Every morning when my alarm goes off, I reach over and feel around my nightstand until I find the offending object and the button that will buy me exactly eight more minutes of peace. And then eight more. And then eight more, until I know that the consequences of another eight—being late to work, skipping my morning coffee—would sabotage the pleasure of that last snooze. Wakefulness seeps in, and thinking about the challenges and the pleasures of the day ahead, I see my safe, dream-filled cocoon for what it is—a threadbare down comforter—and the world beyond as a place immensely more interesting. So I cast off my blankets, brave the chill of the hardwood against my bare feet: I get up.
In the past seven years, I've scheduled as many appointments with the intention of cutting my hair. And the first six times I sat down in that swiveling chair, I backpedaled, opted for only an inch, then asked my stylist how she would cut it if, the next time, I went through with it. Then last October I found myself, black smock on, hair wet, with the pedals locked in place, because my long blonde hair had become a bit like my comforter: safe and snug to the point of stifling.
My wake-up call came in the form of someone from my past—a fling who had never been more than a crush but who, in the two years, nine months, and 21 days since I'd moved to New York, had morphed into a symbol of everything my life wasn't. He worked on an organic farm in Hawaii; I work on the 36th floor of a skyscraper on an island of an entirely different ilk. One autumn Thursday, Casey bounced back into my present, putting my current life into sharp relief: I recognized how much I'd grown, and how young Casey seemed, the same idealistic, airborne soul he was when I first met him. I also recognized my reluctance to accept that fact. In looking back at what things could have been, I'd failed to see what they had become. I'd failed to see that my life was interesting—fascinating, really; it was just waiting for me to catch up. All this was running through my head the following Saturday afternoon; my hair happened to be the metaphor of the day. So I placed any trepidation I'd had about chopping it off—my mother's words of warning against doing something I'd later be sorry about ("Boys don't like short hair!"), my own insecurities over whether she was right—behind me.
My new hairstylist, a compact man with Zenlike focus, actually giggled when I told him it was my first time going short. "Change is good," he said before he made the first cut. I nodded in agreement, apprehensive nonetheless. But my nerves steadied; as Kaz snipped and the dead ends fell to the floor, I surrendered. By the time he was done, I was the one laughing—at my new sense of freedom, at my understanding of how ridiculously exaggerated my hesitation had been. By the time I walked out the door with hair clear up to my chin, I was so exhilarated by my new cut that I'd forgotten what long hair felt like.
People complimented me for the next couple of weeks, whether out of a sense of duty or sincerity, I don't know. I didn't care. Someone could have said I looked like a middle-aged man, and it would have rolled off my shoulders—because they were newly bare, and it was a pleasure to show them off.
Whitney Fuller is a former assistant editor at O.