I lost a dear old friend last Friday. I had my hair cut into a bob, after decades of wearing it long and loose. So technically, it was more like 100,000 old friends, give or take a few thousand - if we're splitting hairs.
Almost all the folks I've seen since my haircut didn't recognize me at first. And I've had the same conversation dozens of times. Yes, I really did it. Yes, it feels strange and yes, I miss my waist-length hair. No, I don't regret chopping it off. Why did I do it? Well, the answer to that isn't as cut and dried.
I suspect I'm not the only local girl who's had a lifelong love/hate affair with her hair. Through most of my childhood, my mother cut my hair and kept it short, very short. The closer I got to my teens, the more I resented my pixie cut. I longed for long hair like the cool girls had. Finally, when I started high school, Mom said I could wear my hair any way I wanted. I let it grow to my hips and I've kept it long ever since, except for a couple of short-lived experiments with a short shag.
When I was a teenager, I thought of my long hair as a badge of honor, the thing that immediately identified me as a local girl even before I opened my mouth. I loved the way it looked, the way it felt on my arms and my back. The fact that guys seemed to love it too was a bonus.
As I grew older and my world expanded, I found that my long hair didn't just identify me as local; it defined me to a great extent. I dated quite a few Mainland transplants, even married three of them; every single one professed his affection for my exotic, erotic locks. Their words, not mine.
I came to see my mane as my one outstanding physical feature. Cutting it was out of the question, especially after I married Barry. The first time I snipped off an inch of split ends, he went ballistic. I finally convinced him that periodic trims were necessary, but he still sulked after each one. It got to the point where I resented not only his attitude but my hair as well. Especially since he refused to even discuss changing his own hairstyle. Once, I defied him and came home with 3 inches less than I'd left with. He reacted as if I'd killed a cherished pet. Which, in his mind, I had.
So you can see where this is going. Six years after Barry's death, I've come around to reclaiming my hair as my own, subject to no one's whims but mine. I may keep it short, I may grow it long again, I haven't decided. The only thing I know for sure is that no one else will make the decision for me.
But liberation wasn't the real reason for this drastic change of coiffure. Actually, it turned out to be just an added benefit, an unexpected side effect. I made the decision several months ago, to sacrifice my hair for art.
I landed the role(s) of a lifetime, playing opposite Derek Nakagawa and Francis Tau'a in the sequel to their brilliant two-man "Lesser Ahi" show. The three of us play a total of 16 characters in "Fresher Ahi," which opens April 12 for three weekends at the Maui Academy of Performing Art's Steppingstone Playhouse in Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. With six roles (two of them male) and rapid-fire costume changes, I can't be fussing with an extra-full head of hair. Even tightly wound around my scalp, that much hair won't fit under a wig, let alone four or five.
Hair issues aside, the idea of committing myself that deeply to this play appealed to me. The first Ahi, under the direction of David Johnston, was a hilarious look at local life, so enjoyable, I went to see it three times. When Francis and Derek invited me to join the Ahi family, I literally jumped for joy. It was the biggest thrill I've had in years. And now that we are immersed in rehearsals, I'm having more fun than ever.
You'll have fun, too, if you catch "Fresher Ahi" this month. I'm especially urging local folks to see this play, not just for the laughs, but for the loving treatment of local culture and universal themes. The Ahi plays are beautifully written and masterfully directed. While the subject of hair isn't addressed, other common issues are, like romance and envy, tolerance and turmoil. And whether you're local or not, garans ball-barans, you'll leave the theater feeling like you've just met some great new friends, the kind who seem like old friends the moment you connect.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.