Jan 24, 2023, 05:57AM

Trimming the Mortal Coils

Life has no meaning, and we’re all going to die.

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Got my hair cut yesterday, as if we weren’t all still eventually going to die. The hairdresser suggested long layers, as if life weren’t a meaningless and arbitrary succession of events leading every one of us sooner or later to the same place. Been getting a lot of compliments. One friend remarked on my hair’s body and bounce, and for a moment I forgot about the infinite chasm that lies before and ahead of us, existence being but a brief interruption in a vast expanse of nothingness.

I went to Rezo Salon in Manhattan, which specializes in curly hair, but takes no position on each strand’s resemblance to the mortal coil we will all soon shuffle off. What position is there to take? Can death be refused? It was my first time at Rezo. After the shampoo, the hairdresser applied a deep conditioner, just as society conditions us to turn our heads from the glaring fact of our mortality, though our eventual expiration is the only thing on which we can truly rely. For life is a gaping maw savagely devouring us, though politely never speaking with its mouth full, unless it is to ask the question: Why?

While death is assured, all else is uncertain. The questions come at us from all sides: “How much would you like me to take off the bottom?” What date will mark my gravestone?

My hairdresser suggested trimming an inch all around, “to keep the strands healthy,” she said, “and prevent split ends.” An inch, yes, like those adorable worms that’ll eat us when it is our turn in the ground. The worm measures its life in inches—how many times will it inch before it ceases? How many inches make up the void? My hair has never looked better.

Its temporary luster brings up a question, however: Before my brief time upon this Earth comes to an end, will it, like my hair, split? That is, will I, having grown a certain length and having become over time unhealthy, be clipped by a nameless god? I studied my hairdresser’s face: I feared, I trembled, then nodded for her to proceed with the trim. One must cultivate gratitude in the face of death, I told her, for would there be any shape, which is to say, meaning, if hair or life were endless?

She agreed: “You should book your next appointment now.”

My hairdresser… My reaper…

“Where do you part your hair?” she asked.

“Does it matter?” I asked back, understanding very well that I’m but a speck in a vast ocean of nothingness, and my hair—curly specks.

“Yes,” she answered. “It affects how I’ll angle the hair framing your face.”

“The Center, which is to say, the middle, which is to say, an avocation of a crisis,” I replied, startled by my own eyes in the mirror, and the subtle lines of decay that have begun to underline them, all illuminated by a rectangle of bulbs surrounding the brief opening showing me back to myself. My life, framed by darkness, an infinity of nothing expanding out in every direction from the salon chair. “How do you style it?” she followed up.

Style. Isn’t this blind march toward oblivion hard enough? And yet we’re compelled to adopt a style for our hair, the strands of which we know are already dead, lifeless, wavy echoes reaching back to us from the grave. Shaping time as it falls, irreversibly, from our scalp, we are as sculptors forcing clay into an imitation of life. We choose a hairstyle, a lifestyle, never calling it what it is: a deathstyle.

However meaningless and arbitrary my center part, one must participate, one is compelled to continue, assembling moments in a banana clip or side ponytail, gathering the strands tightly in a desperate attempt to hold onto something, anything. But one can’t hold on can one? Eventually the elastic breaks and the hair explodes in entropy and chaos. What good is gel when faced with the eternal? “I do not style my hair,” I explained, “but accept its inevitability.”

She handed me a mirror to examine the back.

“It is good.”

She removed my smock. I rose from the chair. And as I did some rogue strands of cut hair fell to the floor, joining the others already scattered at my feet. The sight of it made me pause, and I looked back in the mirror, at my brief eyes and then at hers. How many more haircuts will I receive? Will she give? I tipped 20 percent.

Regarding the clipped hairs, I felt wistful but accepting. What else can one do? I stepped past it, pretending that these years-old parts of me haphazardly arranged in a circle, at which I had once sat at the center, were not very like a fallen crown at my feet, pretending that we’re not all every moment being dethroned from the previous one—kings and queens in exile of our past. I made no sound then. But, looking down at these amputated years and contemplating their loss, I did what we all do in order to go on. I turned and walked out of the salon, as if all I could see were the hope-filled years ahead and didn’t then know where those years, too, would ultimately end up—swept into a dustpan by the salon staff, mixed up in a common grave, and promptly forgotten.



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