Growth 

Marcia Aldrich


What you have heard is true. I had a growth on my chin. To be exact, I had a single, as in solitary, hair growing out of my chin. I had the most robust stab of hair on the right side of my chin, more a thorn upon which someone might impale themselves than a wisp of hair. And black. If I forgot about the hair, resting my chin upon my hand, I pricked my finger and bled. In its infancy, when I felt its small thrill, I was startled and unsure. I thought I had gotten some rough dirt on my face from gardening and tried to brush it off. It didn't budge. Under the bright lights of a mirror, I inspected my chin. At a certain age, one should avoid close examination of one's face under bright lights. One should look westward, take the long view, move in the dark. Under such lights I first saw the protrusion. When I turned forty, I braced myself for decline--hair loss, failing eyesight, a metabolism that seemed more dead than alive, a general diminishing. My chin might sag and require elevation from my chest. I did not expect a gain in hair mass, even a small one such as a single hair, and certainly not sprouting from my chin as if it were the site of domestic reforestation. The image of a guard at Buckingham Palace standing at attention immediately popped into my head. Did I require an alert hair guarding my chin? It's a little late for that, after all most of the runs upon my face are over. This kind of growth might have come in handy at sixteen when I was unsuccessfully warding off advances. Then I was smooth and vulnerable. Now who would venture near? It is a familiar fact that after years of marriage, husbands no longer notice anything about their wives. Some might argue that indifference, even oblivion, is preferable to a husband who comments negatively upon every pound gained, every furrowing wrinkle, every regrettable grey hair. In my case, my husband did not notice the stub growing out of my chin like an odd prairie weed. He did not notice the unexpected turn my face had taken. From this several conclusions could be drawn:

1. My husband no longer looks at my face.

2. My husband no longer touches my face.

3. My husband looks at and touches my face but sees and feels nothing.

The above conclusions are not optimistic about the effects of long-term marriage upon sensory perception. Perhaps after 15 years of marriage external changes are no longer important. It's the emotional register that counts; intimacy has consumed the flesh and moved beyond. Still the silence troubled me. Did I imagine its appearance, the ache of it? I saw it in the mirror, I felt it, it drew blood. But more importantly, what was I to do with it now that I saw it? Should I allow it to take up residence on my chin? What if the hair kept growing--would I walk this wide world with a long hair growing from my chin? Would you? Do I pluck it with a tweezer? It was firmly rooted, running all the way from my chin to my feet. If I plucked it, I might collapse. There was something excessive about this hair; why must it break the skin? I could snip it as close to the skin as possible. Such trimming would be a temporary measure at best, and might even stimulate growth. Yank the hair forever or usher in disaster?

I entered my bathroom, locked the door, grabbed the tweezer, and yanked. I yanked with all my might, leaning hard against the sink. Eventually I felt a twitch and then release on the other end, as if someone had dropped the receiver three thousand leagues under the sea. In the tweezer I found a black spike of hair, stiff and angry. When I touched my chin, I no longer felt the prick of recognition. I did feel a small pucker, a miniscule space of absence, the mark of where something had been and could be again, the flame of a candle suddenly blown out by the wind.

 



MARCIA ALDRICH's collection of linked essays, Girl Rearing, was published in 1998 by W.W. Norton. Hair, which appears in the collection, was included in the 1993 edition of The Best American Essays .


Email Marcia Aldrich

Go to next essay in this issue

Back to Brevity Home