5 Months’ Growth, 3 Months’ Retreat

June 2020.

Adrift in an off-white limbo. Hair by slapdash fiat. Old Hawaiian shirt by, I dunno, probably Kohl’s or J.C. Penney.

June 25th marked five months since my last haircut. Some people wait that long on purpose. When your naturally curly hair is a curse, that’s not usually your Plan A. But sometimes your plans need a change in ranking.

When Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced our statewide shutdown effective March 25th, we had no idea how long the interim normal would last. “A good while” was a fair estimate, but not terribly practical. Hair didn’t rank on our to-do list. Groceries, yes. Comics, yes. Hair, no.

We own scissors, but neither Anne nor I have tonsorial experience. We know how to hack through general objects, but we feared the aesthetic damage our untrained hands could do. I have a beard trimmer and have kept my facial hair within normal personal parameters, but I’ve seen photos of other guys who attempted to use those tiny devices on their heads. I was not enamored of the results. Also, my trimmer is not that large and I’d rather not burn out its motor halfway through the job and end up looking like an unfinished punk.

(I would accept a competent punk hairdo. Last week I had my blood pressure checked by a nurse with an excellent blue punk hairdo. I was jealous. DIY music can be awesome; interrupted DIY hair is not my thing.)

Under normal circumstances I average three months between haircuts. I have it buzzed by a trained clippers-wielder, specific regions whittled down to specific heights, then let it grow forth at will into randomly interesting patterns until it begins behaving like living creeper vines that take too much time and magic to tame. Numerous women throughout my life have expressed jealousy of my naturally curly hair. If I could’ve transferred that trait to any one of them, I totally would’ve.

Rather than let my hair-gone-wild become yet another hassle in this everyday messed-up life, I’ve tried to turn it into an experimental subject. Some days I towel-dry it like I imagine normal humans do. Some days I punish it with fierce shoe-shining strokes. Some days I lightly pat it down and let it curl all over, which according to Anne turns me into a later-seasons Mike Brady. A couple days each week I’ll dump conditioner all over it and imagine I’m going for more of a wavy Gaius Baltar look, hopefully minus his season-1 smugness.

Fridays are the fun day. I take the hair dryer out of the cabinet and blast myself in the head for several minutes until it all stands at full attention. After three months I was on track for a Giorgio “ALIENS meme” Tsoukalos coiffure. Around the four-month mark I had achieved the ideal ‘do for Dr. Clayton Forrester cosplay, if only I’d owned a lime green lab coat and had a single non-canceled comic-con to attend. After this past Friday’s trip into the hair-dryer wind tunnel, I looked into the mirror and a Jurassic Park dilophosaurus stared back at me with its cowl standing on high alarm.

Much of this creativity is futile anyway. No matter how I start the day, after three or four hours everything unwinds, flattens, and/or collapses, and it resets to an uncooperative, mediocre Eight is Enough baseline. The important thing is I have enough room behind my ears to contain my luxuriously lousy locks, my glasses, and my mask straps.

Part of me is grateful that so far my bosses don’t care how my hair looks. As one of our company’s extremely few employees still commuting to work for strategic reasons, I’ve barely had to worry about any dress code beyond the mask these past few months, let alone worry if my metamorphic hairstyles are acceptably businesslike. As of today The Powers That Be have no plans to recall more employees to the office, so I remain free to live my life as a walking cosmetology mannequin assigned to a C-minus student.

Meanwhile a few weeks ago, Anne couldn’t handle one more minute of bangs and ear-wings. Hair salons in big-city Marion County were still shut down, but we live a half-mile from the border of another, more rural county that had reopened a few weeks earlier. She ventured across the border on a Wednesday afternoon and signed up for a 45-minute wait. She and the stylist both wore masks. She was pleased with the results. She tipped even more generously than usual. So far she isn’t diseased or dead.

I’m well aware I could do the same. Part of me is tempted. Part of me has embraced the symbolism of my raggedy mop-top, an open declaration that everything is not yet okay.

Psychologically speaking, as I’m sure you’ve likewise felt, these past three months have not been a delight, when so many things have been derailed, postponed, canceled, closed, deleted, and dumped into yesteryear’s trash bins. When I’m on the clock, I can push forward because others need me to. When I’m left to my own devices, I’m a traveler adrift in an aimless void with all the destinations around us blanked out.

It takes conscious effort to look for the bright spots in a featureless limbo.

It takes willpower not to simply nap my weekends away.

It takes a hard snap of the fingers to break away from everyday Twitter doomscrolling.

It takes a deep breath and a group lecture from the voices in my head to keep up on simple chores.

It takes a combination of fed-up determination and pent-up expressiveness to write, to blog, to interact with others online, or to commit any remotely performative acts.

It’s taken the threat of increasingly lousy blood pressure to make time for more exercise.

It takes concentration not to dwell on the fact that, though no one close to me has come down with The Virus yet, I’m only one or two circles away from dozens of folks who have. Possibly more than dozens.

It took a tremendous leap of faith to visit close relatives a month ago. It helped that we have a sister-in-law who’s a medical professional. So far none of us are diseased or dead.

It’s taken prayer, online church services, and nonstop encouragement from Anne to keep renewing faith and hope in all the right ways.

And every morning, when my head is at its clearest and I’ve pushed past all that fear and dread and disappointment and helplessness and righteous anger at assorted forms of endangerment and stupidity that have dogged me throughout this wretched spring of 2020…with each dawn I wake up eager to seeing what exotic, alarming, abstract, asymmetrical hair-shape will be the armor I wear through the new day, the open declaration that it’s healthy and still legal to find ways to put seriousness on pause, and the reminder to myself that it’s good to set goals to achieve, whether great or small, important or frivolous. Goals give us reasons to stay oriented and keep looking for the way forward, even on the faintest path through the thickest murk.

I’m not sure what role model of choice is up next on my poofy-hair succession line. Maybe Big Bear from Jack Kirby’s Forever People, or that suave King Mufasa. but someone may need to intervene before I reach Threat Level Carrot Top.

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