I chopped a bunch of my hair off last Saturday.
I had been thinking about it for a little bit. Maybe a week or two. And when I remembered that there’s a Paul Mitchell School near my parents house where you can get your hair cut by a student for $12, I was pretty much sold on the whole deal.
There was a point fairly early on in the process when I recalled the now infamous red hair decision and the 24-hour food coloring regimen that followed and felt a rising panic that maybe I was doing the same thing all over again. Maybe that’s why the hair dresser only took an inch or two off at a time in a marathon hair cutting process that netted about two hours total.
She was new at this. I was new to the idea of short hair. She was pretty timid. I’m still pretty confused about how to summon confidence in everyday life. So finally, after our third swivel to the mirror for a length check, I decided we both needed a Come to Jesus moment.
I went to the dentist for the first time in seven (maybe eight?) years on Monday. I’m sure all of you people with spotless oral hygiene records are dying inside right now. But listen. I have an irrational fear of the dentist and the only way I can think to describe it is someone having an irrational fear of snakes actually being on a plane. It’s one of those scenarios that live in your head and will almost definitely not happen, like being told in one dentist visit that you have eight cavities and need three root canals and are showing signs of chronic periodontal disease. Which may or may not have been the list of fears running through my mind as I sat in the waiting room.
There had been a tab for the dentist open on my browser for weeks, but I kept putting off calling to make an appointment because snakes on a plane. And then one day a few weeks ago Olive greeted me with the enthusiasm of a thousand preschoolers high on Easter candy. She jumped up and hit me square in the face. I was pretty sure either her tooth broke or my tooth broke, and sure enough, homegirl chipped a small corner off of my right front tooth.
Thus, an expedited trip to visit the dentist.
When Whitney turned me around and I realized my hair was still in the same state of Kind Of Long But Kind Of Not, I looked her in the face and said, “Nope. We’re doing this.” And, whatever, it was a HAIRCUT. This was not a dramatic, life-defining moment. But it wasn’t unimportant, either. Because she needed to know that I trusted her. And I needed to chop a bunch of hair off. I just did. So I said, “You can do it!!! Just cut my hair. Just go for it.”
And she exhaled and said, “Ok!” And I held my breath and said, “Ok.”
Aside from my teeth requiring an industrial power washing, I ended up having zero cavities and no other impending dental despair. And it was kind of like breathing a years-long sigh of relief. Because even when you’re not consciously thinking, “I haven’t been to the dentist in a long time and my teeth are probably rotting out of my face,” the thought is lurking in the corners, taking up real estate. There’s a freedom you can feel when that thought isn’t there anymore.
It was similar to the way I felt when Whitney spun me around again and I realized my hair was actually short this time. Like, for real short—at least for me. I’ve had long hair for years, including the entire time I’ve lived in Harrisburg, and I was starting to feel weighed down by it. There seems to be this weird expectation that long hair is beautiful and if you have it, you should keep it.
So a half-hesitant, half-invigorating thought starting to take up space in another corner of my brain, the opposite corner of the snakes on a plane corner. What if I made a different choice? What if I chose to not have long hair anymore?
It felt like freedom.
I wanted to come up with some sort of achievable goal I could work towards in my next year of life, which starts tomorrow. Something that would really shake things up. I had lots of potential ideas, but nothing that hit me with the sort of all-consuming conviction that would last a full year. I was talking about this with Tori the other day and we both came to the same conclusion at the same time: life isn’t goal-able. It’s nice to have goals, I think, but I also think that the best kind of lives are lived thematically, not via checklist. And I’m pretty sure the theme of this year is freedom hair and the dentist.
Jenny coined the term “freedom hair.” It’s what she calls my hair when I just leave it curly and don’t tie it down in any way. I always used to pin it back in some form because it just felt too big when left to its own devices. Like Monica in Barbados big. But the more I leave it be, the more I like it. And now that I have shorter hair, freedom hair feels like it’s going to be my go-to. Half because I just like it that way, and half because I like the way it makes me feel.
And, strangely, I liked the way going to the dentist made me feel, because the feeling of relief from hypotheticals was so freeing. It was so much nicer to know than to wonder. And if I could put all of my hopes and dreams for 31 in a nutshell, I think it would be that one: to know instead of wonder.
I would like to know if short hair feels like freedom rather than wonder whether or not it does.
I would like to know that my teeth are fine rather than wonder whether or not they’re all going to spontaneously fall out of my face one day.
It’s not a perfect analogy, because like anything, it can be applied in lots of different ways and some of those ways would probably create a conflict. But I think I’ll know when it applies in the way it’s intended, and I’ll use it then.
And when I think about a year full of knowing instead of wondering, it feels a whole lot like freedom.