Authors: Raymond Federman
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #My Body in Nine Parts
MY BODY IN NINE PARTS
What body drags me to its lazy end, What mind pulls it to this bony earth?
After Paul ValÃ©ry
Every man invents a story that one day he takes for the story of his life
Every man invents a body that one day he takes for his own
I became conscious of my hair when I turned 13. Before that, it was my mother who took care of it, or else told me to comb my hair because it was always messy. I didn't give a damn about my hair. It just bothered me, there, on top of my head.
So it was my mother who cared for my hair. When I was a little boy she would wash it for me, comb it and part it to one side. The left side, I think. But I'm not sure anymore. I would have to look at an old childhood photo of me to determine which side my mother parted my hair. In any case, it was my mother who cared for my hair. She also searched in it for lice when I caught some from the other boys at school. She would snare them out with a special comb. A lice comb, with very short and tight teeth so the lice could be pulled out. Then she would crush them right on the comb with the nail of her thumb. We couldn't afford to buy the expensive powder and cream you apply to your hair to kill lice. So my mother killed the lice herself. With her nails.
Later, when my mother told me it was time to take care of my own hair because now I was a big boy, I would rarely bother to comb it myself.
Except when my mother shouted at me,
Comb your hair before going out. People are going to make fun of you with your hair all rumpled like that
. I don't know if those were the exact word she used. She would say that in French, of course, since we were in France when I had no interest in my hair. I suppose she said,
Peigne tes cheveux Ã©bourriffÃ©s, sinon les gens vont se moquer de toi
. Or something like that.
So before going out, I would put a lot of water on my hair, and I would plaster it down against my skull by smoothing it out with my hands, and without even looking in the mirror I tried to part the hair on one side. Sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right. It made no difference to me if my hair was parted on one side or the other. I had no sense of its relation with the rest of my face. My hair was something alien to me. But not my nose. I'll tell you about my nose next time.
Even worse, I had no idea what color my hair was. My school I.D. card said, brown hair. But whether my hair was brown, mauve, or yellow, it left me indifferent. As I told you already, my hair bothered me. It gave me the feeling that I was always wearing a hat. That's how my hair felt on my head. Like a hat. And me I hate hats. I never wear a hat. The only time I did was when I was in the army. It was regulation. One of those ugly military kepis that never fits right on your head. Or a heavy helmet that's always too tight, and mats down your hair.
Before the age of 13, I didn't know that hair can help to make you more handsome so that you can seduce the girls you desire. It's when I became an orphan, at the age of 13, in fact, that I suddenly appreciated the hair on my head. This happened about the same time I was aggressed by puberty.
Mother was no longer there to take care of my hair. At that time, the boys from rich bourgeois families that I saw in the streets of the fancy neighborhoods all wore their hair combed straight back without a part, high and fluffy on their heads, with a duck's tail in the back.
I didn't know how to comb my hair like that, in the bourgeois style. In the Pompadour style. Me, I belonged to the proletarian class. Not because my father was a factory worker. A laborer. No, my father never worked. He was an artist.
. And like all artists, he was lazy. He was also a gambler, a womanizer, and a Communist. That's what everybody said about him. So he was always broke. That's why we were poor like proletarians. And that's why we, the children, my two sisters and I, we kept saying to our mother,
Maman j'ai faim
. And Maman would tell us, with tears in her eyes,
Tell that to your father
But that's not what I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell you about my hair. And not about my miserable childhood.
The rich boys my age all wore their hair puffed up high on their heads. Not like mine, flattened on the skull with water.
Their hair was loose and shiny. Fluffy, and floating freely. You see what I mean? The Zazou style. Or Elvis style.
So when I understood the importance of hair in human relations, I started washing my hair every day. My crop as the boys my age always referred to their hair in those days. Well, in French they would say,
. They would admire and discuss each other's
From that time on I spent hours taking care of my crop of hair. I shampooed it. Which is not the same as washing your hair. One washes one's hair with any kind of common soap, whereas one shampoos one's hair with special soft and even perfumed soap so that the hair becomes softer and shinier. After the shampoo, I would towel dry my hair carefully so that no trace of water would remain in it. Then I would rub brilliantine into it to make it shine more, and I would comb it carefully all back on my head, without a part, making sure the duck's tail was perfectly centered behind my head by holding a little mirror in my hand in front of my face, and looking into it I would see the back of my head in the big mirror above the sink. This way I could inspect my duck tail.
Until the age of 13, I had never seen the back of my head. If people found the back of my head ugly, I didn't care. But from the day I saw the back of my head in the mirror, I became very conscious of it. And even today, when I feel someone staring at the back of my head, especially a woman, I panic.
That's why, when I comb my hair today, even though my hair has changed density and color, I always inspect the back of my head carefully. And each time, it reminds me of how Roquentin in Jean-Paul Sartre's
also panicked when he felt another human being staring at the back of his head.
Well, me too, I feel strange when someone looks at the back of my head. It feels as if I am being judged, and accused of something that I am responsible for.
The great discovery I made when I started to take care of my own hair, is that it was not really brown, as it was stated on my school I.D. card, but black. My hair was black when I took charge. It is no longer black now, but believe me, it was black, and not a wishy washy brown.
It's possible that the heavy brilliantine that I smeared all over it might have made it look more black, but that's how I saw my hair. Black. Deep dark black. But not curly.
OK, I'll skip all the different modes of coiffures I had since the age of 13. I'll just tell you how, when I turned 40, there was a radical but fashionable change in the way my hair was combed, and consequently, how to visualize it.
It all happened when I turned 40, and I was going through a crisis. I don't think it was the
. I was still in full control of my body and of my mind. My crisis was professional. What I was in the process of writing kept canceling itself as I was writing it. That made me sad, melancholic, even angry and paranoid. I was in a constant depression.
When my wife asked what was wrong, I would tell her, the noodles. Yes, I was writing a novel which had a lot to do with noodles. She would then laugh, and say,
You're starting to be a bore with your noodles. Stop making a face. Come, let's go to the movies. That'll relax you
But one day, when I was really deep into the depression, and I was even talking suicide, she said,
You know it's not your noodle novel that puts you in this mood, it's your hair. Yes, your crop of hair is thinning. You're losing your feathers Federman, and you won't admit it. I know how much your hair means to you. Now it's taking its revenge for having been neglected when you were a boy
She was right.
If only I had known. I am sure all men lament the loss of their hair by the fact that they neglected it when they were young.
And it is true that when I turned 40, I started noticing, if not every day, once in a while, especially after a shower, while combing my hair, that my forehead seemed to be getting wider, higher, and my hair seemed to be retreating towards the back of my head.
The hair on the side of my head resisted. It was still thick there. But on top it was getting thinner, less dense, more transparent, even when I combed my hair very loosely and fluffy and high on top. I could see my skull through it when I looked in the mirror, especially in the evening when the light was turned on in the bathroom.