Open letter to the grown-ass woman who swings her ponytail while walking:
What it is about you that makes anger swing in me like a violent pendulum? I have seen you most mornings on my walk to the train to work over the past year. Me in some considered and varied outfit with accoutrements added for sparkle and wit. You in the same black cotton workout pants that you probably bought at Target (hell, they may be the same pants because nothing about them varies in color, length, or fit). They don’t have any noticeable animal hair covering them which makes you even more suspicious. In the warmer months, you wear some varying, nondescript t-shirt with nothing to note of its color or logo. They don’t have holes, but seem faded like they’ve been aggressively washed over and over again. I imagine they all smell of overly fragrant laundry detergent.
I wonder if you own nothing but stacks and stacks of these pants and t-shirts that nobody cares about. You wear whitish athletic walking shoes; god knows how long you’ve owned those because they also never seem to change, even in the winter. Maybe you walk all day long and this jaunt to the train station is the start of your whole day walking briskly to unknown destinations. You wear large sunglasses, rain, snow, or rain, the kind that make you look like an insect. These were much more popular about 15-20 years old and obscure your face which is fine because I can’t bring myself to look directly at you. Your presence makes my blood pressure rise to dangerous levels.
From what I can tell, you aren’t ugly or pretty, per se, but conventional, boring, white. Your expression is like stone, your walk is all business, nothing about you seems fun or interesting or changeable. And of course, everything is topped off by that swinging motherf-ing ponytail. It is difficult to reason why it gave me such joy in the colder months when your hair was tied up, strangled by a winter headband. At the very least, there was variety in seeing you forced to cover up your faded t-shirts with an off-brand puffy black jacket.
I wonder about the man you walk with and whether he’s sick of it, too. Although, he’s just as boring looking as you. He also wears a uniform of sorts: button-up striped or plaid dress shirts and pleated khaki pants. Maybe you are perfect for each other; you each know the role you play and it’s all laid out before you like a wide open road. Maybe he’s grown used to you, maybe he doesn’t notice you, maybe he takes you for granted, or maybe he loves you with all of his heart. It pains me to think of your home life: the same dinner and tv tray, that never-changing routine when he comes home from work. The only thing different is the television show you watch before you both dutifully brush and floss your teeth and get ready to do it all again the next day.
Neither of you seem particularly happy or amused by each other. Your conversation is always quiet and conspiratorial; if you talk to each other at all. Granted, it’s early. But, why does he need to be walked to that particular, abandoned driveway, a block and half away from the train, next to a gravel parking lot? It’s as if you both came to the decision that that driveway was your limit. No further would you accompany your man. Then, there’s the chaste peck on the lips and you walk back in the direction you came with the same determination and speed, leaving him to walk the rest of the way to the train by himself. He then disappears from my consciousness. I don’t notice him walk down the stairs to the train or wait for it or get on. Like a theater prop, he is whisked away from the stage and I’m left to contemplate you more.
I’ve had long hair before; enough for a ponytail. Of course, I was much younger then. My hair was longest when I was 13-15 years old until I decided to cut it all off and dye it a million different colors. The last time I saw hair like yours was in high school, when my friends and I nicknamed girls like you “horsehair girls.” It reminded us of a horse’s tail: shiny and long, known for tremendous upkeep and special shampoo. They seemed like the type of girls who would own an actual horse; girls who were certainly not like us, from the wrong side of the tracks or too poor to see horses beyond a rodeo or magazine page. I know from experience that that amount of swing takes effort, it takes concentration, and a particular movement of your entire body. You are swinging at 180 degrees. Is it your flag? Your cry for help? An affectation because the rest of you is so hopelessly boring? Is it a call back to the youth you’ve never let go?
Yes, I’m being petty and probably jealous. I’ve told my therapist about you and it made her laugh. You are faithful to your morning walk with your man. You have no need for fluff or anything extra; you are no nonsense. Your style of clothing is economical, no frills, no need to own anything beyond the same type of t-shirt, pants, shoes, sunglasses, hair ties. Your interpretation of semiotics is nonexistent like you have no need for it. Your personality is not dependent on your outward appearance or the perception of a stranger on the sidewalk. I wonder if you notice me or think of my outfits at all.
Maybe you wield an iron fist in your relationship in a way that I’d truly respect. Maybe this is one of the few times you get alone with your paramour because both of your lives outside of this walk are so busy. Maybe you are comfortable in your own skin, in your relationship, in your home life, and whatever it is that you do all day long. Even when my hair was long, I was never a “horsehair girl.” My hair is tightly curled, it takes me FOREVER to grow it out to the length of a swinging ponytail. I have never been conventionally attractive and I hope that I’m not boring. No matter how successful I am in my career, I will never have the money to own a horse. I have never felt like the road ahead of me was easy or pre-paved. I am not the kind of girlfriend who would walk her boyfriend to the train that early in the morning every damn day. I could not imagine living the life I have dreamt up for you; it makes me want to tear off my own skin. Your imagined relationship feels like suffocation; I remember what it feels like to come home to someone who took me for granted, who forced the same routine every night after work. In my world, the only excuse you have to wear the same clothes from the day before is if you never made it home to change.
That’s the problem, really. It’s me. It isn’t you and your stupid ponytail. I’m the one fantasizing about punching you in the face and bringing a pair of scissors to cut off the hair of a complete stranger. I’m the one who hates you because you remind me of the things I once had and lost, the things I never wanted, and the things I could never have. I fear a life devoid of art, fashion sense, intriguing relationships, and fascinating conversation that I have worked hard over decades to cultivate. Maybe now that I’ve acknowledged this, the anger I feel toward you will slowly lose its grip on me. Until the next time…