You don’t own a cat, a dog or any pet for that matter. And yet tiny bits of hair cover your clothes — remnants of your own self. Small split ends and long, highlighted strands that you’ve picked from the side of your ponytail, the back of your head, almost without realizing.
You’re an explorer, you tell yourself. Two roads diverged in one dirty blond strand of hair — and you discovered them both.
You’re a gambler. You test your luck. Sometimes you lightly pull a whole bunch just to see if any splits will come out.
You’re a scientist. You study the hair like a slide under a microscope — analyzing the results of your latest experiment.
Snap. That’s the sound it makes when the hair detaches. It’s a soothing sound. The sound of success.
Boredom. You think that’s probably why you do it. That, and it’s a habit. Habit is a powerful thing. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. When did it start — was it at summer camp? In high school math class? The pattern dates back so far you’re not quite sure when it began.
Anxiety. That’s what your mom tells you the source is. Maybe she’s right. Probably is — although out of all the ways to feed anxiety, picking at split ends seems like the most benign.
Disgusting. That’s how she describes it. Clearly she’s never felt the satisfaction of picking a split end. Of finding the perfect piece of dead hair and plucking it off of her head, separating the lifeless from the healthy like a doctor severing a rotting limb. She’s probably never created a split end just because she could. But you know that if you pull hard enough, the hair will break and sometimes a small split will form — a wishbone appearing at the end like a tiny reward. Suddenly you are a creator. A magician. Just like that, one becomes two, or maybe three if you’re lucky, and everything you were looking for you have now made exist and that has to be a metaphor for something in the scheme of your small, small day.
And then sometimes you agree with mom. You’ve wondered how you look when you’re sitting in a conference room during a call, pulling at your hair — the only woman in a room of men. Are you fulfilling some sort of stupid stereotype by touching your hair incessantly? You’ve looked down at your skirt and wondered, Did I really pick that much hair off of my head? Am I pulling too much? You recently discovered you like to test limits. How much can you get away with?
Sometimes you wonder if there’s significance behind finding the broken and pulling it out. Or maybe you’re just another English major mining for meaning in a half-hearted metaphor that any therapist would say is just called anxiety.
Probably, although out of all the ways to feed anxiety, this seems like the most benign.
Illustration by Emily Zirimis.