I sat in the chair, facing a mirror with a stranger holding scissors by my ears. Moments later, before even wetting my hair that I have grown since the age of twelve, I watched as he slowly cut along in rough lines above my shoulders. The floor was thick with my hair, which lay in a sad curled pile. It now resembled roadkill.
This week, I handed in my notice at work. Next month I’ll be leaving a job that I’ve enjoyed for the past three years to move back to Singapore. I’m flying on Boxing Day, and out there I’ll be teaching English – something I’ve never done before. Change is normal for me, but this level of spontaneity is out of character. The hairdresser asked if I was newly single as this was usually the reaction of someone recently dumped – luckily, Tom is joining me out there so it’s not fresh starts all round.
Cutting your hair is not brave, but it is a cathartic act. It is the quickest way to reinvent yourself, other than a gastric band or coating yourself in tattoos and piercings. As my locks fell away I felt lighter and had to restrain myself from shaking my head as he snipped away. It was done and I no longer needed to worry if I was going to go through with it.
I’ll admit it: I was scared about chopping it off. It was the one obvious thing that differentiated me from my twin sister. She rocks a sleek graduated bob reminiscent of the 1920’s Flappers, and her cut reflects her more demure style. Then there was doubt: what if it accentuates the wrong bits? What if the colour goes wrong and I have to manage the biggest event of my career with a hat on? What if Tom, who’s always said he preferred long hair, doesn’t like it? Should that even matter? As I watched the hairdresser methodically work through sections, I half-focused on my eyes. It was still the same face. Changing my hair wouldn’t change me.
The experience of becoming detached is like sipping a tonic on a warm afternoon. It’s the same sensation I have when I’m backpacking and everything I need fits in one bag.
The one thing that surprised me was how sentimental Tom was about my decision to lop it all off. He always complains that he finds my hair everywhere: hanging off his beard, hiding on the tail of his coat and wrapped around his socks. When we hugged, his arms snagged the ends and my head would be snapped backwards. He would roll on to it and pull it by accident, and would be treated to a barrage of tuts and sighs. Yet when I came home, he delicately plucked a long thread from his jumper and ran it slowly through his fingers in mourning.
Welcome to my quarter life crisis, and bring on the next chapter.