What is it about hair – growing it, curling it, coloring it, cutting it – just having it? Why is it so important? Why is losing it so painful?
I’ve been a hairdresser for almost 25 years, the last decade or so just for friends and family. I give them what I like to call the “priceless cut,” the one no one can afford because I only give it away to my nearest and dearest.
I’m a screenwriter now, mostly of light teen comedies set in worlds where crushes and breakups and the machinations of mean girls are the worst that happens. In my movies, no one loses their hair. And no one has cancer. In my real life, cancer happens, with all of its attendant losses: breasts, bone, energy, hope – and hair. Every person I’ve ever known who receives a diagnosis of cancer immediately dreads losing his or her hair.
Fracking chemo. It kills fast-growing cells – like cancer – but also mows down other fast-growing cells in its path, the things we’d like to keep, the things we think make us beautiful – things like hair, nails, eyebrows and lashes.
I had met Allison once or twice before her cancer diagnosis. She knew just how to wear her fine, soft blonde hair. She struck me as confident, smart, stylish, creative, and very, very pretty, like a lot of girls I knew who worked in Hollywood. Then came cancer and surgery and I found myself bringing her organic raspberries in the hospital. She still looked beautiful.
Allison & Annie
July 1, 2011
I can’t remember exactly when she asked me to cut off her hair, but I took it as a sign that although we didn’t know each other well, we were now friends. She asked my opinion: how will she know when it’s time? I told her that when she sees more hair on her pillow in the morning than the night before, it would be time.
A week later, we set a date. I was busy that day, writing a script, on a deadline, as usual. I did what I often do in these circumstances: I made what was about to happen unimportant. I didn’t shower, didn’t do my hair. I threw it up in the messy ponytail I often wear when writing. If I’m honest, I didn’t want to look pretty when Allison arrived. Looking at video of that day, I think I overdid it.
When Allison arrived on her lunch hour from work, she came with an entourage. She was dressed beautifully and her makeup looked amazing. She had an entire camera crew with her. They set up their tripods and mics and cameras in my living room. I picked up my clippers and explained to Allison what I was planning to do and why. I remember it was a hot day and the A/C couldn’t keep up with the heat. I was sweating. She was scared and brave and determined. I suddenly let myself feel the weight of what I was about to do: make Allison look like a cancer patient.
My hand shook. At some point, while running the clippers along the left side of her head, I didn’t notice that the clipper guard had popped off of the blade, and I shaved her hair closer than I had planned. I had to recut everything that length, barely above her scalp. I hated that moment because even though I was doing something simple, something that required little real skill or artistry, I desperately wanted it to be perfect.
This was big and important. I was changing the way the World would see this person. When I finished and shut off my clippers, Allison’s cancer would not be just a private conversation anymore. The haircut would make it public. It wouldn’t be something invisible, inside of her, or what used to be where the scar is now. It would be in the mirror everyday.
|Annie & Allison|
July 1, 2011
I remember handing Allison that mirror. I think I told her “You’re lucky. You have a beautifully shaped cranium.” In truth, she looked gorgeous – quite honestly more beautiful than before. Suddenly, she was all eyes and lips and cheekbones.
Was it a great haircut? Yes. Priceless.
Allison on the Set of What the F@#- Is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It?
Allison, with no evidence of disease in her body,
having fun at a party
February 24, 2013