I have been straightening my hair a lot these days. It is something that I do in the winter when it is cold, because it saves me from walking outside with a wet head every morning. But it is also something that I do when I feel like I need some control in my life, when I need a change, however small, that is entirely within my purview.
I used to straighten my hair in college whenever I broke up with a boy. In high school, I would straighten my hair when I had a week that felt particularly low and I needed to be noticed. Since Matt and I got together, these are the memorable times when I have straightened my hair: when I found out that we were leaving Oklahoma to move back to DC, after we got married (almost every week for an entire semester), when I was applying for clerkships, when I finally decided to come to terms with how miserable I was in Pittsburgh, and right now.
Which is to say that my hair has always been the one thing that I knew I could rein in, even when everything else was seemingly off track.
Matt and I have spent the last three days in Hollidaysburg, PA, the place that is more or less Matt’s hometown. To know Matt is to understand that he is a man of many hometowns. But Hollidaysburg is the one place that has been consistent for him, consistent for his family since the 1820’s, if you want to put a number to it. This is the town where Matt learned to drive, went on his first date, really figured out his parents, met his first love, broke no significant rules, came to see the meaning of family, and bought his first car. In short, this is home.
So coming to Hollidaysburg was something that we knew we wanted to do during this pregnancy. It occurred to us sometime early on, sometime before we called his grandmother to tell her that she was going to be a great-grandmother. We decided to come when I was good and huge, big enough that the bump was unmistakable, not so big that I couldn’t fly. And we let Matt’s brother, sister-in-law, and parents know that we were going to be at the homestead, hoping that they would drive from their respective towns to meet us here.
Coming to Hollidaysburg is always a mixed bag for us. On the one hand, we’re spending the weekend with family at home. On the other, we’re spending the weekend with family at home. Family is a challenging concept for both of us, which is part of the reason we have each other, part of the reason we have our urban family in Boston, and the main reason that we understand the complex realities of what it means to be from somewhere. Our lives in Boston feel so different than what life in Hollidaysburg would be like. The food, the sounds, the stars, the feel, the air, the bed, the water, the lights, EVERYTHING is different.
And yet family is family. They take you out and get you to pick out fabric so that they can make a blanket for the niece/nephew they’re so excited about. They ask you to send them a book about your faith so that they can learn a little bit more about it. They goad you into an argument about things that don’t matter. They tell you what life has really been like here while you’ve been living far away in that big city. They love you for who you are, even if they don’t understand you.
My hair has been straight for most of the time that we’ve been here, for most of January, actually. And I’m ready for it to go back to its natural state, to freely curl and frizz however it wants to, to get big and puffy and wild.
Matt held up a brand new onesie, white with tiny green elephants, so small, so cute. “I’m so excited,” he said as he hugged me. “I’m kind of scared,” I said. And he tightened his grip.
The thing about family, the thing about hair, the thing about life, is that we can control little bits of it, but we can only go so far. We live far away, but we feel guilty and genuinely sad about the things we’re missing at home. We look in the mirror and know that we don’t look quite like our real selves.
And every so often, we take giant leaps of faith, because we know that even with an apalling lack of control, we’re going to land somewhere, somewhere a little bit like home, even if at first that place is unbelievably exciting and tremendously scary, all at the same time.