Rapunzel, Draft One Thousand

From The Paris Review:

I call the Wig Man. He picks up. “My sister,” I say, “was diagnosed …” He interrupts me because he is driving and he is in a rush. “My store,” he says, “was looted last night.” “My sister,” I want to say, “…” He tells me he gathered all the hair that was left on the floor. “Glass everywhere,” he says. “I filled my Toyota Tacoma with all the hair that was left. I am driving home now,” he says. “Is you sister’s hair long?” he asks. It is. It is very long. “Because if it’s long what your sister should do before treatment begins is cut all her hair off and I will sew it, strand by strand, into a soft net. It’s called a halo,” he says. “I want to help your sister,” says the Wig Man. I imagine his Toyota Tacoma so stuffed with wigs that black and brown and blond hairs press up against the windows. Like animals trapped inside their own freedom. He starts to cry. I am certain he is driving across a bridge. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” he says.

“Neither do I,” I don’t say.

Sewing a wig strand by strand is called ventilating. I watch a tutorial. With a needle you draw each strand through a lace net and knot it on itself. The needle goes in and then out like thousands of tiny breaths. Ventilating a wig takes the patience of the dead. Each knotted strand is like a person sewn into a free country. The knot is tight, and the net is manufactured. “Of course my life matters,” says Eli my six-year-old. “Why wouldn’t it matter?”

My sister decides not to cut her hair. Instead she lets it fall out, slowly and then suddenly. She yawns, rises, and climbs up the stairs. She leaves behind a trail of blondish gold thread, like a princess coming undone. I write six different essays on Rapunzel. All of them are terrible. I help my sister into bed, though she prefers I not touch her. On her nightstand are six glittering tiaras. She wears one to chemo. Another to breakfast. “Isn’t it strange,” I say, “that I write about fairy tales and you are a fairy tale princess?” She looks at me hard. “A sick princess,” she says.

Of all the fairy tales, Rapunzel gives me the most difficult time. 

. . . .

I never call the Wig Man back. Instead, my mother buys my sister four wigs made out of strangers’ hair. Two brown ones, and two blond. My sister refuses to try the wigs on so my mother tries them on instead.

. . . .

“Did you know,” says my sister, “that in Disney’s Tangled Rapunzel lives inside a kingdom called Corona?” “That can’t be right,” I say.

I cut off all my hair. A twelve-inch braid long enough for nobody to climb. I throw the braid in the trash and then remove it from the trash. It’s soft and dumb. “I can’t look at it,” says my mother. “Get it away from me,” says my sister. I put it in an envelope and send it to a dear friend’s brother, an artist who makes Torahs and animals and money out of human hair and skin. I mean it as an act of solidarity, but I get the feeling my sister and mother read it as an act of pointless sacrifice. To punish Rapunzel for betraying her captivity, the enchantress winds her braids around her left hand, cuts them off, then takes Rapunzel to a wilderness and leaves her there. “See,” I say to my sister. “It’s not so bad.” She looks at my short hair, and a small forest grows between us.

Other than Disney’s, in no version of Rapunzel is Rapunzel’s hair magical. It can’t bring back the dead, or heal a broken bone, or keep a woman young forever. It can’t light up dark water. It can’t be thrown like a lasso so Rapunzel can glide from mountaintop to mountaintop. It doesn’t, like his hair does for Samson, give her god’s power or the strength to kill a lion with her bare hands. It cannot keep a man from being shot for his blackness. It’s just hair.

“I’m sure Rapunzel is wonderful and not terrible,” emails a friend, “but also there’s something Sisyphean about Rapunzel …” 

. . . .

Rapunzel, my sister. I am using my sister’s cancer to write about the impossible because it’s impossible my sister has cancer.

. . . .

It is late afternoon and my sister is sleeping. In the dining room, my mother has lined up all the wigs on their Styrofoam heads. Like four extra daughters. She keeps walking by them and smoothing their hair with her hand. 

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

From Etymology of the Day:

Beginning as a slang term in 19th-century London, the stir in stir-crazy means “prison.” According to the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, stir may have originated as a variation on Start, a nickname criminals gave to Newgate, a notorious prison throughout London’s history. Stir, if this is true, broadened out from “Newgate” specifically to “prison” in general.

The Oxford English Dictionary first cites stir in Henry Mayhew’s 1851 journalistic investigation, London Labour and the London Poor. His interviewees mention folks “in stir” or “out of stir,” or, as Mayhew helpfully glosses, jail or prison.

By the early 20th century, stir had traveled to the United States, where crazy was added to describe “a prisoner who has succumbed to prison-induced insanity,” as slang lexicographer Jonathon Green defines it. He points out many colorful permutations: Stir-bug, stir-nut, stir-psycho, and stir-simple all referred to such prisoners who had gone stir-crazy, while stir-batty, stir-happy, and stir-looney were other ways to characterize the experience. US prison slang used stir for other terms throughout the 20th century, too, such as a stir hustler (“one who has mastered the ‘art’ of incarceration”) and stir lawyer (“a fellow prisoner who offers advice based on his own purported legal expertise”). Green also finds stir active more recently, used for “time served in prison” come the 2010s.

Link to the rest at Etymology of the Day