by Jeff Oaks
New haircut day. Now that my hair is dimming on top, I approach my local Supercuts with the anxiety I used to reserve for the dentist. I don’t really want to know the truth the enormous mirror will show me, the various shine-throughs of scalp through hair. But I did notice the scruffiness of my grown-out hair this morning and I thought it was time to clean things up a bit. I had a brief moment in which I thought I’d have the courage at last to simply shave it all off and see what my skull looks like. But when I got inside the cool air-conditioning of the shop, I chickened out. Two years ago, when my mother was going through chemo and her hair fell out, I thought I’d have the courage and sympathy to lose my hair as well, so she wouldn’t be alone. But I couldn’t do that then either, even though that would have given me a noble cover if the results were ugly.
It’s funny to me this faintness of heart about my hair. I really want to be braver. I know there are friends who would be glad to have what I have left. I was reading Alexander Levy’s book The Orphaned Adult yesterday, and as he was talking about the way a particular patient’s life turned, finally, toward adulthood after the death of his parents, I wondered about my own present, how I might be similarly making moves, often unconscious ones or subconscious, half-conscious ones, toward my embrace of the new present I find myself in. That I got a haircut much closer to the scalp that I usually do is as close as I could get to making a change today. But maybe it’s a step somewhere.
Since about forty-five, I’ve been paying attention more and more to men slightly older than me, how they dress, how they speak, how they present themselves in public and in private, what is different. It’s not exactly that I want to disappear into the crowd of them (although I do have very strong issues around blending in, becoming a Zelig), but that I want to see what the choices might be. Can I get away with a hat? Should I start investing in suits? A corduroy jacket? Dress shirts? These aren’t merely decorative choices. Any actor has a story about how finding particular piece of wardrobe changed his or her relationship to the character he or she is supposed to inhabit. I suppose I haven’t found that key thing yet. Maybe I only want there to be a “key” thing, so I can feel as if something about me could be settled for a little while, something that I could just buy, that I wouldn’t have to invent out of my feelings for once. I don’t particularly want to feel things very deeply except for the pieces I’m working on about my mother and, even more frightening, about my dog Bailey, who died a couple of years ago. Those are my two border crossing moments of my middle-age; after them I knew I would be someone else than I had been.
Still, I sit here at the coffeehouse in a pair of cargo shorts, a T-shirt, a ratty checked flannel shirt over that, a pair of Adidas soccer sneakers on. I’m listening to the Fleetwood Mac station on Pandora, which plays the music of my adolescence and twenties–Heart, Tom Petty, The Eagles, and so on. I fear becoming one of those men whose effort not to recognize their lives changed decades ago becomes so obvious it’s painful to see. They seem stuck in a kind of Gap or Old Navy jeans and khaki informality. Maybe I’m ready for something else now. Or to be someone else.