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ON HAIR Powered By Docstoc
					                                                       Irene McKinney
                                                       Route # 1, Box 118 C
                                                       Belington, West Virginia 26250
                                                       Ph.: (304) 823-3041
                                                       Email: rn_mckinney@yahoo.com


  I’m lying in bed in the Intensive Care Unit at Ruby Memorial Hospital. I’m hooked to
an IV which is pumping eleven different drugs into my body, which feels frail and
transparent, as though you could see right through me to the thin bones and organs. I’m
undergoing a bone marrow transplant, a long and arduous process. Before it’s over, I will
have spent forty days and nights here. When I turn my head, I see a big clump of hair on
the pillow. When I tried to brush it this morning, such hanks of it came out that I gave up,
so I decide to ask the nurse to just shave it all off. She wheels me into another room, revs
up the electric shaver, and just like that, all my faded red hair is lying on the floor.

  In the cancer world, the accepted mode in this situation is to put on a brave face, wear a
jaunty baseball cap or colorful turban, don big earrings and bright lipstick, and say in
gestures and words: I don’t care, I defy hairlessness! But I don’t want to be defiant and
brave, I want to sink down into the bed and cover my face and head, which feels naked
and exposed, and my tender scalp has broken out in a red rash from the shaving.
Reasonably, we could say that in the big picture of what’s going on here with my
damaged body, the loss of my hair is a minor thing, but it doesn’t feel minor. I do think,
inevitably, of prisoners’ shaved heads, of the Nazi death-camps, of victimization in all its
symbolic forms. Hair is our signal to the world about our state of mind; the outside of the
head shows what’s inside it.
 And I think about hair and fashion: about girls who obsess over their hair, petting and
worshipping it; girls who give the impression that they’re thinking through their hair, like
Jennifer Anniston. The center of their consciousness is in the strands of hair. They have
no thoughts separate from it, and they’re aware of it all the time, tossing little strands
back, stroking the strands, adjusting the strands, sending their thought-streams through
the strands, coaxing their mind-stream through their hair by stroking. And women who
have a nervous condition that causes them to pull out clumps of it; women who chew and
eat their own hair. And men who shave their heads for various reasons, - macho body-
builders and athletes who wish to signal their virility, monks and nuns who sacrifice
vanity for the spirit. Punks, high-definition model-types, like Iman. Sinead O’Connor
defying the Pope. Britney Spears mutilating herself to manifest her pain and anger. Hair
salons, a multimillion dollar industry. No Podunk town is too small for its Hair Scare, its
Cut and Dry, its bad puns ad infinitum. Processes done to the hair: henna, dyes in
natural and unnatural shades, Jerri curls, pressings, straightenings, hair extensions. Male
hair and female hair. Hair club for men, hair plugs, scalp surgeries. Male pattern
baldness. The Sikh custom of knotting the long hair in a coil on top of the head and
covering it with a bright turban. Samson, and Delilah stealing his hair and his strength,
and his sexuality. Afros. Pig-tails, pony-tails, buns, braids. Hair oils, Bryl Cream.

 But there are deep archaic impulses from down in our communal mind, impulses that
spring up from nowhere. Once, when I was sunken in grief for the loss of a love that I
knew could never come to reality, on the day he left town, I hacked off my hair, short and
uneven, deliberately ugly. I was unaware of the tradition in certain cultures of mourning
by defacing oneself. But something in the collective unconscious knew that, and acted

 But I do not get used to it when I leave the hospital. I continue to cower when someone
looks at my head, I feel wounded, as though this outward mark is a manifestation of all
the pain and indignities I’ve undergone. My hair was not exceptional, but I loved it and I
want it back. Finally, after trying to carry off the baseball cap look, I pick up a wig
catalog in the clinic waiting room, where there is also a box of free wigs. I try one on,
and immediately feel covered and protected. I order two wigs, as close to my hair color
as possible, and as I recover from the effects of the transplant, my heart and mind begin
to recover from baldness. And now I don’t cut my hair at all, I’m so glad to have it back.
Today I’m wearing it in two pig-tails sticking out of the sides of my head, bouncing with

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