Hair? Cut.

My hair and I have been engaged in a screaming death-match since I was five years old. You know how it goes, or if you don’t, you’re one of those people with hair that actually acknowledges the efficacy of hairspray or gel. It doesn’t seem to matter whether my hair is short, long, or of middling length. It does precisely what it feels like doing, and there’s not a person or industrial-strength hair product that will change its mind.

There’s a part of me that can’t blame it. If you look at my baby pictures, I have this fairly blond, curly hair that’s wispy thin and adorable. It darkens as I get a little older, but it still looks like this fine, soft stuff that, as I approach five, hangs halfway down my back. I don’t know if my mom was borrowing from the Samson-like notion that there is power in never cutting a child’s hair, but I do think of those pictures as the days when “no razor had touched” my head.

And then, there were safety scissors. I can still see them clearly in my mind, even though I’ve managed to block out the horrors I inflicted upon my head with their plastic-encase blades. They were green and white and had an imprint of a heart at the place where the blades crossed. I also remember being absolutely fascinated by the sound of cutting things. There was something so satisfying about the clean schwick, shcwick noise they made cutting paper, the thinner the better. If I had to guess what was running through my five-year-old brain, I would say that it was the search for a cooler cutting sound that eventually led me to take the scissors to my own long, fine hair.

Apparently the sound captured my attention and made me crave more of the sound, because I wielded the scissors against the baby curls of two of my younger sisters. This story is famous in my family—Mom didn’t even notice the difference until she found the pile of curls I hid behind the bed, and no hairdresser could fix the awful mess I’d made of our hair. Especially my own.

My hair, you see, took my joyful mutilations as a declaration of war. It grew out thicker and browner and more unruly. Only skull-crushing braids could control it, and they had to be endured. One day of loose hair at school was all it took for any lice in the classroom to gleefully migrate to my scalp and plunge my mother into the soul-sucking task of delousing four girls. One year, my hair enticed the lice to my head so many times that Mom ended up having my hair cut in layers, a blow which my hair responded to by making me look like a frizzed-out leftover from the early eighties.

Which would have been cool, if it hadn’t been the nineties. During that phase, I became emotionally dependent on french barrettes. They were the only trick that could make my hair look even partly normal. I was just old enough that my appearance had started to matter to me, and the backlash of that haircut still haunts my deliberations about whether or not to cut my hair. I’ll call Mom and ask her what she thinks about this style or that, she’ll say “oh, Melissa, layers do not look good on you, honey,” and we’ll share a silent moment of horrified remembrance.

I have learned that not all layers are the same, thankfully, and have slowly grown bolder about doing things with my hair. After the layers-disaster, I grew my hair out for years and year. I cut it to shoulder length once or twice towards the end of high school…and cried like a baby at the loss in volume of my lifelong nemesis both times. In college I made the discovery that my hair is actually somewhat curly when I treat it right and horrified my mother by throwing away both my hairbrush and shampoo, although I can only get away with this when my hair is chin-length or shorter, I’ve found.

If you’ve been a reader since at least June 21 (S.O.S.A.D.), you might have noticed that my hair has recently undergone a drastic change. It is now as short (see here) as it has ever been since my infant head grew it out many years ago. This was a decision inspired by the fact that our apartment was specifically designed to broil food during the summer and my hair, typically, was doing its best to suffocate me in the middle of the night. So I hacked it off.

I find that I am most pleased with the hair cut when I haven’t bothered to wash my hair for several days—the build-up of hair oil brings out the curl, or something. The problem is that I play with my hair a lot (a habit left from the days when my hair and I were still best friends), and I can’t stand the feeling of dirty hair. So most of the time I walk around looked like an gel-less Elvis. As it starts to grow back just a little, I also find myself looking in the mirror and fearing that my hair will take its revenge this time by growing out into a mullet.

The worse thing is that hair is technically an amalgamation of cells that are already dead, but still in motion. That’s right. My nemesis, my enemy whose existence is both inimical and essential to my sense of self, is a horde of tiny zombies. Maybe I should try a cricket bat instead of a comb…

  • http://groovybell.blogspot.com/ Groovyoldlady

    My hair brings about different horrors than yours (more the ever coveted straight, stringy, dowdy look), but it too, hates me. Good hair days are rare and now, Ken, (aka “Mulletman”) wants me to grow my bangs out. OH THE AGONY!

  • Brenda

    When I was 4…about 60 years ago….my mother decided to give my ultra straight, super thin wisps of hair a permanent. I truly believe that, in those days permanent solution was pure ammonia..perhaps with a splash of battery acid.
    After about 4 hours of sitting with this mixture on my hair, eyes watering from the fumes and lightheaded, I emerged with a limp shag rug attached to my scalp.
    I remember my mother’s surly, muttered epitaphs as she tried to comb it out….before my father got home. She finally gave up and I don’t think my hair was combed for about 4 months. And of course there was the lingering aroma which inspired my brothers to tactfully refer to me as Ammo Head.
    I loved your blog. I think it will inspire every woman in the nation to relate a ‘worst hair day’ memory. We all have them.

  • Mom

    You sure did bring back memories; but to correct your memory, I was puzzled all day knowing something was different with you, then while I was putting clean sheets on your bed, it dawned on me and I asked you if you cut your hair. You said yes, and when I asked you where the hair was you pointed to the other side of your bed. I was seconds away from discovering it on my own. And I remember how horrified I was to see that there was no way it was just your hair!!! Poor Rachel, it took her three years to grow what little she had!! :( Ahhh, sweet memories!!
    So inquiring minds want to know, do you still love the sound of scissors cutting things?

  • Auntie Ellen

    Oh, Melissa, of course I was not there to witness it fist-hand, but even I remember the story of you cutting your hair. I have to say, this is the first time I heard it from you. I do like your new haircut, and it must be so much cooler than it was long.

  • Cho

    Yeah, well. My hair’s revenge for you cutting it all off was to grow out all thick and crazy frizzy for 18 or so years until you and your roommate convinced me to chop it all off. The revenge part is that I now look way cooler than you without even trying. My hair obviously plotted this revenge for a long, long time. Half the genius of being an evil genius is the patience it takes. Love you sister!

  • Melissa Walshe

    Oh, I love this story! I think we all do have those days…it’s comforting to hear others. :)

  • Grammy

    Enjoy all your hair while you have it. At my age it is getting thinner and thinner and who knows if I’ll have any left by the time I exit this world. I also remember one Thanksgiving when you came to visit and your Mom discover lice on one of you. What a time we had stripping beds and trying to get a big dinner ready!