Read: Isolation is changing how you look
I was in high school when I started learning the craft. My dad wasn’t bracing for a pandemic the first time he tried to teach me how to do it, in San Antonio. I’m guessing that he saw the thatches of hair scattered alongside my pride on the garage floor and decided to step in.
That night, I’d retreated upstairs in frustration before returning to the living room and telling my mom I was going to cut my hair off. I was an angsty 11th grader. What was I so mad about? I have no idea. I’d been getting haircuts at Daniel and Jason’s shop for the past few months, but something in me said I couldn’t wait any longer. “Fine, do it,” she told me, “but you can’t do it in the house.”
I went out to the garage and plugged in the clippers. Pop. I dragged the blades across my scalp, backward and forward. I held a mirror up with my left hand. (Why hadn’t I been doing this the whole time?) I had tiger stripes all over. Sweat beaded on my forehead, and I tried to gain the composure to face my mom and sister back in the house.
Here were the laughs again. “Audrey,” I asked my sister, “you want to cut some?” I figured it couldn’t get any worse. Back to the garage we went. She had more sense than I did. Go with the grain. But her knowledge of patterns didn’t extend to length. My parents came in to finish the job. The final result was as close to bald as I’ve ever been. When I went to school, I acted like it was on purpose. “Bald with a chinstrap is the new wave,” I’d say, referring to the stubble on my face that I called a beard. Sometimes you just have to go with it.
Read: Everyone thinks they’re right about masks
Clippers, brush, du-rag. A gray Houston Astros flat-bill hat to conceal the evidence in case I mess up again. I’m 17. It’s two days after Christmas—the clippers, my first set, were a gift from my parents. My dad watches, and offers two pieces of advice: Use a guard, and go with the grain. The guard keeps the blade at just the right distance from your scalp. I go from back to front on the top; angle down on the sides, down in the back; and go with the grain of the crown. It isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough. He helps me with my line. He does the initial short, precise strokes of the blade, then hands it to me. I am careful not to go too fast. I look in the mirror and run my hand over my head. For the first time, I have cut my hair and am not embarrassed.
My parents probably wanted to make sure that when I went to college, I wouldn’t struggle to get an acceptable haircut. It worked. I’ve been cutting my own hair for a decade. Every now and then during college, I would help a friend out and cut his hair. I use standard Wahl clippers and Andis T-Outliners. They get the job done.
Every week or two, I go to the bathroom and turn on some music—usually a Spotify station based on my parents’ wedding song: Earth, Wind & Fire’s “We’re Living in Our Own Time.” I’ll reach under the cabinet, grab my bag, and pull out my clippers. I plug them in and flip them on. It takes me back to the bathroom at my granddad’s house, the garage in San Antonio, and the last house I lived in with my family. Thinking about home is cathartic when you’re not supposed to go anywhere.
Last Wednesday, day who-knows-how-many of social distancing, my hair was uneven, my shape-up had grown oblong, and I was feeling anxious—an unholy mix of cabin fever, exhaustion, and missing my parents. The anxiety is more frequent these days. After my daughters went to sleep, I stole away to the bathroom to give myself a haircut. I can’t control much right now, but at least I can tame my hair. I grabbed my clippers and plugged them in. Pop.