Rapunzel sucks. Even in her most tragic, desperate moments did she really ever truly understand the value of good hair? I don’t think so. Because of her, and Barbie and Marilyn Monroe, I've always assumed that the saying "Blondes have more fun" is true because being a brunette was absolute torture, turning gray early wasn't nearly as positive an experience as Andy Warhol said it would be (he dyed his hair on purpose at twenty-four so no one would ever know how old he was—or so he said), and that time when I went bald, well, it was an epic bad hair day. Umm, because I'm a girl.
Rapunzel was super lucky, with her damn beautiful golden hair ladder. I am forever jealous of and in love with blondes. As a child I had jet-black, naturally curly hair. My sister, who was nine years older and studying to be a beautician, gave me a perm to practice her future craft. Who gives a five-year-old a perm? Ugh, anyway, a perm, on top of my naturally curly hair, gave me a total deigo-fro. Actually, my sister gave the whole family a perm—my mother, father, brother, other sisters; the entire family, all eight of us, were walking around looking like giant disco-ball heads.
The perm didn’t wear off. As I was going into my tween years, every girl had feathered hair—like, at least nine inches of feathers, parted down the center. They would each have a cute colored comb in the back of their Jordaches. I, of course, couldn’t get a comb through my hair—imagine a slightly less Jewish Amy Irving—so I had a pick. Those teeth really hurt when I sat down, (Remember the song “Rock Me Amadeus”? The kids at school would sing instead, “Rock me I’m a Deigo.” I still sometimes hum it when I see Italian stuff.) Thank god John Sebastian Wet became popular because that awesome shit would do crazy amazing things to hair. Aside from make my hair super crunchy, I could slick it back and it would stay as well as give me that fresh-off-the-beach look, which, in the suburbs of Cleveland, was transcending. In the end, though, it wasn’t a good look, for anyone, unless you were a member of Hall and Oates. The bob with the clawed bangs was a lifesaver.
I had derivations of that bob for years. (Thanks, Vidal Sassoon.) Then, when I turned sixteen, I got my first few gray hairs. I knew my future; my mom has had the whitest hair for as long as I can remember. I thought I was going to be all gray in a week, but it turned out to be a long white way.
When I got to graduate school at twenty-six, I thought I looked something like Rogue from X-Men, with my small white streak in the front, but, in reality, I looked more like Frankenstein’s bride or Cruella DeVille or, who am I kidding, I really looked like Jay Leno. Before he went opposite.
I’m a visual artist and my artwork was in a very ugly transitional phase, so that made it difficult to accept love of any kind.
A few years later, living in New York, everything started to fall apart just a few weeks before my thirtieth birthday. It was a deluge. Within three months, everything was ruined. I had a receptionist job that I hated so much I would cry every night when I got home, everyone was younger than me, and it was in fashion PR, where sensitive people have a 90 percent failure rate (I just made that number up). I’m a visual artist and my artwork was in a very ugly transitional phase, so that made it difficult to accept love of any kind. I then got kicked out of my art studio by my fat-cat, greed-mongering Williamsburg landlords due to mass gentrification, then September 11th was so, so terrible.
My purse was stolen from underneath my desk at work. To top off the worst, at my stupid thirtieth birthday party, two weeks after my purse was stolen, it was stolen again and the guy who stole it made me buy it back from him. After that, I was kind of depressed. Like can’t-get-out-of-bed depressed, no-desire-to-have-sex-ever-again depressed. Then, I got laid off.
By Thanksgiving all the hair on the top of my head had fallen out.
It sucked. Bad. When your hair falls out, it’s sort of gradual but quick. You don’t really notice it right away—well, I didn’t. I just sort of didn’t see it. I thought it looked a little thin, but I didn’t really understand how bad it was until I went out with a friend and he was looking at me with these sad eyes.
I said, “Aww, yeah, some of my hair fell out.”
And he said, “Yeah, I was going to ask you about that.”
I went home and looked in the mirror and saw myself, really saw myself. I looked like fucking David Crosby, without the mustache.
That’s how I realized. I didn’t feel sick—you know, except for the overwhelming emotional anxiety and self-hatred—but it wasn’t good. I went home and looked in the mirror and saw myself, really saw myself. I looked like fucking David Crosby, without the mustache. (Well, sort of. I bleach my 'stache, but sometimes it gets ahead of me. Ugh . . . sorry.)
However, I didn’t feel like I was going to die so I just kept telling myself I was acting like a baby when I became obsessed with the growing bald spot on top of my head. Back then, in the early 2000s the Internet was so new, when I Asked Jeeves about “female bald,” it replied, “Good luck out there!” Nothing.
It was right before Christmas, and all I could do was look in the mirror in disbelief and just go through the holidays. I went home to Cleveland and happened to run into my brother at Target. He was the first person I had seen after my Mom, who hadn’t mentioned anything about my comb-over. I was so excited, both to be at Target and to see him. It was a strange moment because I don’t think my brother gets to department stores a lot. He’s huge and a prison guard in downtown Cleveland. He’s seen everything. But when he saw me, he started crying immediately.
“My hair fell out a little,” I told him gently.
“Yeah, I was going to ask you about that.”
Ugh, gross, he’s so sensitive, I thought. But when I saw the rest of my family, they ganged up on me and convinced me that I needed to go see a doctor.
So, I acquiesced. First thing I did when I got back to New York City was make an appointment with the best doctor in NYC who was willing to accept people who don’t have health insurance. (When I got laid off, I’d lost my insurance but gained in the knowledge that I didn’t have to go to that job ever again.)
My doctor is awesome in an “I don’t want to touch you” sort of way. He’s always trying to go help people in other countries get better medicines and stuff. It usually makes me feel bad about being privileged so I never really go see him unless it’s really an emergency, like blood is coming out of my ears, vagina, and lungs at the same time. (That happened when I drank too much gin once. . . . I will never touch it again.) I’m sure my problems don’t come near to anything he’s seen around the world. He’s sort of lofty, dreamy, and altruistic, into alternative medicine, but still into B12 shots. He’s got soft gray hair and a gray short beard and looks like he went to Harvard Med School but hangs out with poets. You know what I mean? But he’s not so good looking that it’s unreasonable, like Ted Danson is. (That guy gets better and better.)
The doctor called me into his examination room. It’s outfitted in a mix of antique medical cabinets and Cezanne prints. We sat down, him with his folder and red pen, and we catch up.
“Do you still smoke? I can prescribe you something for that.”
And I explain that as an artist, I like to be a depressed addict.
“Okay, so, what’s going on?” he asked me.
“Well,” I said, “I’m here because I think I lost a bunch of hair.” I want to be cool about it. No need for hysterics. And, in my opinion, vanity isn’t an attractive attribute in anyone. (Neither however is a woman who looks like Gallagher. Without the ’stache.)
He stopped for a second, thought, and answered, “Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. What are you going to do?”
Then I started to get deep-inside mad thinking, WHAT? SERIOUSLY? Do you even have a license? You and your stupid Eastern medicine, I’m sure.
Stunned into silence for a moment, I went ahead and answered, “WHAT AM I GOING TO DO????!!!!! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO!!!?!??!??” Slightly losing my composure. Then I started to get deep-inside mad thinking, WHAT? SERIOUSLY? Do you even have a license? You and your stupid Eastern medicine, I’m sure.
“I’m sorry. I just don’t know what I can do for you. Take this antifungal shampoo.”
Antifungal shampoo? Seriously? I wasn’t losing my hair because I was whipping my hair back and forth on the floor of the showers at the YMCA. I was barely leaving the house. I took the bottle and went out to the receptionist to pay the hundred and forty-five dollars.
As she was ringing me up she said, in her super cute Latina accent, “What did he say about the alopecia?”
And I was all, “What’s that? He didn’t say whatever you just said.”
She said, “Your hair? That happened to a friend of mine too.” Then in the softest voice of a million angelitas she said, “Don’t worry. It’ll grow back.”
I thought, She’s the nicest person I’ve ever met in New York City. She must be absolutely bananas.
I started tearing, then full-on crying. I don’t like to cry in front of doctors, or anyone else really. I feel it makes me appear soft. I have a reputation to protect. I’m sure you all understand. Receptionists, however, are fair game—all of them, all across town, from eye doctors’ offices to hair salons. As I looked at her I thought, She’s the nicest person I’ve ever met in New York City. She must be absolutely bananas. And to this day, I still think that.
That was rock bottom and when you hit rock bottom there’s either death or up. Well, I’m not writing this from the urn, so . . . I didn’t die. That receptionist turned out to be right! Things started looking up—several months later, it did grow back! And when it did, it was dead white. I looked exactly like Mark Twain. (Without the 'stache. Is it me or is this getting weird?)
I don’t understand exactly how it happened to grow back; nobody does, not doctors, not scientists, not the Internet. I know people who have alopecia who permanently lost their hair. But as they say, “A combination of bartenders, Ativan, and unemployment checks heals all wounds.”
Slowly it all started evening out, my hair, my life, everything. As my hair went back to black with white, then white with some black, things started looking up; I got another job where I didn’t get robbed at all. I made better-looking artwork, which lead to less self-hatred. I quit smoking (like a week ago). That’s where I’m at with it now. Except, over the years, my hair has become almost entirely white. ALL of it, if you know what I mean. Well, I’m getting a merkin to make me look twenty again. Maybe I’ll get one that’s blond and braid it like Rapunzel.
Cammi Climaco is a visual artist, storyteller, and performance artist. Her work has been exhibited internationally. She has performed on a bunch of storytelling (including The Story Collider) and stand-up shows. Cammi teaches at Pratt Institute of Art.
Art also by Cammi Climaco.