the best worst haircut i've ever gotten
my hair is 3 inches longer on one side
“How short?” he asks.
“Shorter,” I say.
He pulls the ends of my wet hair to my shoulders.
“Here?” he asks.
I bring my hands to my ears and then drop them down an inch.
“An Italian bob,” I say, using the phrase I saw in a Refinery29 article.
“I have pictures,” I say, pulling out my phone. His face morphs from confusion to understanding and then to perplexed as he swipes through my screenshots.
“Vale,” he says. It’s Spanish for okay, but his tone says something else. His trendily-dyed gray hair and tan skin glisten under the pink walls of the Barcelona salon. He wipes his brow.
“I want my hair to be healthy,” I explain. “Dyeing my hair for this long completely destroyed it.”
His eyebrows raise.
“I wish you could just cut all the blonde off,” I say, reaching up to pull at the brittle ends.
He turns to grab his scissors and I face myself in the mirror. Framed in the black plastic robe, my face is pallid under the fluorescent lights.
It’s an impulsive haircut.
I called the salon this morning. They fit me in with whoever was free to see me. A hairdresser named Tony volunteered to do the cut. I don’t care who does it, I just need it.
I need it because my boyfriend, Gustavo, and I fly to Michigan for Thanksgiving in two days. The haircut has to happen before then, before I chicken out.
As I’m walking out the door, Gustavo reminds me that I’m so tired I could barely get through my yoga class that morning.
“Do you really think geting a haircut right now is a good idea?”
He has a point.
“Yes,” I say stubbornly.
“But you don’t feel well,” he says.
“I’m fine!” I say and turn on my heel out the door.
My hair is naturally brown. Not dark blonde, not strawberry blonde. Brown.
I dyed my hair blonde for the first time as a college freshman. My mom never let me color my hair so once I was at school, I asked a girl in my sorority where she got her hair done. A week later I began my transition from mouse brown to towheaded Swedish blonde.
From then, I was blonde for six years. Looking at pictures now, I can say it looked objectively good, albeit unnatural. It was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted what I thought being blonde would make me. Confident. Desirable. Beautiful.
In retrospect, I don’t know if it accomplished that.
What I do know is that I spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in a salon chair becoming someone who was nearly unrecognizable. I wanted to be the platinum-blonde sorority girl and the golden Goldman girl. To look the part was the first step in becoming it.
So when I wanted to unbecome those people, the first thing that I changed was my hair.
The week after I quit my job on Wall Street, I cut 12 inches off my hair. I kept dyeing it blonde, because I couldn’t imagine anything different. Blonde had become part of my personality.
Over the next year, something shifted.
Maybe it was looking at pictures of my grandma who was stunning (and brunette) or the struggle of finding a hairdresser in Spain who could do blonde the way Mala, my trusted hairdresser in the West Village, could. Or maybe it was falling in love with someone who didn’t care if I had blonde hair or three heads. Whatever it was, I decided I was done with blonde.
A few days before my twenty-sixth birthday last June, I saw Mala for a long overdue hair appointment. I told her that I wanted to go back to my natural color. She warned me it wouldn’t happen overnight. By growing it out and toning the color down bit by bit, in a year or so we could get there.
That was the plan. I had agreed to the plan. Now it’s six months in, and I want the blonde out this very minute. My hair is growing out too slowly. If I chop the five inches off, I’ll be much closer to brunette.
Tony is staring at me in the mirror.
“Ready?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say. My stomach lurches.
“Actually, could we actually do a bit longer?” I start to ask, but he’s already cutting.
The scissors snip and chunks of my hair fall to the ground. Sweat is forming under my arms. I’m regretting my decision to wear a cashmere sweater to sit under these hot lights.
I shift in the chair. I pull my hand out from under the plastic cape to wipe sweat from my forehead. I don’t want to disturb Tony as he cuts, but I’m overheating.
“I’m really warm,” I say, my voice a mile away.
I’m pulling at the neck of my sweater and my ears are ringing and I’m watching Tony’s mouth move without hearing what he’s saying and that’s when I realize I’m passing out.
“Oh fuck,” I start to say, but I don’t finish my sentence.
Everything goes black.
My eyes drift open and there’s six people I don’t know peering down at me. I blink. I blink again. Somehow, I’m laying down. A woman is holding my feet in the air.
Tony is standing over me, his forehead creased with worry. One stranger is fanning me and the other is cracking open a Coca-Cola.
“Drink, drink,” he says, putting the cold cup into my hand. I don’t protest, even though I do recognize it’s the first Coke I’ve had in probably ten years.
The liquid is shockingly sweet and admittedly, delightful. The sugar rushes into my brain. Then the realization.
“Can you call my boyfriend?” I croak.
Tony hands me my phone and I push Gustavo on Whatsapp. Tony takes the phone and explains to him in rapid Spanish what happened. He hangs up.
“He’s coming,” Tony says.
I close my eyes for I don’t know how long. When I look up, Gustavo is walking through the glass door, panting from sprinting over from our apartment.
“Babe, what happened?” he asks.
“I passed out,” I say, stating the obvious.
He puts his hand on my forehead. My hair is soaking wet from the pre-haircut wash and I reach up to touch it. I feel the short pieces at the back that Tony cut and the long pieces he hadn’t gotten to yet.
“You have half a haircut,” Gustavo says.
My shoulders start shaking and I think he thinks I’m crying for a second before he realizes it’s a laugh. The image is just so hilarious to me. A girl with half a haircut sprawled out across two salon chairs, drinking a Coca-Cola, with a stranger holding her feet in the air.
“What should we do?” I ask.
“Maybe they can finish it?” he says cautiously.
When I try to sit up, my vision blurs so quickly that I have to lay back down again. There’s no way I can sit for the hour needed to finish it.
“Amor, I don’t think I can,” I say, my voice wavering.
“It’s okay honey, you can come tomorrow when you feel better,” he says.
“Okay,” I say quietly.
“Let’s go home,” he says, “I called a car,”
When the taxi arrives, I wrap both my arms around his neck and wobble to the taxi.
“I need to pay!” I protest as the salon door closes behind us.
“I already asked,” he says, “You can pay when you come back.”
I nod and close my eyes for the car ride. We get to the apartment and I crawl into bed. I book an appointment on their website to finish my haircut tomorrow.
I fall asleep for the night. That is until I wake up at six am running to the bathroom with every ounce of anything in my body going out both ends. It’s like that for the whole day.
It’s clear in the afternoon that there’s no way I can go to the hair salon because I haven’t been out of the bathroom for longer than fifteen minutes.
The next day comes and it’s the same. I’m stuck between my bed and the bathroom, reminded of my haircut every time I wash my hands in the bathroom sink.
Then somehow it’s Friday. We have a 9 am flight to Michigan.
We considered changing our flight, but the same stubbornness that insisted on the haircut mandates my body will get over the stomach virus. We keep the flight. By some miracle, when we wake up at 5 am to leave for the airport, I’m feeling much better.
With no way to finish the haircut, my hair remains in its half state. In the cab, I pull it into a low bun, hoping that no one looks too closely.
Sitting on the flight, I pull the ponytail out and I run my hands through the jagged edges of halfway change. This feels like penance for my impatience. I think about how stubborn I was to go get this haircut when I obviously wasn’t feeling well.
Why did this haircut feel so urgent?
Then it clicks.
I’m excited for Gustavo to come to my hometown. For him to get to know who I am and how I grew up.
I’m also nervous.
There’s always a rawness with going home. I can’t be in my childhood bedroom and not encounter my past. The memories I’ve tucked away with my college sweatshirts come seeping in like rainwater through poorly sealed windows.
The haircut wasn’t about the hair, it was about wanting to get rid of this reminder of my past. As if removing the blonde would magically erase all the years of people-pleasing and wanting to fit in.
Every time I look in the mirror and see my fake blonde hair, I’m reminded of those years of being lost from myself. Unrecognizable in more ways than one.
With an hour in a salon, I wanted to claw myself all the way back and pretend those lost years never happened. Poof, reversed.
As fate would have it, I got the message loud and clear that there is no undoing. Only acceptance.
Even if I got the blonde out of my hair, I’m never going to be able to take back those years. The same way that trying to cover up parts of my past was never going to reverse it.
Sitting in my childhood room now, I run my hands through my hair. I’ll rebook the cut when we get back to Spain. For now, I’ll live with this perfect metaphor.
I wanted change to be black and white. So that I could clearly say I was this way and now I’m that way. A clean break between the two parts.
Looking in the mirror, I can’t help but laugh at my hair being the physical embodiment of what I couldn’t do mentally.
It’s obvious now that there is no clear divide between who I was and who I’m becoming.
Each of them needs the other and I need them both. There is no loving the future without accepting the past.
I’ve got the haircut to prove it.