthday. She screams fuck me over and over again, in and out of breath.
Outside it’s cold and February. Everybody is asleep at 4 am, but you… you are naked and in love. You don’t even notice the weather. Orgasms keep you breathing.
“Will you marry me?” you ask one night, your head on the toilet, her manicured nails in your scalp.
Too much tequila. Too many emotions.
Your hair was still thousands of black anchors tangled together at the bottom of the ocean.
And, quietly (you can still hear her voice to this day like a tape recording) responding, cutting through the metal and severing the rodes: “Let’s talk about it later.”
You read Death in the Andes. You look up the word pishtaco. You’ll find them in Peru.
They actually do cut people open and drain their fat. Much like the vampire’s lover in Lindqvist’s novel, who slices open the throat while blood drips into a bucket.
Much like she did to you that April when you were no longer naked or in love.
Two years later, in order to fumigate the inner apartment of your mind from pandemic things we can’t see like syphilis or love or ghosts, you shave your head.
To fumigate is step two of your detoxification.
Step one was leaving her.
Packing your shit into a bag, calling your friend and being the only one who ever left her. She stood in the kitchen, her spine curved against the kitchen sink, arms crossed, cooled granite turned into batholiths.
You buried the last 12 months of your life into the bottom of that duffel bag, shoveling clothes and shoes and a few books on top of it.You are the only one to never ask her to come back. You even left 100 Love Sonnets behind on the coffee table.
To prove a point. Granite is too heavy to move alone. Obsidian is too dense to crack.
You never ask. Not her. Not anyone.
She called you Ceniza. It means ash in Spanish. And you would rather be that. Ícaro falling, singed wings. The ashes dissipate in the atmosphere. That is your choice.
Because she is the sun, she does not cry. Not even when she hears the snap of your neck when you land. That is her choice.
Step three is molding the remains of yourself into an obsidian skull. Like a small Mexican calavera painted black and sold in the mercados in Morelos. Like the bare assed naked skeletons dancing in Posada’s lithographs.
You never loved your hair. So you bought clippers and put the shortest guard against the razor and ran the blades up and down your skull while staring at your reflection in the bathroom mirror. Up and down. Back and forth. Mowing down thick bodies until only headstones remained.
You never loved your hair. But women did. And when it was gone, when the braids and the ponytails were gone, all the women went too.
Your obsidian skull became more than a souvenir. It said all you ever wanted to say about who you are.
Who you were. Who you will be.
You could not hide. The anchors that once were weights in the water transformed into razor wire protecting the yard around your mind. Every scar and every wrinkle on your face stands out like the blood moon on a clear night.
You woke up like Samson. Only you had decided to cut your power.
And ever since, everybody misses your hair.
You have always been that dark-skinned girl with thick black hair, black hair so thick it drips like maple syrup to your fingers and your fork, black hair so thick it’s always late and slightly askew and sprouts in unwanted places like your chin and underneath your lip and on your breasts.
But your tresses were beloved. Despite paint stains on your men’s shirt, packed dirt underneath your fingernails, chipped black nail polish…and your wild black eyes… Your hair was long and beautiful and loved. Black. Black. Black. Gone. Gone. Gone.
But you never loved your hair.
You looked so pretty, they say. It was beautiful, they say. I wish you still had long hair, they say. In the braids, they say. You looked sooo different, they say.
And you just shrug. What else is there to say?
You don’t miss the weight of those anchors.You are obsidian and a beautiful woman is tenderly stroking what’s left of you. And she is not Delilah. And you are glad she is not Delilah.
Somewhere in your head, in the maze of ghosts and their rooms and the neighborhoods you (and they) have built inside your mind, you imagine Delilah still standing over the chalk outline of Ícaro’s body. Without wings, without hair. Just ashes on the ground, wondering where it all went.
This is amazing.
This is so beautiful.
This is absolutely stunning.
I could read this over and over again because this is SO BEAUTIFUL. Also the illustrations are amazing. Long live women of color and our experiences.
Wow. Wow wow wow.
That was so gorgeous I didn’t want it to end. Thank you.
This is so gorgeous, thank you for sharing. <3
This is beautiful. Thank you.
(Rendered temporarily speechless.)
Thankyoukindly, for this.
Nnnghhh so beautiful. Thank you for this. When I chopped off my long, long hair I got similar reactions. Even now, people can’t forget that I used to be the girl with the long curly hair, “mermaid hair” they called it. But now I feel like when people look at me, they see me, and not just my mass of hair. It’s better now.
This is beautiful and haunting.
This was so excruciatingly beautiful it made me cry…and I’m not a crier.
My heart. Oh my. This is gorgeous.
Good god damn.
Oh my goodness. Beautiful.
Wow that was amazing, hair can be such transient beauty. I know how it feels to rip up beauty to bring the focus back on you.
this is amazing, thank you
Your writing is so poetic and perfect. Thank you for sharing it with us.
You found the demons of ghosts past in our heads, and exorcised them. You brought me to tears, left me with chills, and threw in Mario Vargos Llosa (!). Quite simply, stunningly beautiful. I hope to see more of your work.
i actually have not been able to read any more of his work after death in the andes. too painful. much of my stuff is in literary journals, as i primarily write poetry, but a few of my pieces have made their way online. i despise self promotion, but i am learning that sharing is not self promoting. if you are interested, here are the links. thank you for your kind words.
I didn’t realize how much I needed to read this, thank you!!
stunning, this is a frickin’ great piece!
thank you to everyone for reading. and thanks to especially yvonne my editor & lauren who did the artwork.