I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it. I thought about it every time I felt the heft of my hair hot on my neck, or when I noticed how the ends of my brown locks had gone brassy and dead. I would look in the mirror, at the unwieldy mop on my head, which seemed to me to have doubled in volume over the course of three months, and think: what if I just shave it off?
That’s dramatic — but so is a pandemic.
I often put things off to the point of necessity, and by the time New York locked down, I was already overdue for a haircut. In March, I was slightly annoyed with myself; by May I was full of regret, wishing I had been pro-active for once in my life. Because, you see, the thing about my hair is: there’s a lot of it. If you grab a fistful in your hand it’s like you’re gripping a rope. Any time I go back home to visit, my mother practically follows me around the house with a vacuum to collect the hair I shed because, as she says, my hair is everywhere.
So, watching as my hair continued to crawl farther down my back, and my inability to do anything about it, certainly added to the misery of quarantine. I, of course, was not alone in this. I noticed that hair, and managing it, became somewhat of an obsession for people. In one display of pandemic dramatics, people protested outside state houses across the country, demanding the government reopen the economy so they could get a haircut. Others took matters into their own hands, grabbing clippers or a pair of scissors and hoping for the best.
I watched one of these at-home haircuts play out live on Instagram. Soccer star Megan Rapinoe enlisted her girlfriend, the WNBA’s Sue Bird, to cut her hair, which she did with the help of Rapinoe’s hairdresser providing instructions over video chat as more than 9,000 people watched online. It was one of the most enthralling and anxiety-inducing events I’ve seen broadcast live, not unlike a high stakes sporting event. But Bird rose the occasion (just like she did in the 2018 playoffs), and after an hour, Rapinoe’s trademark hairstyle was restored.
I didn’t go through with shaving my head or chopping off the end of my ponytail, which is also something I thought about. I just waited ... and waited ... and waited ... until finally, last week, New York City began Phase Two, which in addition to outdoor dining, included the reopening of the city’s salons and barbershops at partial capacity. I eagerly called and booked an appointment as soon as I woke up on that first day of the new phase.
This venture out into the world was significant, as I’ve successfully adopted a hermit-like lifestyle in quarantine. The only company I keep is my roommate and her cats. I leave my house rarely, and when I do, I wear a mask. And only recently have I started taking trips to the park, which have made me feel a little more normal and a little more scared. So the prospect of being in an enclosed space with several strangers, even with masks on, made me nervous.
I was full of that nervous energy as I made the 10-minute walk from my apartment in Astoria to a salon I had been to one other time since I had moved to the neighborhood last October. As I passed by some of the newly opened curbside dining establishments on the way, I saw masks resting below the chins of servers and clear violations of social distancing protocols. This did not instill confidence in our ability to adapt to our “new normal.”
I was put at ease, however, once inside the salon. Everyone was wearing a mask, and only half of the chairs were occupied by customers. My stylist, Irina, greeted me and sprayed my hands with alcohol. She sat me down and asked what she could do for me. Over the blast of a blow dryer, I told her to cut off all the dead ends, at least three inches in length, and to please, for the love of all that is holy, thin it out.
Everything after that happened fairly quickly. Irina washed my hair, not waiting for the water to warm and skipping the scalp massage. Then she began combing through my long, wet hair and started to really analyze it.
“It’s been a long time since you’ve had your hair cut,” Irina said with raised eyebrows, seeming to realize just how much hair she had to deal with. The dread I detected in her voice was probably more suited for someone about to scale a dangerous mountain than give an overdue haircut. I could only manage to respond with an affirmative sigh.
Irina went to work, taking sections of hair between two fingers and snipping off inches at a time. I typically don’t love watching my haircuts, because I don’t like staring at myself in the mirror for an hour, but the mask remedied this a bit. And more than that, it was so satisfying to watch these long locks of hair fall to the floor. I could feel my shoulders relax a little more with each clip. She quickly blew it dry and handed me a mirror to look at the back. Though I was pleased with how it looked, my only thought was: “It’s gone.” I ran my fingers through it and it felt healthy, light and soft. I could have cried.
It’s been nearly a week since the haircut and I’ll admit that I’ve been a bit paranoid that even with all of those precautions, I could have somehow contracted the virus during the 30-minute salon visit. I woke up a couple of times with a tingle in my throat and feared the worst. My broken quarantine brain always jumps to the worst possible outcome.
But I feel fine, and the experience is proving to be more reassuring than anything. It’s given me hope that if we all wear masks — and that’s proving to be a big if — we could find some normalcy. We could get haircuts and go to the park and visit with friends. If we all wear masks, it could even start to feel like we live in New York City again.