I had a friend in my 20s, her name was Susannah and I met her while working at the Bodhi Tree. Susannah was one of those preternaturally creative people. For her, everything was an art project and everyday was filled with making.
One day at her apartment in Beachwood Canyon, Susannah agreed to give me a haircut—just a trim, my hair was long back then. As we were finishing up she pulled the bed sheet off my shoulders and lay her scissors down, saying, “Man, you’ve got a beautiful head of hair.
It’s true; I had been blessed with a gorgeous head of thick golden curls down to my shoulders, giving me a Byronic air.
“Let’s go to the park and take pictures.” Susannah said.
“I really want to photograph your hair.”
When I was 12, my pencil straight hair began to change. Every morning and every night, I would stare into the bathroom mirror, leaning in. My hair was beginning to curl, within six months my head would be an explosion of curls.
I spent so much time back then, wondering about hair, when would it come? My best friend Cam was a year younger than me but one day when we were swimming in his backyard, I spotted a brown smudge when he raised his arms in preparation of diving. “What?!”
Later in that same bathroom, I held my arms up, one at a time, leaning into the mirror. Nothing. That age is so precarious, isn’t it? Wondering if you’ll get what the other kids have already got? Or maybe you were given more than anyone else. In my Junior HIgh locker room, changing out of our sweaty clothes, in the midst of our sea of pubescent bodies, there was my classmate Jimmy Holmsy, like a miniature man, his arms legs and bush dark with thick hair. He chuckled when anyone made anything of it—but was he tormented by his otherness, I wonder?
In the park with Susannah, she asked me to pose in all sort of ways, always featuring the hair, then she asked me to take my shirt off and she shot my profile against a white pillar.
A couple of days later I was working the register at the bookstore when Susannah began her shift.
“I’ve got something for you,” she said, with a wink.
“Ooh,” I was intrigued.
“Come find me on your break.”
Break time came and I followed Susannah out the back of the store, we lit up our cigarettes and made our way to her car.
“I got so inspired by our photo shoot.”
She opened the back door of her car and pulled out a small box, like something you’d keep stationary in, with a lid and deep sides. She removed the lid and reached into the box and brought out what looked to be a baby food jar. She handed it to me.
The jar had a lid, on its side was a small picture of me from our photo shoot, shirtless in the bright sun, big smile on my face, the picture was outlined with copper puffpaint.
“Look inside,” she said.
And I began to open the lid.
“No, no, don’t open it.” She placed her hand on mine. “Just peer in.”
I held the small jar up to my face, inside was a sort of brown mass.
“It’s your hair.” She said.
Did I handle this moment well? I hope so. I hope I was kind and generous and supportive of my friend’s creative output. But I remember feeling kind of creeped out.
She reached into the box and took out another one and handed it to me.
“I made a whole bunch,”
And she handed me the box of little baby food jars with my hair in them and photos of me glued to the side.
Humans are amazing, the things they make. We’re like bodies that keep producing hair—it just keeps coming and coming. Even when it stops coming in certain places it pops up in others. I don’t have much hair on my head anymore, it’s migrated my ears, my eyebrows, my back. Even after death, the hair keeps coming.
Throughout this shutdown, everyone’s relationship with their hair has shifted. Some are just letting it go, some are having couple of glasses of wine and waking up the next morning with a really awful haircut. Women are letting the legs grow in, the pits fill up, men are letting the beards come in…maybe I’ll keep it that way, they might think. Some people are just horrified at their hairy selves—they spend hours wandering around the house wondering, who am I if I can’t keep up my grooming habits?
I was cleaning out my mom’s garage a couple of month’s ago when I found one of Susannah’s little hair jars in a box of stuff from my 20s. I don’t really miss my hair, I loved it while I had it and then it left.
Now, in a storage unit three thousand miles away from here, there’s a baby food jar with my hair in it. When will I be back there? Is that life just over, the one where I visit California and can drive to the desert to continue emptying out my mom’s house, getting my stuff out of storage, driving it across the country back here to where I now live?
And, if that life has just disappeared, will it, like hair, spring up elsewhere, will it require a different kind of care?