I have a family history of (not BC thankfully), strong, thick hair! At least on my mother’s side anyway. I was brought up with the idea that your hair is your “crowning glory” and the importance of finding a good hairdresser, no matter where you lived. My mother often relayed how as soon as she went into labour with me and my three other siblings, the first thing her own mother, Gran Ellen, would tell her to do was to go and wash her hair!
I never had as much mass on my own hair. I was of the mentality that it will always grow back. When I stop to think about it, I realize I have often used my hair as an expression of great change in my life.
Straight after my Leaving Certificate I took off to England to help out my cousin, Paul and his wife Anne, upon the arrival of their second born child, Niamh. It was my first long-term stay away from home and I have fond memories of minding Eoin, their then two year old son and lazy sunny afternoons in Himley chatting to my Auntie Eileen.
As the weeks passed by, the date for my Leaving Certificate results approached and the ensuing first and second round offers for university courses. My nerves were building up, not only for the results but also for the thought of beginning a new life as a university student. Towards the end of that summer, I went to Cornwall, accompanying Paul and Anne on their family holiday. On a whim one day, I bought a wax jacket (which served me very well in rainy Galway, where I later studied at the university), a new pair of runners and I cut my hair!
And not just a tickling at the ends. The young hairdresser pulled out a catalogue of heads and I chose the bob-above-the-top-of-your-ears-type style, with the back all cut up tightly. I went from the sweet never-been-cut-long-down-to-the-middle-of-your-back-type style to short. And I have lots of hair so the girl was a while chopping and sweeping.
My university days were happy and not so happy at times. The kind of personality I have means that any sort of a major life change takes me a while to adapt to the new reality that particular change inevitably brings with it. Once I got over the freshness of being away from home, long nights of drinking and card-playing in the college bar, the dust began to settle on long, quiet Sunday afternoons and lunch hours eating sandwiches on a park bench. I felt really alone for the first time.
I dealt with my loneliness at the time by throwing myself into my studies. I amazed even myself with my straight 1.1s at the of second year. In third year I couldn’t be bothered with all that as I ventured out to get to know a different set of people. I found my way (after long afternoons of queuing up outside “The Galway Advertiser” waiting for the published list of student rental accommodation) to a beautiful house in Nun’s Island with a big downstairs sitting room converted to a bedroom and looking out onto the road. When the landlady liked the look of me, contrary to her own son, who had the previous year with his friends wrecked the place, she accepted my deposit and I was brought into the back kitchen. There I met my house mates for the year, two German girls and a Dutch guy, all on an Erasmus scholarship for the year.
A whole new world, beyond drinking and the usual college antics was opened up to me. My long lecture-skipping sojourns with David Bowie and life philosophising began. It saw me just barely scrape my way through third year and hang-on by the skin of my teeth to graduate at the end of fourth year. Thats’s when the real change was to take place…
Life, living, sorry…earning a living…reality. And how did I react? I shaved my hair off! Real-blade-zero-Sinead O’Connor style.
Luckily my hair did grow back to its chestnut thickness and I trained to become a teacher and have always had a job. I did source a good hairdresser in Dublin, one who could manage the wild bush and bring it around to some sort of glory on a bi-yearly basis. I had it beautifully styled with pearls and rose buds for my wedding and I always had it washed and groomed for my brief stays in the maternity hospitals.
But the short style has come back to haunt me! It has chosen me this time though. I hadn’t planned on the pixie look any time soon. But the pixie style I have. With the movement of my right arm restricted since the mastectomy, I can neither properly wash nor style my hair. So the practical thing to do was to cut it. Another big chopping and cleaning morning at the hairdressers. My brother David said he wouldn’t have minded a bit of it!
It didn’t dawn on my to forewarn my children about my impending new look, although I had discussed some of the effects of chemotherapy with them. Ana-Maeve wept inconsolably in my lap the day she arrived in from nursery and couldn’t find the usual image of her mother. But she’s used to it now and keeps asking me when it will be long again.
“After your birthday,” I tell her and she’s satisfied with that.
Part II of the Hair Saga will be the falling out, the bald-cancer-badge style. It’s not really a big deal but it’s a bigger deal for me than I thought it would be.
I am beginning to notice a curious twenty year cycle to my life, which leads me to wonder how I’ll look when I’m sixty. My hair will probably be pink and spiky.