What do we know when we are in first grade?
Here's what I knew at about the time this picture was taken: My mother and father liked to drink, mostly to excess, and that they each had streaks of cruelty running through them, though of different sorts. My father was a pedophile, and this was back when that kind of behavior wasn't challenged--what a man did to his children in his own home was a man's business. My mother was at once timid and neglectful, trapped between my father's predatory sexual desires and the demands of having produced four children in two and a half years. She didn't have the energy or the sobriety needed to protect even herself, and most of my early memories of her seemed to be marked by her walking away, turning away, driving away, or just being away, inaccessibly drunk.
She was around for my first haircut, though. As you can tell from the picture, I started first grade with pigtails, and one of the household chores was untangling yesterday's braids and putting in today's. I knew, the way children do know, that she disliked the task of brushing and rebraiding, and disliked me for being the source of so much useless, repetitive labor. I didn't help matters much--I tended to squirm and whine from the start of this ritual until the bitter end--and one morning about halfway through this process she took by the wrist me into the kitchen, got out the blunt, all-purpose scissors used for snipping up chives and opening packages, and simply cut the two braids off. "There," she said. "I guess that settles that." She put the amputated, unraveling ropes of hair into the trash, showed me her back, and went on with whatever mysterious things adults did during the day. I went to school, surprised by the lightness of my new head and mostly unconcerned with my appearance. And I am unconcerned to this day.
We don't know very much in first grade, and I think I knew less than most other first graders, but this transaction bothered me.