permission (the story of a hat, then another, then another, and then fifteen more)

I’m writing this in a coffee shop about thirty minutes away from campus, in a room I’ve never been in before. A compromise on wanting to go to Chicago, but not wanting to pay for the train nor drive all the way downtown. Wanting to get away, really. So, writing. Something to do on a rainy-snowy mid-November midwest Saturday that is otherwise empty. Roommate practicing piano, then going on a date. Friend with sister, friend with visiting friends, friend in rehearsal, friend writing a paper, friend already home for Thanksgiving. Me, isolated. Me, falling in love with the cute stranger that was literally doing ballet while he waited for his latte. Me, bemoaning my tendency to fall in love with strangers and ideas and possibilities but not really real people, feeling a little lost in my weekend of no homework, no plans, no dates, no rehearsals. A loaf and a half of my first homemade bread at home on my kitchen table and my hands itching, itching to make something else, something new. This blog, untouched for quite a while.

And a red hat, hand-knit hat, on my head. And a story I’m remembering, piecing together, choosing to share.

Freshman year of college. Late October, or November maybe. Me, hardly eighteen, homesick, cold, self-conscious of hair, self-conscious of exclusion from college theater department. Me, on the brink of my first midwest winter, my first college student winter and noticing that if I walk outside with shower-wet hair on a thirty-degree morning my hair will freeze and my ears will hurt so bad that by the time I get to class I can hardly hear for thinking about how cold they are.

I had always thought that people with curly hair (me) could not wear hats. An arbitrary rule I had assigned to myself. A rule I broke, to wear a simple dark-red garter stitch beanie picked up a few months prior at an H&M sale, seemingly without reason due to aforementioned feelings re: hats. A providential purpose, really–the beanie becoming a constant companion in my first year of college, the folded brim resting on my forehead in nearly every candid photo.

Me, hardly eighteen, homesick, wearing heeled boots and a red hat because long-distance breakups are hard and midwestern winters are cold. Me shoving hands in coat pockets and casting longing looks at the theater building, me furrowing a brow underneath the red hat’s brim and bending over a first poetry explication paper. Me learning to be on my own. Me learning to give myself permission. It started, really, with a hat.

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