Friday, June 5, 2015

hair calendar

I reject the hair calendar.

When cancer treatment takes your hair, you have this naked pate that sticks to leather recliners and is always cold; you have no eyebrows or lashes to protect your eyes from light and dust; hair from other body locations falls out and makes you think alien sightings are actually time-traveling cancer patients from the near future who accidentally end up in the desert. When hair starts to grow up, the natural inclination for many is to cherish it, leave it be, and treat it nice. I do not enjoy having leg or armpit hair for tactile, personal reasons, but I left it there for six good months just because I was so happy it was back. But it is the hair growing off my head again that is treated with reverence.

I have trimmed my hair twice at particularly awkward stages of growth, reducing the funny duck tale flip in the back once and trimming a quarter inch of stringy wisps another time. Otherwise, my hair has been what it was for me in my days of purple liberty spikes and other such hairstyles: an outward expression of my internal life. This time, it's not a brightly-colored, glue-hardened punk situation, but a mop of soft, brown curls that thin out a little around my cowlick. Like so many of my peers, I am proud of my new hair and its significance as an easy way to mark time after treatment. I want to grow it long again, make use of my Pintrest-level braiding skills, have beachy mermaid hair. I know plenty of women who don't cut their post-chemo grow-out and I have been among them, giddily marking such milestones as "I can't see my scalp" and "I can kind of get my hair in pigtails," feeling like this keratin output is like a victory calendar. How long has it been since remission? This many inches of mane.

When I got to "it finally goes in a ponytail if I pin all these front pieces back," I realized I hated the way my hair looked and felt. The front was jaw-length and the back was brushing the nape of my neck. New hairs filling in at scalp level left the ends looking thin. I was french braiding all my hair into a ponytail that looked like an old paintbrush just to get the limp fringe in the back from being an annoying, sweaty mess at work. My boyfriend playfully called it a "fashion mullet." Finally, I woke up the other morning and the internal sound of "I don't want to look like this!" won out over the little voice that says, "I have to cherish every inch of hair I have because remember how great it felt when it started to grow back?" I was standing at the bathroom mirror, pinning and pulling and sweeping my hair into place and was overcome with irritation that even though I am TWENTY months into remission, cancer is getting a say in my decision making. The hair calendar is wonderful for a lot of people, but I can't do it anymore. I'm tired of cancer's slimy fingers getting to decide how I look on the outside, so I cut two inches off the back of my hair to make it even with the front and it looks fucking adorable.

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