Sitting in the cutting chair
She reached behind me and weighed matters with a quick twist of her arm. "Are you absolutely sure about this? That's pretty drastic…" The feel of the weight coming off my shoulders was dizzying, powerful. Up until that point I had never considered it to be a burden; it was something to be tucked up and away with elastic bands or caps, or carefully restrained with a bow.
I was seventeen, and absolutely certain. "Cut it.""But it's…beautiful. You're absolutely certain you want me to do this? It will take you years to grow this back."
As she spoke, I took my glasses off and tucked them under the plastic robelike drape they make you wear (to protect your clothes from rogue hairs) while sitting in the cutting chairs. Without my glasses, I was blind—and had to trust. Trust felt sticky and warm, like the back of my neck, which was rapidly beginning to adhere to the nonporous plastic drape.
I had threatened to do this for many, many years, and today was going to be the day. I was, after all, seventeen, and absolutely certain. "I have the fastest-growing hair you've ever seen. Between a half-inch and an inch every month. Don't worry; if I hate it, I'll just grow it back."
The blurry outline in the mirror, the one that vaguely resembled my hairdresser, gestured wildly in the mirror to her co-workers. "Can you believe this? She wants to cut all this off! Where in the world do I start?"
Someone from the back yelled, "Pin the top two-thirds up on the top of her head, and cut it just a bit longer than what she wants. Then start letting the rest of her hair down, a chunk at a time, and cut it that way. By the time you even it all up, it'll be where she wants it."
She leaned in closer to me and said, sotto voce, "How short?" as she cleaned her scissors.
I raised my right arm to my neck and mimicked a beheading motion, level with my chin. "Right to the chin."
As over a foot of hair came off, I could literally feel my head gradually unbalancing and then righting itself as the weight of my hair changed. Then, with a whisk of the drape and a quick brush-down of my neck, the deed was done. By most standards of the Western world, I still had very long hair; for me, though, it was extremely short.
I loved it. Until I realized I couldn't pin it up in a ponytail, that is.
Thus began the cycle. My hair would grow, and grow, until I finally got tired of its heft and length, and then, a year or so later, I would have it all chopped off. It would then be another year before I saw another hairstylist, who would then perform the same radical surgery upon my hair.
As of this summer, it will have been two years since my last shearing. The last one was shorter than usual. As I stood in the shower tonight I realized that my hair is now a hand's-span away from my waist.
Another two or three months, and it—that strange combination of not-red and not-blond, as well as not-spiral-curls but not-straight—will be the longest it's ever been.
I looked in the mirror tonight, while combing it out, and wondered how long I'm going to let it get this time. It's not bothering me now, but I know that there will come a day, as those days have come in the past, where I look in the mirror, nod, and say, "It's time."
On those days I announce to no one what I'm planning on doing. I just swoop into a hair salon, unclip my hair, no longer seventeen but still absolutely certain, and say,