While riding on a southbound Link train recently, I saw a man twisting his hair with his right hand. At that moment, around 8 pm, I realized that I no longer twisted my hair into what my mother mockingly called horns.
When did I stop, I wondered? And why did I stop? I twisted my hair as a boy, as a teenager, and as an adult. But somewhere between 2019 and 2021, I stopped making my nappy horns from the hair by my ears or the corners of my dome.
How was this possible?
Twisting was opposite to, but had the same function of, a faucet: "righty tighty." Turning to the right blocked the water; twisting (tightening) my hair to the right released tension—or, more accurately, the tension from what the Zimbabwean novelist and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga called a "nervous condition."
My mother died three years after we entered the 21st century. So, for a considerable amount of time, she's been silent on the matter. But when she was a young psychologist she really wasn't, and her verbal attacks on my twisting had a relentlessness that was in itself disturbing. Even in death, those years of insults have not left me in the least bit. The dead can rest in peace all they want, but the living still have scores to settle with them. Indeed, what I have to say about my mother in this post basically comes down to the living haunting the dead, rather than the other way around.
For reasons I never understood, Tracy Mudede had a huge problem with her son's hair-twisting habit. From the age of five on, I twisted my hair nonstop; and from the age of five on, Tracy would fire insults at her boy when she caught him doing it. I would fall into a small pit of depression when she caught me and harangued me for doing what was so obviously my way of relaxing in the world I entered by way of her body. I was fully aware of the fact that my mother was irrational when it came to this habit. And Tracy knew her son knew her war against this hair-twisting business was cruel and uncalled for.
Tracy Mudede was, when her boy was 11, the resident psychologist for the Holly Center in Salisbury, Maryland. This institution offered services to young people who had autism. One day Tracy came up with a plan that she believed would finally bring her son's hair-twisting to an end. She brought him to the Holly Center and showed him the four stages on the spectrum of autism that the agency serviced. One was for those who were challenged. The next was for those who were a little more challenged. The next was for those who were very challenged. And the last were for those who were confined to a bed.
"See that boy," my mother said to her son, when she brought him into the final room. "Look at him. He can't even think. He spends all day in bed. And what does he do, Charles? He just twists his hair all day. That's all his broken brain can do. And you do the same. Twist your hair like that. Now, what is this telling me?"
I looked at the boy in the bed. He was about 15 and had blank blue eyes and blonde hair. His left hand twisted his hair like a laundry machine tossing clothes. I wanted it to stop. It did not. My mother felt she had won a big victory that day in Salisbury, Maryland.
From that point on, I hid my hair twisting from my mother because I thought she had totally lost it. But when she died, I was liberated, and I twisted my hair whenever and wherever. The message of this post? Never give the dead a break because they are dead.