Today I went for a haircut, the first one I've had in more than 4 months.
Several months ago, I checked into a mental hospital for an eating disorder. I was down to about half of my healthy body weight, and my hair showed it. Before I left, one of the other patients made a comment about the transformation my hair showed. We had both checked in at about the same time, and noticed the change. At the hospital, physical contact of any kind is expressly prohibited between people. Even handshakes are frowned upon. Even so, patients will sometimes hug each other, while staff yell at them and tell them to stop.
She asked if she could touch my hair, out of curiosity. I said it was ok, and she cautiously approached with her hand, gracing its furthest extent. Smiling slightly, she said 'it's like a duck.' Pausing for a moment and pressing it down a bit, she described it again. 'Your hair is finally growing back.' comparing it to what she'd seen the first time when I checked in.
Today, the stylist was friendly and engaging as she usually is. I like going to hair cuttery, since its close, fast and cheap. Even the $16 they charge for a haircut is low by today's standards. I went online and searched for their phone number, to call and make sure they would be open before I biked over. The review said that they were one of the worst someone had ever seen. They said that they were fast and sloppy, and didn’t check their work and just wanted to kick people out the door. How dare someone speak poorly of the hair cuttery! They provide everything I need. My goal isn’t to impress people with a presidential-grade haircut. I only ask to get my hair shortened enough to pass as decent, so I’ll be able to wait a while before getting another one. For this, I usually give an adequate tip.
A coworker once advised me on what types of stylists give the best haircut. A married man, he said with the highest level of confidence, that 'gay men always give the best haircuts. I had the best haircut of my life from a gay man. You'll never go wrong with them. But watch out for Asian women.”
Honestly, I haven't analyzed my haircuts enough to form a reasoned opinion on either. I'm generally pleased with most of my haircuts and can't recall a single bad haircut.
She asked me what type of haircut I wanted, and prefaced her question by inquiring how I usually style my hair.
'Do you use gel?'
'Yes, sometimes. But I usually just comb it back.' I didn’t want to set myself up for any sales pitch of an overpriced goo that had been sitting on a shelf for years and begging for someone to buy it. One pair of bottles with stylish understated lettering sold for $30. Yikes! The bottles offered a deal at 2 for $30, but I knew that I could get about the same volume of hair detergent for around $3 if I bought 3 bottles of dollar-store shampoo. It's basically the same stuff that appears in both laundry detergent and dish washing soap. Sodium lauryl sulfate. Anionic and ionic surfactants. Non-phosphate biodegradable detergents. Earth-friendly dirt scrubbers. A tall bottle of some exotic alcoholic drink, displayed proudly in the liquor store a few doors down probably had the same price tag. And I wasn’t about to pay the that price for either one.
She started combing my hair into position for cutting, explaining gently that she was going to use the clippers. In the way she spoke, it was as if she meant to warn me or give a gentle warning of something that might scare me. After a few strokes of the comb, she switched gears and said that she'd have to wash my hair before proceeding. She asked whether I used a relaxer. I'd never heard of that term as applied to hair styling, and answered that I hadn't. She explained that my hair was very thin and damaged at its tips, and that chemicals of that type usually caused the type of damage she saw in my hair.
Then I realized what she was seeing. Since I hadn't had a haircut since before I checked into SP, each hair on my scalp represented a time line of the damage to my body from an eating disorder. Like a geologic record in sedimentary stone, each strand would reflect my relative health. At its furthest ends would be the thin and damaged parts from my lowest point in the ED. Closer to the scalp would be my now relatively healthy condition, reflected by resilient strands that form a permanent wave. Somewhere between, there must have been some prominent transition, like the KT boundary layer of an asteroid strike from millions of years past.
As she sheared off profiles of history representing what felt like geologic ages I spent in the hospital, I considered telling her all of this. How would she react? Would she be repulsed at realizing that the hair she was handling represented a physical symptom of a mental disorder? Or would she allow it to pass like so much barber shop banter? Ever since I can remember, I have never been a frequent visitor to hair salons. Even though she had cut my hair before, even when I was many pounds lighter, she probably wouldn't remember me from back then. There would have been too many other customers, too many other shaggy heads requesting quick cleanups. Still, I held back. Thank you, barber shop lady. It's good to be back.