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A farewell letter to my hair

Dear hair,

Now that you are (mostly) gone it seemed appropriate to say a few words, to remember the good times we had and to rehash how it all ended.

Although you have tormented me more often than you have been kind I have really learned to love you over the last 5 years. I think I just finally came to understand the kind of care you really deserved. I started getting you cut more than once a year which was a real revelation. I  found an amazing stylist who always knew what to do with you (shout out to Camden at Bang on U Street).  I built up an arsenal to tame you when you wanted to get out of control. And eventually, I found ways to wear you anyway I wanted: curly, wavy or straight. You were long and lovely and I almost always enjoyed your company.

I haven’t always loved you this much. Sadly, when we first began our relationship together I was a child in the 80s and you were thin, straight and completely lacking in body or texture. Had it been another era you might have been more appreciated but the 80s just could not tolerate your lack of ambition. As it was you were curled, twisted and cut to no avail. Desperate times called for desperate measures and I eventually had to get you permed. My side ponytail finally got the oomph it deserved and you finally made me proud.

Eventually I stopped perming you but by that time you had learned your lesson anyway. By my mid-teens you had become wavy and thick all on your own and once again, I had no idea what to do with you. You spent much of high school in a ponytail with some pretty sweet fringe (or BANGS as we called them back then). I couldn’t really afford regular haircuts until my mid-20s so you were often at some awkward stage of growing out. I did learn about the virtues of the side-swept bang and the diffuser during this period so it wasn’t all for not.

At my wedding you were in beautiful curls, cascading down my back. You were lovely. Three weeks later I chopped you shorter than I ever had before and boy was it liberating. I spent the next few years, including a 6 month stint on an island in the South Pacific, spending very little time thinking about you. But as you grew I came to enjoy our company more and more so I let you keep going.

Hair

Then I got cancer. Of course you were one of the first things I considered as I thought about my cancer journey so I began making preparations early on. I went on to trusty-old Etsy and bought myself some head wraps (from here) and some dangly earrings (from here). I figured if I had to live without you at least I could embrace it and dress it up a bit.

The next thing I did was cut you short. This was hard. I didn’t want to do it but it felt like the right thing to do. I called it my emotional stepping stone. Going from super long to bald felt really severe so this would help me adjust. I was sad the day I went into the salon and was nervous coming out but I quickly fell in love with my new short do. You still hadn’t started falling out so I got a solid week to enjoy the new cut and by the end of the week I was wondering if I would ever allow you to grow past my chin again.

Then you started to make your exit. It didn’t happen all at once. It wasn’t in patches or clumps (thank goodness). I didn’t wake up to hair all over my pillow or anything. It just went from 1 or 2 strands when I ran my fingers through you to a half-dozen consistently. One evening I realized that I would have to cut you off soon. I told Andrew tearfully that the time was near. He also got sad. I was afraid of what I would feel like without you. I was afraid of how other people would feel about me without you. In many ways I had been waiting for this day because I would finally have an outward sign of my body’s inward struggle. I felt like this would make it easier when strangers didn’t understand why I was grumpy, or tired, or holding my scarf over my face while the woman next to me on the bus coughed up a lung (I have CANCER and NO immune system lady!). But I was still afraid.

I woke up in the middle of the night that night and couldn’t get back to sleep. I kept pulling on you to make sure I wasn’t just imagining it and you kept caving to the pressure, reminding me that this was real. Somewhere around 5 am I decided you had to go. And then, instead of getting sad, I just got excited. Not that I wanted to see you go but making the decision somehow made it easier to deal with. Part of the stress was just not knowing when “it” would happen. I waited not so patiently until Andrew woke up and said, “Good morning! I need you to do me a favor. I need you to shave my head.” This morning? Yes, this morning. Like right now? Yes, like right now.

Andrew gathered the supplies and I tried to determine if the moment needed any more pomp and circumstance. I decided it didn’t. No pictures. No videos. No mid-buzz cut selfies. Just me, my mane and my man. Andrew and I giggled the whole way through. He first cut you off with scissors in what could easily be called the hackiest hack job of all time. Combined with the bags under my eyes I looked like I’d just escaped a mental institution. He then gave me a buzz cut and at the end you were (mostly) gone. I was surprised at how much I liked it.  I looked like a bad ass. It helps tremendously that I just happen to have a perfectly round head (if I do say so myself). I took a shower and put some make up and snapped this photo.

I still surprise myself when I walk by a mirror. I think I still imagine myself as someone with hair.  But the woman I see looking back at me is totally different from the one I knew with hair. This woman is a fighter. She doesn’t care so much what people think. She’s not trying to fit into any box. She isn’t trying to hide anything. She is strong but she is vulnerable and that makes her even stronger. She is a more authentic version of herself.

When you are totally gone, which I think will be very soon, I know I will miss my buzz cut, in the same way that I have missed all of the previous versions of my hair in the last few weeks (when it was short I missed it long, when it was buzzed I missed it short…). But I also know it won’t be that bad as none of the progressive stages have been as bad as I thought.

Life without you is definitely different, but it’s not worse. In fact, it might be better. I have realized that you were a tool I used to fit into the world in a certain way, like keys into a special club. I thought losing you would mean losing a piece of myself. But I am now standing alone, without you and without the keys, in a space that is all mine and it is much, much easier to find myself here.

All my love,

Katie

P.S. Eyebrows and eyelashes: I don’t have a great deal of interest in channeling Ziggy Stardust anytime soon so you are welcome to stick around for as long as you want. Hair everywhere else: you are free to go.