The following is an essay I wrote as an example of a memoir for m fourth and fifth graders.
I looked down at the hairbrush and saw a big wad of hair. “Gross”, I thought. “Do I really shed that much hair?” Sitting on the bus on the way to school, another snapshot of hair sprung up in the forefront of my memory. It was the image of a chunk of hair caught in a hairbrush, but this time the brush had twice as much hair. In fact, it looked a bit like a rodent. It looked… disturbing.
I looked up from the brush and saw my mother’s face. She looked sullen, defeated. In her other hand was a pair of scissors and a comb. “Will you cut it?” she asked. “It’s itching me, and it’s falling out in bigger chunks.” My mom had cancer. She always tried not to act like it was a big deal, but once her hair started falling out from the chemo, I could tell she was beginning to feel irritated. Not in a sad, sick puppy kind of way, but more so in a stubborn, I’m stronger-than-I-look-please-don’t-pity-me kind of way. She and I both knew that once she was bald, that look would follow her everywhere. ‘
I took the scissors, looked her square in the eye and replied, “It will be my honor.” She knew I was being dramatic and playful by my overly-formal tone and grand arm gestures. We both chuckled, as if we were trying to convince ourselves that this was not a big deal, it would be okay.
My mom’s hair was about shoulder-length at the time. It was honey vanilla blond and thick like rope. I fought my intuition to set the scissors down and back away. I began to snip. The sound of the scissors was muffled, slightly- we chatted as I combed and cut. My mom made jokes about me hacking her hair off, I tried to reassure her that it was fine- I had done this with my Barbies a dozen times. We giggled and gabbed like girlfriends. I remember thinking how odd all of this was. I looked down at the pieces of hair on the ground and began to feel apprehensive about soon having to see my mother as a bald woman. Then I began to feel guilty about feeling apprehensive- after all, this was not about me.
Finally, after I had cut it as short as she wanted it (before going to the hairdresser for a final buzz), I turned her around to face herself in the mirror. She turned, and paused for an excruciatingly long moment. She was a deer in the headlights. In that second, I asked myself, “Should I tell her? Should I tell her how bad she looks? Oh no….” All of a sudden, an enormous grin emerged on my mom’s face. She broke out into hysterical laughter… and I did too. I’m talking about tear-inducing, deep belly, could barely breathe kind of laughter. She exclaimed in between laughs, “I… look… like…” She took a big gulp of air…” BILLY RAY CYRUS!!!” I could barely see through the tears in my eyes from laughing so hard, but she was right. I had given my mother a mullet. It looked awful. I exclaimed, “Business in the front… party in the back!” We laughed for what felt like an hour. Finally, we gathered ourselves and she looked at me, silently agreeing that maybe this wasn’t so bad. And in that moment she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.
Hair is a funny thing. We take it for granted- sometimes it hold meaning, sometimes it tells the world things you don’t want it to know about you, like you overslept, you had a hat on for half the day, you don’t know how to use a curling iron, you have cancer. Sometimes, though, even when hair tells the world something, you can look it right in the eye and say hair is just hair. You can let things that are out of your control make you sit back and give up, or you can shake them off and choose to have a good, old fashioned, pee- your pants kind of laugh. I looked up at my hand while sitting on the 38 Geary. Something had been tickling my finger- it was one loose, long strand wrapped around my thumb. I picked it up, let it fall, and felt a smile spread across my face.