By Jessi Carrier
You know the killer who spoke directly to God? I was the one who told the killer to tie his long beard like a ponytail with little elastics.
I found my first beard on the corner of 8th and M, and I approached it cautiously. Each hair was a life form distinct and isolated. It was a desert. I took off my clothes to lie bare in the space between things, and felt my parts disintegrate like rock cleaving into sand. A wind came and scattered me across the face, I knew there was only a little bit of me left and I didn’t know what would happen when the last bit scattered. The moon came out and my pieces glinted white on the ground, I went searching and collected them one by one. In the morning I left the beard.
Before I knew him, I dreamed about him. In the dream I met a man who killed two of his family members, and one of them was an infant. I always thought of people who murder as hollow souls, the hollow inside them filled with seething evil, unable to feel love that binds people, unable to hear the voice of God. But in the dream he was whole. A week after the dream, I read in the paper about a real man who killed his brother’s wife and baby by slitting their throats with a knife. I knew this was the person in my dream, and even though I was afraid of what it could mean, I needed to meet him.
There was a beard I visited on and off for years. It was sitting two rows ahead of me, wearing a fuchsia satin dress at a show with samba music played on hubcaps, bedsprings and trumpets. In the lovely moment after the lights in the theater went out and before the performance began, I hid myself in the hairs close to the ear. This beard could have been my beard it felt so familiar.
I went along when the beard worked the sideshow. Watching the show on the face of the audience members, I saw the freak dissolve in their eyes.
It would reflect better on me to say that I stayed with the beard even when something bad happened, but sometimes I left because the shame and pain was too much for me to bear. Sometimes I’d have to leave because there was a job interview and the beard was shaved off. If the job interview went well, the beard was gone for longer times.
There was never any solitude there because so many people wanted to know the beard. “I could have a beard too” said a woman who spent the day with me, walking among the sparseness of newly grown hairs. “I pluck myself like a chicken, pluck, pluck, pluck. And why? Now when I go out, I see how many women have beards that they hide. It takes a lot of energy to hide.”
“All I can grow is a mustache,” I told her, “but I don’t shave it anymore.”
At first I visited the killer just to see if he was the person in my dream. Then, I visited to hear his revelations. His words were like a lead vest at the dentist, he never broke eye contact. I’d never met anyone with his conviction.
He told me about his life on the dirt farm, where there was electricity for the refrigerator and nothing else, his wife, fed-up, bringing chickens to live inside. His wife would boil water in a gallon metal bucket over a fire, then gather the children and clean their faces and armpits with an old t-shirt for a rag. He remembers the faces of his children, covered in the silt gray dust they played worked slept in, turning to mud under the rag and revealing pale pink faces, silent and serious. He was sad about the time on the farm. That his wife had to put up with that “experiment.”
He told me that the earth is a garden where the flowers of Christ are being choked out by the Devil’s weeds, but the harvest of the weeds is nigh and when it comes he will lead the harvest.
In his vision, sex will be part of celebrating who we are. Unlike our current existence, he said, sex won’t be a tool of domination over women. If anything, women will enjoy more satisfaction from sex than men do.
There are times when I can’t find a beard that I like. I know they’re everywhere, but so many of them are conference rooms with ergonomic chairs, mine shafts collapsed and barricaded, empty spray paint cans with rattling marbles, the blank pages at the end of a notebook, the parking lot between strip malls.
I was in love with him. I couldn’t touch his beard, but I wanted to. It was as long as his entire torso and took 15 years to grow. I told him how to wash and brush his beard, how to put oils in it to make the hairs strong. I bought rubber bands from the commissary and showed him how to wrap them around a section of hair. I showed him on my own hair, doing things I hadn’t done since I was a kid—pigtails, high ponytails, braids and fishtails. The next time I came, he had ten rubber bands in his beard, carefully spaced 2 inches apart, dividing the singular strand into softly bulging tiers. “You inspired me,” he said.
The lover I have now can’t grow a beard, which is good for me. I can’t hide there, or get lost, or make it my own and wear it around.
When they banned me from the prison, I got a package from the killer. Inside was a dark coil wrapped in weatherizing plastic with a letter hand written on a yellow legal pad. Unwrapping the plastic, I found his beard, severed at the chin so I could hold the entire strand. In the letter, he told me he loved me.
I kept the beard next to me when I was alone, smelling it and sometimes living inside it for several days, you know, if I had no where else to be. It was dark in there and smelled like a yellow bar of soap. The middle tier was my favorite because it was the most dense and I could forget everything outside. Climbing up the tiers, I imagined I was climbing towards heaven.
One day I woke up inside the beard and I noticed it was thinner. Every day I found stray hairs around the house. I tried to weave them back into the beard, but it still got thinner, until finally I was trying to wrap myself in a single hair. The smell of soap was gone, the rubber bands had cracked and broken, I threw them away so my cats couldn’t eat them. I took the final hair and held it into the wind, releasing pinched fingers to let it fly.