December, 2006, a few days before Christmas
It was past nine in the evening and the only salon still open at the time was a small hole-in-a-wall establishment somewhere in Timog. The glass doors were locked but the lights were still open. I knocked tentatively, repeatedly, until a young lady opened the door. I asked if I could still be accommodated for the night. “Just a haircut,” I pleaded. The young lady must have seen the streaks of tears in my cheeks, the red, stuffy nose, and my altogether disheveled appearance. In an act of kindness I will forever be grateful for, she let me in.
The stylist, the last one on duty as everyone else had gone home, sat me down and listened patiently to my woes. I asked him to “please, can you just cut everything off?” and he nodded seriously while he tried to comb out the many tangles in my hair. I kept crying while I talked, trying to explain to him why, my endless chatter punctuated by large sobs.
As he combed and parted my hair, I heard him gasp a few times, apparently shaken by what he saw. In his kindest voice, he told me that he had discovered two large irregularly-shaped patches of baldness. There were also smaller patches scattered here and there. At that moment, I would have shaved my head if I could but he gently dissuaded me and asked that I trust him to do what he could. He would cut it as short as possible, he promised, but he will do his best to cover up the baldness with some ingenious layering. I could only nod in relief.
Thirty minutes later, my once-almost-waist-length hair was gone, replaced by a short, stylish layered bob. I ran my fingers through my scalp; it was still tender and heavily bruised, but already it felt loads lighter. I thanked the stylist, gave him a grateful tip, and walked off into the night. I never saw him again as the salon closed a little after that. I don’t even remember the name of the salon anymore.
I’ve always had long hair, growing up. I got my first haircut only in seventh grade, when it was shortened to mid-back length. I kept that length all throughout high school. In junior year, my husband-then-classmate sat behind me in most classes, and sometimes, he would get caught in the swirl and whip of my long hair. He almost always asked “What’s your shampoo?” to which I always replied, “Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific.”
I’ve had short hair only three times in my life. The first time I cut my hair short, it was an act of emotional self-injury after a devastating break-up with my high school boyfriend. (Long, messy story, but he dumped me twice, so you can understand the despondence then.)
The second time was done for practicality. Three months after giving birth to my first born child, I needed emergency surgery and cutting my hair short was simply a necessary step to ease my life of more concerns. (Alex and A♥ have a funny picture which I call “Last of the Mohicans.” My husband took the cut lengths of hair I brought home and fashioned them over their heads.)
The third time was an act of desperation. After weeks of relentless hair pulling, I was worn out and in pain. My neck hurt constantly. My scalp was a battlefield of sores and bruises, even of teeth marks. The hair, once the only thing I thought was beautiful about me, had to go on that lonely night of December 2006.
I kept my hair short for years after that, never daring to go beyond shoulder length lest I invited more hair pulling. It was easy because after 2006, the strands of my hair slowly became baby thin fine and broke easily. It also grew so slowly that I never had to go regularly for trims. In 2009, the problem with my neck began and short hair was a fuss-free solution. In 2011, when Alphonse got sick again, I managed to keep my hair at shoulder length but even those few extra inches felt like I was waving a red flag to a bull. My head and hair incurred his wrath again.
I write about hair because a “friend” in Facebook sent me a message right after I posted a picture of my hair after a visit to the salon recently. She asked, rather peeved, “What’s the big deal with your hair????” She ended her message with a sad face.
I don’t think I owe that particular person an explanation but I felt hurt by her inability to appreciate my happiness. As such, I wrote this, with the end thought of letting my other friends know why that particular person is no longer a “friend”.
This IS the big deal about my hair: My hair is a reflection of peace and calm in our lives. It means days and weeks and months of being free from hair pulling. It means I don’t have wounds in my head or teeth embedded in it. It means not picking up clumps of tangled hair, torn from the roots. It means I don’t have bald spots. Best of all, it means Alphonse is happy, or happier than of late, knock on wood and God willing always. That it has finally grown past shoulder length felt like enough reason to celebrate. And although I don’t post selfies as a rule, that one time, I simply had to let people in on the joy.
I don’t like parading my face on Facebook and unless I am with family and friends, I don’t really like photographs of myself. But that afternoon, after a visit to the salon with marvelous results, I remembered how it was to feel beautiful, even if only for a while.
Unless you’ve lived my life and walked in my shoes, you’ll never understand what this simple joy means to me. It may seem petty and trivial to some but this is a gift. It’s a luxury. Just please, let me have my moment to savor it to the fullest before it slips out of my grasp again.