Once upon a time, a girl child was born with long, silky blond hair. In fact, she pulled out of the womb, not head first, but hair first. The doctors and nurses and her parents were both fascinated and repulsed by the sight of the bloody blond hair that lay pooled on the hospital bed. A nurse came toward the infant with scissors and the mother stopped her. “No,” she said. “Let the hair stay. I will wash it myself.” She looked up at her husband whose face was a pale shade of gray. “We will call her Rapunzel,” she said and her husband dutifully nodded.
At first it was a challenge managing the infant Rapunzel’s hair. They had all expected her hair to fall out and then regrow slowly, normally. But the hair stayed and it continued to grow until, by the time Rapunzel was walking, her hair followed behind her like a princess’s wedding train. And by then the whole world knew about Rapunzel and her hair. Her parents had tried to keep her a secret for a time, but by necessity, the world soon learned about her. Her parents at first refused to let her be photographed, but once they were offered money, the barriers came down quickly. Her mother started Rapunzel’s own hashtag (#Rapunzel) and set up a Facebook page for her. Her father took photographs of her every day and posted them to a Tumblr account in Rapunzel’s name.
Her mother learned to put up Rapunzel’s hair and twist and tie it into shapes. One day she carried the Eiffel Tower on her head, the next day the Statue of Liberty. It hurt Rapunzel’s neck to carry the weight of her hair and the various hair products and wires that were necessary for the sculpture. She did not know how much money her parents made with her hair, but it was enough that they eventually moved into a castle-like building on an island off the coast of Florida. Her days were spent modeling her mother’s sculptures, posing until her neck, her back, and her legs ached with the strain of keeping still while a parade of photographers streamed through the room.
Her parents had designed a room specifically for the press. It was devoid of any furniture except for a small stool that Rapunzel would sit on while pictures were being taken. As she got older, the stool got larger, but not softer. Silk drapes of deep burgundy lined the back wall and served as the background for the photos. Rapunzel’s eyes stung from the bright flashes of the cameras. She spent hours like this every day it seemed. Her parents told her that she was loved by everyone because of her hair.
Yet, she felt so lonely. Her only companion, besides her parents, was an old tutor who was there to teach her about biology and mathematics and literature. But the old man often fell asleep while Rapunzel recited her homework.
One night while her parents slept, she climbed to the upper most level of the castle, to a small room in a turret. From there she could see the mainland of Florida. The mainland winked at her through the darkness. She felt drawn to the lights and so wanted to go there, where she could be around other people. Where she could escape the castle and escape her parents.
But for her hair! How she wanted to cut her hair and become just a normal little girl. But ever since the first and only time she tried to cut her hair, her parents had hidden all the scissors and knives from her. The kitchen was always locked against her. And until then she had always been such an obedient little girl. But now with her body and her emotions embarking on a journey of their own into adolescence, she felt the time to rebel coming nearer.
Then one day, her mother was all excited. She had been inspired. She had just seen the movie Titanic on DVD and announced to her husband and Rapunzel that she had an idea that would make them billions of dollars. She would build a replica of the Titanic with Rapunzel’s hair. Rapunzel’s heart sank. She had been excited at first, as her mother’s enthusiasm always infected her and she always sought to please her parents. But the Titanic? Oh, her poor poor neck. How heavy would that be? How many hours would she have to sit still and pose?
And then, she had her own inspiration. She feigned fatigue and begged her mother to wait until the next day before beginning the sculpture. Her father, as usual, just stood in the background, practically blending in with the gray walls. He never took sides, never advocated for or against Rapunzel. He only did what his wife told him to do, often referring to her as the genius in the family. He was content to live in the castle, to eat rich food and drink fine wine, and to watch pornography on the 54-inch flat-screen TV while Rapunzel and his wife slept.
A few minutes after going to her bedroom, Rapunzel crept out, stealing softly up the stairs to the turret. She had stolen some wires from the room where her mother did her hair and once safely in the turret, she set to work. She had spent years watching her mother mold her hair into many shapes. She had had nothing else to look at, sitting in front of the large mirror as her mother worked to create buildings, animals, and objects with Rapunzel’s hair. It would not take her long to do what she needed to.
She wove her hair until her fingers became blistered from the plying of hair and wire. The sky had gone from a midnight blue velvet to a deep blue silk, light enough to show the wide expanse of water between the island and the mainland. Her work done, Rapunzel folded her sculpture until it fit through the tiny window. She had a long braid connecting her head to the sculpture, just long enough to let the sculpture dangle outside the window while Rapunzel stuck one leg out and then her torso.
She looked down. It was a long, long fall to the water. She was glad, possibly for the first time, that they lived so close to the water. Still, she was afraid. What if she underestimates and misses the water? What if the boat that she had woven with her hair is not water-tight enough? A horn sounded, startling Rapunzel. She looked up and saw in the far distance a large cruise ship. She remembered the Titanic and realized that she would rather die than go through that. She was done with pleasing her mother, with posing for photographers, with being lonely.
She balanced herself on the ledge of the window, and slowly swayed back and forth, trying to gain momentum. Finally she pushed away, praying as she fell that she would at least make it into the water. She heard a loud splash as her boat hit the water and then felt herself tumble into it. Sitting up, she almost capsized the boat, but quickly steadied it by positioning herself in the middle and grasping the sides with either hand. She looked around stunned by the fall. It was a few seconds before she realized that she was floating, that she had made to the water. She looked back at the looming castle, dark against the sky now pale from an approaching dawn. As she stared, the castle grew smaller. Rapunzel’s heart bobbed with the joy of moving away from the castle. She turned around and saw the misty edge of the mainland before her. She patted the inside of her boat and was relieved to find that it was watertight. She pulled her braid around and held it before her mouth. It would be a few hours before she would reach the mainland. She better start chewing now, she thought.
By the time her boat washed up on the beach, it was fully light but still too early for sunbathers. A few people were on the beach, most on their cell phones as they walked their dogs, and they paid no mind to Rapunzel. Though her legs were wobbly, she stepped out of the boat and fell to her hands and knees. She wanted to kiss the ground, but since it was sand, she thought better of it. In one final act of rebellion, Rapunzel pushed the boat back into the water, away from her. The chewed ends of her hair caressed her shoulders, and her head and neck felt ridiculously light, as if she were a balloon ready to float away.
A greyhound bounded up to her and sniffed at her feet. A young man approached and, grabbing the dog’s lease, started to apologize. Rapunzel saw him take in the full figure of her and realized with a blush that she only had on a sheer wet nightgown that was clinging to her body.
“Are you OK,” the young man asked, his eyes full of genuine concern. Rapunzel smiled and nodded. The cruise ship, she thought to herself. I fell overboard; that’s my story. The young man held out his hand. “My name is Jack. What’s yours?”
It was a moment before she answered: “Rose.”
He clasped her hand and guided her to back to his condo where he lived with his parents. They graciously took her in and treated her as if she were their own daughter. No one ever made the connection between the appearance of “Rose” and the disappearance of Rapunzel. Rapunzel lived a happy long life in the condo, eventually marrying Jack and having one daughter whose hair she kept closely cropped.