I used to have all this hair, back when I didn’t like looking at the future, back when everything was super new and fresh like cold wind on bleeding acne. I liked to wash my hair and condition it so it would be soft and sleek, and I’d spent the day patting it and digging my fingers in and just kinda humming happily to myself. I didn’t brush my hair, so it looked like maybe I had curls. A hairdresser once told me I had fine hair, which for many years made me believe I’d go bald in my mid-twenties like my dad or my uncles or my cousins. But then we went to a wedding and all the men in the family booed me during a family photo because amongst all the sleek bald heads there was me, a weird puff of blonde hair that’s forgotten how to be blonde, a big mass of something non-descript like ‘light brown’ or ‘tan’. If I were the best friend of the protagonist in a YA dystopian novel, my hair would be described as ‘mousy’, but it would be ok because I’d be really smart and supportive. But irl I am not very smart or supportive, which is why I’m glad the world is not a YA dystopia. But my hair is mousy.
I did three things when I escaped high school and went to university 1. I bought some Doc Marten boots, mostly because of 90s music videos. 2. I went to an op shop and bought a tiny woman’s tshirt which said ‘Kansas’ on it, which really defined my bird like collarbones and empty stomach cavity , and 3. I grew my hair as long as I could, into a big tangled mess.
I was studying writing, and people stood in front of me and said things like ‘yes, you will be very good at sentence construction, but be aware that this will end in three years and you will have no job, the world does not need you, be careful, you tiny fools, beware.’
But every day I woke up, tangled in the soft chaos of my hair and the smooth mess of my life, and I let it all grow, not really knowing why.
My mother started giving me sidelong looks – started making suggestions before family birthdays that maybe I should get a trim. She knew that she was no longer the person whose job it was to keep my hair untangled and in order, but that didn’t stop her from wanting me to do it.
I woke up one morning and a hair from my fringe had gotten stuck under my eyelid – when I vaguely pulled it, I felt a tugging sensation behind my eyeball, and realised in my sleep, the hair had swam through the water in my eye, creeping towards the brain.
Things were no longer comfortable and smooth inside my hair. I found it hard to see when I drove the family car. I found peanut butter left over from breakfast on my forehead one night. But like so many things in that fresh, raw time, I had no idea how to begin untangling problems, where the start point was. And then one day at university, I found a campus hairdresser near the bar. Aha, I thought. They cut hair. They cut hair for small money. My jobs at that point were creating mazes for children for $40 a week and once I took my clothes off for a life drawing class, where all the women complained there wasn’t enough of me to draw.
That night, after my cheap haircut, I bought a bottle of cheap bourbon and invited myself around to a big share house full of friends. I sat on their floor drinking from the bottle, while everyone looked at my hair and laughed a lot, because I had the pert bob of a woman who was making a sea change in her early fifties, because I had the straight bangs and triangular flange of Adam before he turned into He-Man.
After this, I waited even longer to cut my hair again, not wanting to spend another month looking like an ancient roman lesbian. People in my degree were dropping like flies, moving into commerce degrees or advertising or having heart attacks, and my mum’s friends kept asking if I was going to intern at a newspaper, not really getting that we spent our days sitting around on the grass with our stoned lecturer talking about Bulgakov.
I was getting anxious, and wondered what would happen in a year when I had to leave this delightful mess and be a real person. Where would me and my hair go? I started looking into hairdressers’ windows when I walked past, trying to decide if I could sit down with them and say ‘I don’t know what to do, what would you suggest?’
And then one night, after weeks of ignoring my hair by drinking cheap jugs of New and stealing cheese from poetry readings, I woke up at 2am, standing in my bathroom with the light off, facing a dark mirror, naked except for unlaced doc martens on my feet. I groggily switched the light on, and discovered my Swiss Army knife in one hand and my entire, crudely hacked off fringe in the other. Sleepwalking was not an uncommon thing for me, but somnolent-barber work was. I went back to bed.
In the morning, I discovered that after a shower I looked exactly like riff-raff from the rocky horror picture show. I called up my friend anna and asked her what to do. She laughed at me. I called up my friend angela, and asked her what to do. She laughed at me. I wandered into the suburbs and walked into the first hairdresser I could find.
‘Geez love, what happened here?’ Asked a friendly looking woman with very hard looking hair.
‘I let my grandma cut my hair’ I riffed, suddenly aware of the dangers of describing my nocturnal knife habits. ‘It wasn’t a good idea… Because she’s blind. Completely blind.’
Like everything in my life now, I take calm pleasure when things are neat and controllable. When I go to my barber each month and get things clipped and smoothed and trimmed, I like to remember how easy it would be for it to all go to shit again.