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My hair started falling out two weeks after she legally changed her name from Hayley Reece Stein to Audrey Clemen Tines. Audrey after Hepburn, the inspiration for her new hairstyle, and Clemen Tines after her favorite fruit, which we used to peel with eager hands and feed to each other in the backseats of my Chevy. My friend John texted me a screenshot of her Facebook post, a photo of her new ID with her name and pixie hair proudly displayed. He captioned the message, “whoa there. what’s this about?” and I sent back, “midlife crisis? lol” and then my hair started falling out.
It’s genetic. It happened to my mom and my dad and their moms and dads and all the ancestors before that are wearing hats in the family portraits. When we were young, John said that women can’t go bald so I snuck him into my mom’s room when she was sleeping and used a pencil to point out the thin parts of her hair. He said she must have cancer, then, and I cried all night, assuming that John was right because he was six months older than me and he could ride an adult bicycle. When I asked my mom the next day, she said that cancer doesn’t usually take hair. The medicine does. As my mother explained it, she’s not bald because of radiation; she’s bald because God made her that way, like how God made birds with wings and fruit with seeds.
Fruit with seeds. Clemen Tines. Jesus Christ.
The first thing I did was buy a top hat. I thought it would be funny, walking into work with a top hat. I thought if I brought attention to my body’s changes then everyone would have to understand that I am a chill, green-tea-drinking type of person who can’t be bothered to conform to societal beauty standards. But then John took one look at me and my lips started twitching. And he said: Holy hell. It happened.
It happened. My hair started falling out and Audrey Clemen Tines bought a two-bedroom condo in Manhattan. That’s another thing I learned from a screenshot, this time from Karen, who thought that Audrey and I were still together. The photo’s caption read, “Wow! A second bedroom...maybe for when a little somebody comes along?!” to which I replied, “ha! Just an office for now :).” I don’t know why I did that. My therapist said that it’s because a part of me still hopes that Audrey will invite me back into her life and we will share everything again, and it was probably the mention of children that tapped into these subconscious wishes. The Clemen Tines family. The Great Clemen Tines Legacy. Baby Clemen Tines.
My therapist also said that I’m losing hair from the stress. She said that, like everything in life, it’ll be temporary as long as I believe that it can pass. I said that there’s no reason for me to hope for such a thing because, like an incredibly chill person, I can’t be bothered to conform to societal beauty standards. I wore a top hat to our next meeting, just for kicks, but she didn’t laugh; she said, Oh, honey, and then asked if I’m still taking my medication.
Neglecting to take prescribed medication is another thing that’s genetic. When my mom had her second heart attack, I found an entire unopened bottle of beta blockers on her nightstand while I was picking up clothes for her to change into at the hospital. The first thing I said to her when she woke up from surgery was, “Why do you do such stupid things?” My therapist told me that my guilt over my hypocritical medication habits is the reason that I have such a tense relationship with my mother. She also asked if Audrey knew about the pills, but this was before Audrey was Audrey, and before what Audrey knew about me didn’t matter.
Ms. Clemen Tines knew about the pills, and she knew about my aversion to them. She knew about my mom. And she knew, too, that all of this was going to happen. I warned her about my family’s historic hair problem. I told her, listen, someday my hair is going to fall out and you aren’t going to love me anymore. And I was right, except it didn’t happen in that order.
As Ms. Clemen Tines once pointed out, they have solutions for hair problems like mine. Pills and procedures. Wigs, too. Top hats, if you’re incredibly chill and likable. Scam wands that you zap over your scalp to invigorate the hair follicles. Spells. Audrey had a friend from NYU who called herself a witch and collected witchy materials: crystals and herbs, long skirts, vaguely culturally appropriative ceramic paperweights, etc. She offered to help me take care of the impending baldness by rubbing a homemade goo into my hair. When I refused, she gave Audrey a knowing look, as if to say, well, some people just don’t know what’s good for them.
A week after that, Audrey started talking about needing a change. First, it was a hypothetical move from the suburbs to the city. Then it was a hypothetical move from the suburbs of the United States to the suburbs of France. Then it was cosmetic: maybe a facelift or a nose job would scratch the itch, but no, needles scared her and the chemicals were too suspicious. And, as I pointed out, her nose was perfect and her face was perfect and everything was perfect except for the thing inside of her that was telling her to uproot and run.
And then she ran. But without me. It was like she could smell the impending hair loss, like some bizarrely shallow hunting dog. Like I wore a sign that said: THIS BODY IS ABOUT TO BEGIN THE EXTREMELY SLOW PROCESS OF FALLING COMPLETELY APART; PLEASE VACATE THE PREMISES AND TAKE YOUR BELONGINGS WITH YOU.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe my hair didn’t start falling out two weeks after she legally changed her name to Audrey Clemen Tines. Maybe it started falling out days before she left, and I just didn’t notice. Maybe she woke up and a few strands of my hair were on the pillow beside her and she calmly brushed them away, all the while thinking: well, this is the end.
My therapist says that hair has nothing to do with anything. She says that Audrey left me because I am the kind of person who wears top hats to feign self-esteem and refuses to put witch-goo on their head and becomes more boring every day. Or at least that’s how I interpreted what she said, which was only this: Maybe she was still figuring out who she needed to be, and you’ve already figured out who you are, so she left to find space to grow.
Space to grow. Without me. She has found where she needs to be, and she’s there without me, with a new name and a new haircut. Ten years from now I’ll see her in a supermarket and we won’t recognize each other. These things happen.
We first fed clementines to each other in the backseats of my Chevy on the third date. I had bought a bunch of them, one of those huge mesh bags from the supermarket, because they were the only thing that satisfied both my sweet tooth and Audrey’s new vegan diet. She told me it was thoughtful. We held each other for hours because it was so easy to do that back then. Hours were such tiny things, with nothing to fit into them or wring out of them. We saw movies at outdoor theaters like that, holding each other and eating fresh fruit. When any scary scenes happened, she’d squeeze my hand tightly, and I’d pretend that we were old people, sitting in a dusty living room, knowing that someday soon we would die within hours of each other. That’s how tightly I’d squeeze back.
The decomposition rate of hair, kind of like the decomposition rate of fingernails, is slower than that of most tissues. This is because of chemistry and molecular structure and other nonsense like that. It can take years for hair to decompose. This means that when hairy people die, their skin and flesh go away long before their hair does. They look like Halloween skeletons with wigs on. I will just be an old-fashioned skeleton. I will have bones and fingernails, and that’s it. I used to picture myself and Audrey as a pair of dancing skeletons haunting kids after we died; she’d have her long, pre-pixie hair, and I’d have to help her hold it against her skull while we did our spooking because she didn’t have any actual scalp left.
Now, when I think of our gravesites, I imagine Audrey’s pixie hair lying in a pile around her long, thin bones. We are both super, super bald. My skeleton is wearing a top hat. We are on opposite sides of the cemetery, but we sit up and wave to each other from time to time, smiling as best we can without any lips or gums or muscles, nodding and gesturing, forgiving, remembering when we knew each other in a past life.
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