Kate sits cross-legged on a box, center stage. She takes out a comb and a container of small hair ties. She picks up the comb and combs her hair. When she finishes combing her hair, she takes a small section of hair at the front of her head and divides it into three sections. She starts braiding those sections together. When she finishes the braid, she wraps a hair tie around the end and then she goes on to another section of hair. She continues braiding her hair while she is talking.

Perms were cool in the late eighties. Not springy, soft corkscrews or big beachy waves, but tight, almost zigzag looking perms. A close cousin to crimping.

I didn’t get to have a perm. Partly because I was too young, and also because my hair didn’t need any extra curlyness. But that didn’t mean I didn’t want the look though.

The non-perm way for me to get that look was to braid my hair the night before into tiny braids all over my head right after I got out of the shower and then sleep on the braids overnight. That way when I woke up in the morning and I took out the braids, my hair would have dried into the desired zigzag-y look.

I didn’t do this very often. It was a bit of work, and sleeping on the braids wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world.

But even after the crimped, zigzag look went out of fashion, I found myself still wanting to braid  my hair in small braids. And I’ve kept doing it for decades.

I like pulling my hair through my fingers. I like feeling the coarseness of the frizzy hair on the top of my head and how those braids stay in place even without a hair tie if I make them small enough. I like the smooth, silkiness of the underlayers of hair and how braids slip right out of them if I don’t hold them in place. I like the surrsurration my hair makes as I separate out a section and divide it in three, and I like the crinkly sounds when I braid it tightly.

It’s only recently that I’ve noticed something else about this braiding. I tend to do it when I’m tired or stressed out or bored.

I used to pick horribly at my cuticles when I was tired stressed out or bored. I would wear down the skin until it was bright pink. I only stopped when I would start to bleed. I still pick at my cuticles if I don’t use heavy duty cuticle cream regularly or clip hangnails quickly, but I’m much more vigilant about it as an adult. So much so, that I’m not embarrassed to show my fingertips in public anymore.

But the desire to do a repetitive activity with a variety of sensory stimulation didn’t leave. Stimming is a pretty powerful drive. As my cuticle destruction lessened, my braiding slowly ramped up.

Before right now, I haven’t braided in public. I braid at home usually after a particularly stressful or emotional day. Only my partner sees me braiding, and even then I still feel a little embarrassed by it. He doesn’t care, if anything, he thinks it’s funny, but I’ll usually do the side that faces away from where he’s sitting. Because, let’s face it, it’s weird and it’s not the most attractive look for me.

Kate starts one more braid, braids it to the end, then ties off the end. She drops her hands in her lap

But it is satisfying.



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