Read this poem by Debra Nystrom. The dynamic she describes is as ordinary as it is heartbreaking.

Ordinary Heartbreak

She climbs easily on the box
That seats her above the swivel chair
At adult height, crosses her legs, left ankle over right,
Smoothes the plastic apron over her lap
While the beautician lifts her ponytail and laughs,
“This is coarse as a horse’s tail.”
And then as if that’s all there is to say,
The woman at once whacks off and tosses
its foot and a half into the trash.

And the little girl who didn’t want her hair cut,
But long ago learned successfully how not to say
What it is she wants,
Who, even at this minute cannot quite grasp
her shock and grief,
Is getting her hair cut. “For convenience,” her mother put it.
The long waves gone that had been evidence at night,
When loosened from their clasp,
She might secretly be a princess.

Rather than cry out, she grips her own wrist
And looks to her mother in the mirror.
But her mother is too polite, or too reserved,
So the girl herself takes up indifference,
While pain follows a hidden channel to a deep place
Almost unknown in her,
Convinced as she is, that her own emotions are not the ones
her life depends on,
She shifts her gaze from her mother’s face
Back to the haircut now,
So steadily as if this short-haired child were someone else.

Debra Nystrom

This poem touches me deeply as i recognize the young girl’s fearful dissociation from her own feelings. She wants to cry out but instead grips her own wrist, searching eye contact with her mother, who -undoubtedly burdened by her own experiences- is sadly unavailable to support the girl in her shock and grief.

Much of what i share and find inspirational, is about not being preoccupied or identified with our own feelings so much and seeing them for what they are: movements in the energetic constellations that we perceive to be ‘me’.

However to move away from our emotions, to toughen up like the girl in the poem and to clench your wrist rather than to cry out in tears to your mom how much you wanted to keep your hair and for her to protect you instead of keeping up appearances… that is to not be honest with what is there in this moment, because it is too painful or too frightening, and the pain and fear lead us to untruthfulness.

The poem shows a lineage of hurt and misguided defense mechanisms, passed on from generation to generation. The girl learns to hide her feelings, mirroring her mother, building lie upon lie already in this early stage of her life, when she still needs a box to hop on the beautician’s chair.

Of course, especially as grownups, we can decide to deal with a certain feeling at a later time, when it’s more appropriate. But do it consciously, acknowledging and embracing whatever is there. Because to reject our own emotions in any moment, is to die a little inside. It is to withhold ourselves from the world and to deprive ourselves from love. It is deeply saddening. Let’s send this girl (and the child inside ourselves) some love and tell him or her it’s safe to cry out.

I previously misattributed this poem to someone else. With apologies to the real author: Debra Nystrom, and with thanks to the attentive reader Angie, this has now been corrected in the text above.