Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stories from the Past

This is my creative nonfiction essay I wrote for my online creative writing class. It is just the rough draft, but I don't think I need to change much so I thought I'd post it anyways. By the way, the paragraphs and dialogue are structured wrong only because blogger won't allow me to use the tab key.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I am 16 years old. It is the end of the first week in November, 2002. I am in the ICU of Hennepin County Medical Center lying in a hospital bed. It has been seven days since I was in a terrible car accident that left me paralyzed from the neck down and on a ventilator. My mother, a beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman is sitting by my bedside. She is examining my long dark brown hair.

"Jenni, I think it would be better if I just cut them all out," she says, staring into my blue eyes, leaning on the edge of the bed softly touching my forehead with her right hand.

"Please no," I beg, "promise me you won't!" I am looking at her with sad puppy eyes and a frown, trying to show her with my face how badly I want her not to do it.

She is talking about the six giant matted clumps of hair on my head. They are like rats' nests; a combination of blood, grease and filth. I have been lying on my hair for a week. The doctors and nurses are more concerned about my health and keeping me alive than my knotted-up hair. My mother is letting me know that it's time to get rid of the nasty bunches. I am pleading with her more, asking if there is any way that she could try to salvage as much hair as possible. My mother's intention is to cut every chunk to avoid further matting.

She spends a grueling 3 hours trying to de-tangle the masses. I am fading in and out of sleep due to the heavy drugs given to me for pain relief. While I am partially asleep, my mother asks the nurse on duty for a pair of scissors. The nurse turns around and looks at my mother with a puzzled face. She tells the nurse that it's necessary; she has been trying so hard, but this one clump is too big and too tangled to get so she is going to have to cut it.

I wake up to the sound of an alarm going off. I am relieved to see my mother still at my bedside. She looks at me with a concerned face. I ask her what is wrong. She tells me that she cut a chunk out of my hair while I was sleeping.

"Don't be mad, I had to do it," she exclaims. "It's just hair, it will grow back."

"But it was my hair!" I yell back. I'm sure she can feel the hurt in my voice.


It is mid-October, 2005. I am on my way to Rocco's hair salon a few blocks away from my house. My mother is driving me in our handicap accessible van that is custom fit for my wheelchair. We arrive at Rocco's and I get out of the van using the wheelchair lift. As I enter through the double doors, the first thing I notice is the smell of hair products; shampoo and conditioner, hair spray, gel. I am looking around, checking the place out. There are photos hanging on the walls of people posing, showing off their hairstyles. I go in further and check in at the reception desk. They take me over to a spot that they have prepared for me. They have moved the barber chair before I got there so that my wheelchair can sit right in front of the mirror. As I get into position, I hear blow dryers running and clients gossiping to their stylists about their seemingly busy lives.

I am going to be cutting 12 inches of my hair off and donating it to an organization called Locks of Love. They use the hair to make wigs for kids with alopecia, a disease that prevents them from growing hair. My decision to donate my hair came about when my mother told me that my hair was getting long. It is down to my elbows, the longest it's ever been. I decide that I just want to snip it all off and give short hair a try. My mother suggests that if I'm going to do that, I might as well donate it. I tell her it's a great idea, and wish I'd thought of it myself.

After a few minutes the hairstylist shows up in front of me. Her name is Sandy; she has brown spiked hair with highlights. She is wearing blue jeans with a white button up blouse on top, tucked into her waistband. She has a black vest draped over her blouse and cowboy boots on. Her personality strikes me. I can tell she is an eccentric free spirit who is positive and willing to go for anything, just by first glance.

"Are you ready?" asks Sandy in a husky voice.

I pause for a moment and then say, "I think so; as ready as I ever will be."

Sandy puts my long hair in a ponytail. She picks up a scissors and begins to cut right above the hair tie. When she is done, 12 inches of my hair is free from my head. She holds it up next to me and looks at my face in the mirror. I am overwhelmed with feelings. Thoughts and emotions are filling my head like water seeping into an open hole. My feelings are very strong, and I begin to show it. I am realizing that I am giving a piece of myself away; a piece that I once fought so hard keep.

My hair is now chin length. Sandy sprays it wet with a squirt bottle full of water. She then cuts the uneven ends straight before layering it all around. Then she cuts the front to the shape of my face. When the cutting is over with, she starts blow drying it and uses a round brush to curl the ends under.

"So, what do you think? Do you like it?" asks Sandy.

"It feels so different," I respond, "but I really like it. It makes me look older."

"Great! Anything else I can get you?" Sandy says as she looks at me and then my mother.

"I think we're good," replies my mother. Then she glances at me with a smile, "I am so proud of you! You're an amazing person and I'm glad you're my daughter. You're going to make such a difference on someone's life."

"Thanks," I say as we exit the salon. "I may not be able to walk or breathe on my own, but I can grow hair."



Anonymous said...

You're a great writer! Thank you for your inspiring words.

Matthew Smith said...

I just thought I should give you a bit of advice: this passage needs a little rewrite:

I am overwhelmed with feelings. Thoughts and emotions are filling my head like water seeping into an open hole. My feelings are very strong, and I begin to show it.

I say this because you've mentioned non-specific thoughts and feelings in three consecutive sentences, and the simile in the second sentence looks a lot like box-checking. Can I suggest something like:

I am overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions, which seep into my head (etc.), and I cannot help but show it.

I loved the essay though and I didn't realise the hair donations carried such emotion for you. I didn't notice that anything was out of place or ill-formatted. A while back I saw something on TV here in England about where a lot of the hair used in wigs in the West comes from - often poor people in India. It's touching to read about someone donating hair when it meant a lot to her, for people who really need it.

Greg said...

great post

Jenni said...

Thanks Matt for the advice. I'm going to change it for my final draft.

Matthew Smith said...

Hi there again,

It occurred to me last week that all your "writings" are actually speeches, so that might explain why you repeated yourself in that paragraph I pointed out. One of the people I subscribe to on Twitter is a woman in Australia called Hayley who has RSD or CRPS, a condition which causes intense pain and, sometimes, paralysis although not in her case, I don't think (Hilary Lister has it). She recently installed Dragon as, I suspect, the pain in her wrists was getting too bad to type with, but she was having difficulty "writing" by speaking. She has a blog here. I suggested she come over here and she said she would. I thought her pain must be bad if she is resorting to this, but then, some people just can't type.

Are you ever going to do a feature on your wheelchair? Details like what type it is, whatever special features it has and why this one was chosen and not another.