Hannah Bryan:

Living Without Dread

A Year In Their Lives

December 28, 2003|By Patricia Meisol

Hannah Bryan has worn her long, blond hair straight down her back for most all of her 19 years. Two and a half years ago, she decided to stop combing it and let it hang naturally to teach herself patience.

"The whole thing was, not to touch your hair," she says. There was another reason: All her life she's listened to people tell her she is beautiful. Dreadlocks were offputting, she thought, and people now would be forced to look past her appearance. "I wanted them to look inward, beyond the locks," she says.

She began to look inward, too. On a cross-country trip with one of her brothers, she started her spiritual quest -- "a lot of getting to know who I am, inside and out" -- and for a few years, lived in Vermont with another brother and his family. There, outward appearance no longer mattered. "It actually worked," she says, recalling that time. "My ego's gone. It's just who I am genuinely inside."

One day in November, after she had returned to Parkville, a "whoosh" came over her. She says it was something like a wind. Suddenly, her hair felt heavy. It had to go.

She was sitting alone on her porch when she picked up the scissors and started cutting.

A few minutes later, she got up to look at herself in a mirror and cried out in shock. Her naturally blond hair had been hidden from the sun so long it was dark. Frantic, she called one of her bosses, Lola Jones, a former stylist, who agreed to finish the job. She even put in highlights.

By the time Jones was done, the hair on the top of Hannah's head was only a few inches long. Driving home, she felt the wind on her scalp. Her hair moved. She didn't like it. In fact, she was mad at herself. Why had she done this?

At home, she covered her head in a hat. She was colder. She wore turtlenecks to replace the hair that had draped over her shoulders. One day early this month, she turned her head so quickly that she threw her neck out. Hair is heavy. "My mom said, 'See, you can move faster now.'

"It's weird. It's really, really weird. It still is weird. My hair was always like a security blanket. It kept me warm. It was always there.

"Lola always says, 'Image is everything.' I've been thinking on that. Image is something, but you need the personality, too. I've always believed in never judging a book by the cover."

Only after she'd lived with it a bit did Hannah realize that cutting her hair had been a symbolic act, a physical way to declare an end to a journey she had taken and to begin a new one. She wanted to leave behind the years in Vermont, to let go of some good and some very bad things that happened in those 2 1/2 years.

It was time.

Since her return to Baltimore, she'd already moved on: She started her own part-time business, a wellness company. She worked two other jobs, too. With members of the church where she takes Bible classes, Greater Grace World Outreach, she made plans to travel next month to Africa to care for children with AIDS, the disease that killed her father, a drug addict, nine years ago.

"To me, it was a letting go, a change, not in my hair, but in my life. You let go, and move on to a new chapter in life. This is a new journey I am on now. Where it leads me I'm not sure, but I know it's going to be a journey."

She still doesn't brush her hair. And it still feels weird.

"My hair will grow out again," she says. "It's to my neck now -- yay!"

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