In the summer of 2013, I embarked on a solo backpacking adventure across Northern Michigan. With no one to talk to along the way, my journal became a powerful and necessary companion. I wrote journal nearly every day, sometimes many times a day, to capture the events and insights of my time on the trail […]
I am a hypocrite. I own thickening shampoo and I have no hair. I own prenatal vitamins and a stash of condoms. I looked like Jackie O all day and now, a bit more like an Antifa protestor or a Neonazi. I want love so much I might throw it all away. I never knew the true color of my hair until I saw it on my bathroom floor.
The first time I wanted to shave my head was in 2012. I was about to be divorced and I felt an intense urgency to overcome my endless battle with an eating disorder. Since I couldn’t seem to get directly at the internal problem, I wondered if I could provoke them into changing by altering something external. I was stuck in the cycle where every morning I hoped for change and, every day (or slightly later time that morning), I fucked it up. Shaving my head felt like a tangible way, a true way, to make the next tomorrow different from all the other worthless tomorrows I had so sincerely hoped would begin my new life. Maybe the jolt of shame, empowerment, or drama would by my chaperone through the days to come with a constant reminder of the New Me and that she want not that kind of girl. Shaving also appealed to me as a sure-fire way to quit the habit of picking my hair, which has stayed with me since High School. It drives people crazy when they see it, and I really can’t stop. I also wanted to be brave. I wanted to detach myself from attractiveness or conventional forms of beauty. I wanted to show up in the world for me, not for men to think I look cute. I wanted to take my life into my own hands and steer it in a new direction. But I didn’t go through with it. I was too afraid.
About 5 years later, around the same time of year, I watched myself return back in that stuck place and I was miserable about it. The idea of shaving my head came back. This time, I really planned to do it. I even let my sister cut my hair and give me experimental bangs since I thought it would all be gone anyway. I imagined again the rebirth of a new way of living, bald as I had been the first days of my life. After a week of build-up, I discovered that I didn’t actually want to shave my head. That doing so would require me to take more from myself than I was willing to give. That it would be best not to create a trauma that I would then have to recover from. I let the goofy bangs stay and they eventually grew out.
Fast-forward to November 2020. I haven’t thought about that particular daydream in quite awhile. Sometimes I remember it when I notice the piles of plucked hair on the floor below my desk. Add that to the list of things I still do that I wish I didn’t. And then came one more. I realized that I was stuck in my relationship, too.
This was a big one. Remember how I got divorced all those years ago? Well I have come to think of that as a gift that my life gave me. A second chance to find a love that didn’t require me to make myself smaller than I am and can be and want to be. A chance to have a life so much bigger and more honest than what I would have had otherwise. I am ten hundred thousand happy steps down the road of that life, and yet I know well my capacity for stuckness. And it is poison to me. I revolt against it. I rise up. I am a revolutionary against the complacent regime. As is so often the case, the revelation came in the form of an intriguing love interest who turned me almost instantly from a woman pining for her boyfriend to propose into a vixen scheming her escape.
The most potent aspect of this man’s appeal was the glaring fact that I was about to fuck it all up again. Why rush to make a vow when I was living a relationship steeped in fear? I was afraid to be myself. To live a big life. I was settling for the story of our past over the possibility of an amazing life to come. The terror of this realization shook my to my core. I thought about ending my relationship right then and there. I thought about leaving the man I love for the new person who so eloquently reminding me of those lessons I learned 8 years before. But I found that I couldn’t end it just like that. I have loved this man for so long, I have seen our future with such certainty. It wasn’t so easy.
In the absence of clarity, time can do wonders. I told both men that I needed to quarantine and I imposed upon myself a two-week period in which to figure out what I wanted and how to get un-stuck. The first day of this reprieve just happened to be November 3, election day. I worked the polls from 6am to 9:30pm dressed like a cute politician-lady, went home, played half a game of soccer, grabbed a beer with my fellow poll workers, and strolled the aisles of CVS until I had found myself a nice moisturizer, an electric toothbruth, and a men’s shaving kit with an electric razor. It was on.
Back home, I took out my new toy and wondered if I would actually go through with it. I sat myself on the floor of my bedroom and prayed to figure out just what was in my heart. Did I want to do it? Would it be a trauma or a triumph? Can I afford to give whatever this will take? I recorded a little video to myself to document what I learned in that prayer and it felt really good. I knew I would likely have moments of regret, but I also know that, overall, I would be glad in the long run that I did it. I loved the idea that even if it turns out to be a mistake, I am the only one who will suffer. I am the only one who has to accept the terms. I am afraid, but I want to be someone who does the things she’s scared of. “I can’t wait to get free” is the last thing I said.
I turned on some music. I turned on the buzzer. I looked at myself. I wonder if I’ll do it? No pressure. But I lifted the buzzer to the space just above my left ear and let it connect with my skin. Here we go.
My favorite moment was when I found I was grinning at myself. I like you. “You’re fun to hang out with.” That’s how it felt.
I discovered a scar, some moles I didn’t know about, and even a Stork’s bite birthmark. I learned the shape of my head. It looked so small, felt small, too. I discovered my hairline, the shape of my ears. I showered and went to bed with all the hair still lying on the floor of the bathroom. When I woke up hours later to pee, the light from the full moon was casting onto the tile floor, perfectly framing the locks of hair that I had just cut. I was waiting to feel ashamed or ugly or remorseful but it never came. I started to believe that was nothing tragic about this.
All that first week, the country waited for the election results to come in. I was not a nervous wreck. I had a weird sense of peace and empowerment. I was patient. I could not stop singing the song “I Can Change” by Lake Street Dive. I was willing change into whichever corners of my life needed it. There were so many. I cleaned my house, reorganized furniture, tackled renovation projects that I have ignored for years on end. I practiced greater and greater levels of patience in my work, sending kindness rather than anxiety through the phone lines. I reached a matter-of-fact stance with respect to my relationship. I did not wish for one outcome, or pray that I would get what I wanted, I focused on trying to listen to what was right rather than writing the script. I became fully ready to hurt feelings and take risks if my heart told me it was the right thing. I would not be beholden to the way things were just because. The trappings of my passive acquiescence to life were no more inherently good than the length of my hair, and I owed it nothing.
Many people don’t get to choose when they go bald. Hormones or cancer cells or genetics make that decision for them. It is not always an act of volition and self will. But on my head, hair grows. It grows and grows. Having hair is the baseline. Having none can only be the result of deliberate action. Its absence is the chaperone to my every moment these days, a reminder of the freedom, power, and knowledge that I have the power to change my life. So many things I cannot change. The outcome of the election. What the president will decide to do with the results of the election. The mistakes of yesterday. What my partner will decide to do with this time. But so many things I can. I can cut my hair. I can chose what color to paint on the walls that surround me. I can speak truth and build love and cultivate trust. Maybe I am not a hypocrite. Maybe, instead I am someone with some choices to make, who is learning what she wants, and how to make them.
I can change
I can change
I can change
I can still change.
I can still change.