Solo with the braids used to get busy…with all the humility in the world, I can assure those who knew Chad Milner throughout the first decade of the aughts would tell you the previous statement is a fact. This is the name I am referred to with affection by those who were well acquainted with the kid who viewed school as a side-hustle. Over the past couple of weeks, I have become reacquainted with this kid.
One of my summer projects was to teach my daughter how to braid hair. I haven’t cut mine in almost two years and decided I would be the canvas Cydney practiced on. Every other week, I sat on the floor, and instructed my nine-year-old how to separate, part, and braid each small box into plaits. I told myself after the school year began, the next time Cyd gets her hair cornrowed, I would surprise her and get mine done, too.
Two weeks ago, I dropped my daughter off to school, and scheduled an appointment. As the lady began the process, it all came back. With each part, pull, and weave of my hair, I began to feel like the teenager who spent every other Sunday afternoon with his grandmother in high school and Treesje in dorm rooms all over the Atlanta University Center 20 years ago.
One of my first thoughts about the hair was I am thankful in my mid-thirties, I can still get it done because I hairline hasn’t receded. As small as it may sound, this is one of my biggest fears in life.
My second reflection was how much my hair has played a major role in my identity. Over the past 20 years, I’ve done it all. From 2000-2005, I had cornrows. In 2001, my grandmother permed my hair because it was so thick, it would take her three hours for basic “straightbacks;” and I had to maintain it for years. I cut it all off at 19. Months later, I looked myself in the mirror, clean-shaven and in a suit for a business final in college and hated what I saw; I grew it back and changed my major halfway through my junior year. For the first half of my twenties, I had
dread locs which grew down my back. I cut them off December 31, 2011; after the Timile’s death, I felt it was time to change into a brand-new person and let go of all I’d carried over the years. For the past decade, I have alternated between a skin fade and tapered, curled mini-fro.
Long ago, my father told me “Everything that goes into your brain, it never leaves.” As a rebellious teenager, I did not believe his words. My childish logic refuted “If this is so, how come I forget so much information?” Every thought and emotion remain; all it takes to dislodge a well-hidden and embedded memory is the right trigger. You may have thought to yourself “I didn’t pay attention to one word, all of my years in Spanish class;” and one afternoon in Santo Domingo, you’re asked a question and responde una pregunta con fluidez.
I got my last skin fade November 2018, a little before I was let go from my last 9-5, and I haven’t cut it since. When I got the ax, I decided to bet on myself and give this full-time content creation idea a go. As I stockpiled concepts and creations, my hair and business did as well. Since I began to teach Cydney how to braid hair, I have felt my creativity kick into overdrive, and I have become reacquainted with aspects of my former self.
A few months ago, I had a conversation with my nephew. On the cusp of high school and growth at a rapid pace, I am all-too familiar with where his head is. I told him “This person you are right now, get to know him very well. Whether you share all your thoughts and feelings with me or not, I know what they are. At times you may feel or appear cool and confident, but underneath it all, you feel awkward. Get to know this version, the awkward teenager, very well…he will be with you forever and play a role in almost every real decision you make for the rest of your life.”
Underneath it all, this portion of my journey has been the words I gave to the teenager in my home. Lost in the rat race life becomes, my creativity was taken for granted. I felt like adult Peter Pan in Hook. While I never forgot the Lost Boy I was and always will be, the day-to-day routine of adulthood stifled the most important and sacred part of who I am.
Solo, Big. P., Phoenix, Solomon, all the varied ways my longtime friends still call me used to get busy. They’re all aspects of Chad Milner, the man in his mid-thirties: the kid from Queens with the rat tail in the late 80’s and early 90’s who used to look out his window to the world for inspiration, the teenager in Long Island with the cornrows; the young adult who resided in Atlanta, Buffalo, and Virginia with the locs. All of which, their memories and stimuli have never left, even though each incarnation of the same person feel like lifetimes ago. To reattain “that feeling” again has brought on a freedom I haven’t felt since I was the awkward teenager with the braids.
Last week, I spent an afternoon throwing a football around with my nephew. We have done so on many occasions. But because my hair was braided, with each route I ran and pass I caught, I began to feel like the kid who did the same thing, the same time of day, in football practice.