People who hear me say I didn’t know I had straight hair until I got to high school think I’m joking, or exaggerating. I am not—joking or exaggerating. I have childhood photos as proof.
My mom only laughed when I pointed this out once, when I was already an adult. Growing up, I would always tag along when she went to the beauty parlor—that’s what they called it then—and while she never allowed me to get a manicure when she did, however much I begged, I always got a perm when she did, which I never begged for. Twinning, they call it now.
Thus I grew up sporting very short permed hair. This was in the ’80s, and while the look was hot on a woman in her 30s, it couldn’t have looked more unattractive and unbecoming on a scrawny grade-school kid. Again, I have photos as proof.
Why my mom allowed my younger sister to grow her hair long and had mine cut always short and permed is beyond me. I never questioned it, nor do I recall complaining, though I can still remember the sting on my scalp and the putrid odor of the chemical perm solution. (There should be a law against putting a child through that.)
It was only when I turned 12 that I discovered I had, in fact, straight hair, more like my dad’s than my mom’s, perfect for growing long. I no longer tagged along to the parlor and my perm started to grow out. Asserting my imagined adolescent independence, I also started having my hair cut without my mom present.
Once, I showed up in school with an asymmetric haircut—one side shaven to show my ear, the other cut down to my chin, copied from something I saw in a magazine. The conservative nuns, no advocates of individuality, ordered me not to come back the next day unless my hair was evenly cut.
Hair would soon become a means of self-expression, sort of a schtick. Maybe that’s why I never got why other women get so emotional when they cut an inch (gasp!) off their hair. Maybe that’s why I was very pragmatic when, as a breast cancer patient, I was presented with the possibility of losing my hair if I underwent chemo (my treatment allowed me to skip chemo).
It’s just hair—it grows back.
I’ve lost count of the many daring, sometimes stupid, haircuts and colors I’ve had through the years. I’ve always had a great relationship with my hairstylists because I was always a willing guinea pig. The high-fashion cuts and colors they can’t do on other clients, they could practice on me. I was never out of place when I covered hair shows. Nothing was ever extreme. (Old photos, of course, tell otherwise.)
No haircut for a year
But scissors have not touched my hair in exactly a year, that I sometimes don’t recognize the witch staring back at me in the mirror. I like to tell people that I didn’t know my hair was black until this pandemic hit. I’m kidding, of course, but it’s true that I haven’t seen my real hair color, including graying sections, in so long.
My hair has also grown long, way past my shoulders, which surprises people on Zoom who have only ever seen me with chin-length hair or shorter. In fact, most people have only known me with short hair, unless we went to college together and had classes that one time I grew my hair long and never again! (Many women will agree, the upkeep of long hair is just plain taxing. So if you can pull off short hair . . . )
The salon—that’s what it’s called now—has been texting, asking when I want to make an appointment. My hairstylist Henri Calayag also messaged me on Instagram after I posted a photo on stories: “Long na your hair, Che, time for [haircut emoji].” Henri had always cut my hair short because, he said, it suited me more.
I replied that I needed to grow it more, because I planned to donate my hair to cancer patients. Otherwise, I have no other good excuse to keep my hair this long. (An aside: The upside to a really good haircut is that it still looks good even months—in my case, a year—after not getting a trim.)
Like many, I can’t wait for this pandemic to be over. Can’t wait to forget once more that my hair is boring jet-black, and is, indeed, ruler-straight but fashionably short.