I’ve just returned to school with a fresh new set of bangs. It’s springtime and the end of the year trip to the amusement park that every fifth grader looks forward to is approaching. My bangs are too short. At least the cut was done by a hairdresser. The lines are sharp and straight. And now I’m not pushing my hair out of my face, giving myself away as I read from the book in my lap.
Since 2010, I’ve cut my bangs countless times. They grow out only to flare up in times of chaos. I brush my hair away as I sit at my desk in 2020. In front of me is a picture of my older cousin and I from our trip to meet our family in Ireland two years ago. Through the windows, the streets are empty in the middle of this day. Today, my new bangs — cut last night with paper scissors — are just as fresh as they were in fifth grade.
No, that’s not really true. They’re new, but ragged and illy-cut. They hide the lines spanning my brow — the bridges my brother crossed when Pittsburgh schools closed.
It has been two months since my brother left school; since the world shut down. The dress pants I painstakingly picked out for my new job and graduate school interviews lay folded in my dresser. My apartment is small and cluttered. It could be tidier, but there’s no use in picking up. No one is coming over.
At 11, I don’t think I had a concept of what an adult version of me would be like at all.
I wish I could ask her though, just for a chance to stand beside my younger self. I would let her brush my bangs away from my face and trace the Pittsburgh bridges hiding beneath the curtain as we spoke.
You’ll remember bridges more than anything, I’d tell her. The Skyway is the place you come from. Chautauqua will take your breath away. Your cousin who never cut her hair will grow up and chop it short. You’ll remember her swaying on the carrick-a-rede bridge when you see pictures of her driving a tank. Her hair can’t blow under her helmet.
One bridge I wouldn’t mention is that over the gorge, how the sound changed as the wheels hit unsupported asphalt, the slight pitch change that marked our trip to get supplies back in March.
If my younger self appeared at my door today, would I mention the pandemic at all?
Before I broke her heart with news of the world, I would tell her how much of it she will see in the coming decade. Of all the people she’ll kiss, how the warm lips will haunt her for far less time than she thinks. I want to tell her about laughing until her cheeks twitch. That people will recognize her someday. And her dreams are real.
And Mom and Dad will never disconnect the landline.
If I had enough time, I would teach her things, too; Like how to look at the map of lines in the faces of strangers and decipher if they are from bitterness or joy. This one is important.
Probably this would bring us to the part where I’m obligated to share the bad things. I owe it to my youthful self — to prepare her, to protect her — but how do I tell her that she will get old? Pets will die when she isn’t home. Harder still, I’ll have to tell her she will forget to call her grandfather. He will die the next day.
And if I can’t manage to get those acrid truths out, then how can I expect to tell her about the state of the world?
In my abstract idea of an adult me, did I think I would be stronger? I hope not. I don’t want to disappoint.
But I am weak. In this moment, at least. I am too weak to tell her the full truth.
I remember how scary it was to think about an unimaginable future. Adulthood seemed a dream in adolescence. I couldn’t even picture myself in my twenties. Looking back this is quite humorous as I look exactly the same (haircut and all). I couldn’t imagine the future until I had reached it, but when I did, it was beautiful.
I don’t want to take that away, so if we were to meet, I would leave the story here: Finally you will reach a point where the path is laid before you. You will be happy.
That’s the ending she deserves. She can find out about the storm on her own. Why speak of the clouds before they roll in?
My name is Hannah McDonald and I am a writer and journalist living in Erie, Pennsylvania. My work mainly consists of nonfiction writing and creative essays. I'm a recent graduate of Edinboro University's Bachelor's of Arts in Journalism, but ten years ago, I was just a fifth-grader who knew only that she loved books and being outside. In the last decade — though especially in the last three months — I've stepped into my passion as not only a reader, but a writer. I currently work freelance for state and city newspapers and am in production of an independent literary journal for the Great Lakes region.
Disclaimer: Headshot taken pre-COVID(-induced bangs)