(C 2003)
The alarm rang at 6:45, waking her from a sound sleep. Her very first act, even before she opened her eyes, or pulled the covers off, was to grope for her braid. She felt the top of her head, and then followed the loose braid back down along her side. She pulled up what had fallen off the bed onto the floor, and ran her hand to the end of the braid. It was one of many rituals built around her remarkable hair. After sleeping, she wanted to assure herself that she still had her hair, and that it was real, not just some fantastic dream.

Karen Willis climbed out of bed, holding her thick braid, and stepped into the bathroom to take care of some morning necessities. Needing two hands to wash her face, she dropped the braid behind her, and smiled as it plopped onto the floor. She always braided her hair loosely before going to bed. Years of experience told her that a loose braid almost eliminated tangles the next morning, and didn't put any kinks or wave into her hair the next day.

She kept her hair braided as she took a quick morning shower. She took care to keep her hair dry, and hung her braid from hooks along the shower rod. She only washed her hair twice a week, Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons. It didn't need any more or any less.

Out of the shower, and dried off, she finally started to undo her braid. She loved spending time on her hair, and she especially enjoyed this morning ritual. As she did every day, she started pulling apart the three strands of her braid, brushing the loose hair as she went. She enjoyed seeing her hair come to life as she freed it from it's bonds.

Undoing her braid also allowed her time to think about the day ahead. She was at the very end of her time at the University of California at Berkeley, and was looking forward to receiving her doctorate in chemistry in a week. Her dissertation was finished, her presentation complete, her work published. All of the hard work was over, and she had reached her goal.

She had one last session with her undergraduate students at 11, an informal interview with a prospective employer at 2:30, and errands to run. A rather quiet day after so many years of academic research, lab work, studies, and keeping up with her students. She actually had the night free, and was looking forward to meeting friends for coffee after dinner, and browsing the bookshops just off the campus.

It took her 45 minutes to completely unbraid her hair. Sure, she could do a rush job and have it done in ten minutes or so, but she liked to take extra care when she could; paying attention to every little tangle, and brushing her hair to a soft sheen. Finally, she stood up and maneuvered her hair behind her shoulders. She stepped over to the floor length mirror inside her closet door and admired her handiwork, feeling the soft tug as hair on the floor dragged behind her.

She liked what she saw. A thick cape of dark brown hair that barely stayed behind her shoulders, spreading out as it fell towards the floor to form a soor. Her backpack was one of her hair's best friends. It was soft and worn after ten years of constant use. It didn't carry books, just hair and hair accessories. The outside was weathered faded denim, with a few patches. She lined the main pocket with silk, and even replaced the drawstring closure with silk. She had become very adept at putting her hair in the pack and pulling it out, closing the drawstring to hold it in place, and almost never tangling or knotting it. In the side pockets, her brush, a wide-toothed comb, a scarf, hair sticks and pins to help put her hair up, and a 6' x 6' nylon sheet used on the ground or floor when she let her hair down outside of her apartment.

She so enjoyed being surrounded by her hair that she didn't want to stand up and prepare to meet her students. But she was also looking forward to this last session. With nothing left to do with her students, this was a chance to let her hair down, both figuratively and literally. She always tried to maintain a degree of professionalism with her students, and that included keeping her hair up for all the classes and scheduled office hours. Through the semester, she received many inquiries about her hair, both spoken and unspoken. She promised them that she would answer them at the end of the semester. So she would leave her hair loose this morning, and load it into her backpack.

"So show us your hair, Karen," said Debbie Calhoun, one of the more talkative students in the class. "Yeah, show us!" echoed most of the other students. She sat at one end of an oval, her fifteen students facing the middle, but now staring at her.

"Well, if you insist," she joked. She stood up, took the pack off her back and set it carefully on the chair. She then started slowly pulling her hair out of the pack, enjoying the look on her student's faces as foot after foot came out. Once it was obvious that her hair was longer than she was tall, a chorus of "omigods" came from the oval. When it was finally out she held the ends and threw her hair behind her back. She had to hold her ends up at shoulder height to keep her hair from touching the floor.

Karen expected what followed, all the usual questions, requests to touch her hair, and compliments. She usually felt uncomfortable with all of the attention, but as was always the case, she had developed an attachment to her students, and didn't mind sharing with them. She talked about her care routine, her motivation for growing her hair, and life in general with extremely long hair.

Another reason she didn't mind the questions was the effect she had on quite a few women. She knew of at least a dozen women on campus who, after meeting her, decided to grow their hair much longer, and still are sticking with it. Her freshman roommate, Janie, had non-descript, shoulder length hair, but after seeing Karen's then ankle length tresses, decided to grow hers. Karen always smiled when she thought of Janie, who now had spectacular hair to her mid-calf. She loved it when other women "saw the light" and grew long hair.

It was funny how she talked about "long" and "short", since her frame of reference was so skewed. She realized once that she had been referring to anything less that hip length hair as "short," while just about everybody else would refer to hip length tresses as impossibly long. While she truly believed that hair was meant to be grown as long as possible, she realized that she often came off as snobby if she told a woman that her waist length hair was short.

An hour of animated discussion went by quickly. Every student got a chance to hold her hair. The guys were a little shy at first, but opened up as time went by. Karen paid special attention to Sandra Williams, who asked the most interesting questions. She had thick black hair to the middle of her back, and seemed a likely convert to the very long haired. After the class, Sandra came up to her, and as she carefully put her hair back in the pack, they made arrangements to meet in a few days to talk hair one-on-one.

She returned to her apartment for a quick bite to eat, and to get ready for her 2:30 appointment. This was to be a truly informal interview, with one of her "professional" friends. She didn't feel pressure to dress up, or put her hair up tightly- to "hide" it. Bill Jenkins knew of her hair, and often complimented her on it. So she decided to put it in a loose, twisted bun, with about a two foot ponytail hanging out. She used four hairsticks to hold it in place. This was a variation of one of her favorite up-do's, one that she could do in her sleep, and that never came loose. It wasn't real spectacular on most people, but with the length of her hair, the bun was quite large, and attracted some attention. She brought her pack along, hoping to be able to take her bun down and put her loose hair back in her pack for the rest of the day.

She met Bill at a downtown restaurant. He had driven up from Lawrence Livermore Labs, a scientific hotbed about 30 miles southeast of Berkeley. She had talked to him on the phone quite a bit, but hadn't seen him in over a year, so the reunion was a cordial one. "Your hair looks beautiful as usual, how long is it getting these days?" Karen replied that it was just over nine feet now. Bills eyebrows arched and he exhaled, saying "Wow!"

They talked about some of the ongoing projects at the labs, Karen selling herself on the ones she was really interested in. She was hoping to get a foot in the door at the highly selective and somewhat elite government lab. It would be a perfect chance to apply her studies, as well as continue her research. Bill was a mentor of sorts, and a supervisor at the labs.

After about 50 minutes of conversation, Bill said he had to get back to the labs. He told Karen he liked her ideas, and would be in touch. Then he surprised her by asking if he could see all of her hair. She was taken aback for a moment, and he quickly apologized. But then she said "sure, I was planning on taking it down anyway. If you don't mind waiting while I step in the bathroom for a few minutes..."

She spread out her nylon sheet, then carefully let her hair down, putting the hair sticks back in their slots in the pocket of her pack. She spent about a minute quickly brushing it all, then held it off the floor as she folded her sheet and placed it back in her pack. She didn't do this very often, for obvious reasons, but enjoyed it when she did. She stepped out of the women's room, her hair flowing to within a foot of the floor, then looped up to her right hand, finally dangling close to the floor again. People in the restaurant grew quiet, and turned and stared.

She walked up to Bill, who was looking out to the street. She asked, "Can I walk you to your car?" and went out the door without breaking stride. Bill stuttered and stammered, choking out a few "Wow's" as they walked down the block to the parking lot. She seemed to enjoy his obviously flustered state, as he was usually very talkative. Bill was safe, in his early 50's and happily married, but was obviously stunned by her hair. As he got in his car, he whispered "thanks." and drove off.

After finding a quiet corner, Karen carefully fed her hair into the backpack, and put it back on for the walk across the campus and back to her apartment for a couple of hours of solitude before heading out to dinner with some friends. She reflected on Bill's behavior, and wondered if she had done the right thing in response. She got a lot of requests to show her hair, and had to say no to many, just for practicality's sake.

As soon as she got in the door of her apartment, she took her hair out of her pack again, and sat in her favorite spot at the kitchen table once again to do a little "professional" reading. The chemistry journal was boring to most, but she had found an article related to her field of study that she was interested in, so she slipped into her comfortable "cocoon" once again.

The thought crossed her mind that today, with her light schedule, would be a great day to wash her hair, but it wasn't a Wednesday or Sunday, so that was out. Early in her hair growing career, she set up the Wednesday-Sunday routine to wash her hair. It worked to this point, why change anything? It was getting harder to wash her hair as it grew longer, but she had a system worked out that served her pretty well. The longest part of the process was drying her hair, but she was able to catch up on her reading as her hair was draped across a folding rack. Her favorite part of the process was brushing her hair when it was dry. It seemed to come alive in her hands, and at least double in volume as she worked her way up and down her tresses. Her brush was special- given to her by her best friend's kid brother for high school graduation. It was carved wood, and perfectly balanced, like it was a part of her hand. She couldn't even dream of letting anything else touch her hair.

Before she knew it, it was time to get ready to head out for the evening. Karen gave her hair a quick brushing, then put it into her trusty backpack. Then it was off to downtown to drop a few things off, to the hole-in the wall Japanese restaurant for some noodles, some browsing in the bookstores along Telegraph Avenue, and finally her favorite coffee house to hook up with some friends. She enjoyed the bookstores, and Berkeley had some of the best around- cozy places where you could curl up and read just about anything. Another reason she enjoyed the bookstores was that the slow browsing and standing was well suited to placing her backpack on the floor, allowing a good portion of her hair to hang fairly loose. Anytime she took a step, she would just reach over and move the pack. She loved the feeling of her hair just hanging and falling over her shoulders. Few people would bother her in the aisles of a bookstore, and she felt a unique freedom.

Her best friends in Berkeley, Cathy and June, met her at the independent coffeehouse, a funky little place with wonderful espresso she could savor over conversation that usually closed the place down. They were joined by Therese, a friend of June's visiting from Montreal. Therese had the most beautiful thigh length hair, Karen noticed, a thick, honey blonde with just a little wave. After introductions and a few minutes of conversation, Karen complimented her on her hair, something she tried to do with any woman who had beautiful hair.

"Oh, thank you," Therese said, with a hint of a French accent. "But I understand from June that your hair is truly incredible. May I see it?"

Karen pulled it out of her pack once more, and saw the smile on Therese's face widen as more and more of her hair appeared. "C'est magnifique!" she exclaimed. "When June told me about your hair, I knew I wanted to meet you!"

They spent the good part of the next hour talking hair, comparing routines, and passing along tips. Therese was one of the few people she had met who did not say she had too much hair, so Karen knew she may have converted another woman to her cause.

When she met Cathy eight years ago, during her second week on campus, her hair was a bright natural red, and cut into a trendy, chin length bob. They became friends almost immediately, and Karen helped her start her long hair journey. Now, Cathy had what Karen thought was an incredible flaming cascade to just below her knees, and still growing. They both met June at the start of grad school. June's honey blond tresses were mid-back length at the time. June was always the one to tease Karen and later Cathy about their hair excesses, while they playfully teased June for being the short one of the bunch. June enjoyed long hair, but had taken to keeping hers trimmed at hip length for the past few years, though it had gradually crept down to mid-thigh length in the last year. All teasing aside, June was almost always the first one into Karen's pack to get her brush, and loved brushing both her friend's hair.

The sight of four very long haired women in one booth was noted by the other patrons, and Karen heard quite a few whispered comments as well as some nice compliments. She loved to listen in on the whispering that often went on behind her, and was constantly humored by the things that people would say behind her back.

The truth in Karen's mind, and what she told people who commented on all of her hair, was that you could never have too much hair. It took her a while to come to that conclusion- until she had about a foot and a half of hair on the floor, and had come close to cutting it off. Cathy had talked her out of it, and got her to realize that she loved her hair.

Before they knew it, it was 1:30 in the morning, and the shop was closing. Karen and Therese exchanged addresses, and promised to keep in touch.

Karen got home at 2am, and immediately got ready for bed. She returned her hair into a loose braid, took care of her nightly rituals, and slipped under the covers. She slept surrounded by silk, as it was easiest on her hair. The sheets and pillowcase cost a pretty penny, but were worth it in comfort and the protection they gave her hair.

As she laid in bed, she contemplated the day, and smiled at being able to have her hair down and free as much as she did. It was so easy and fun, she thought. Days like this confirmed her desire to grow her hair even longer.

"I'll grow it forever..." she repeated as she quickly fell asleep.

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