Wednesday, December 02, 2015

the world is full of terrible things and i’m thinking about growing my hair out

1. rooms and wings

On Thanksgiving night, AK, her sister and I went to see Room in a nearly empty theater in Irvine while AK’s mom rocked Dash and put him to bed in his pack-n-play. I read and loved the book years ago, and for the most part, the movie delivered a similar mix of beauty, suspense and underlying terror.

If you don’t know the story, it’s this: Five-year-old Jack lives with his mother in Room, which (we learn by reading between the lines of his narration) is actually a homemade bunker built by the man who kidnapped, raped and impregnated his mom. Employing a miraculous mix of creativity and fierce determination, she’s protected him from the ugliness of their situation and created a fairly normal childhood for him. They exercise and take vitamins. They do crafts and watch TV. She tells him stories—one is the story of Samson, whose strength resides in his hair.* Jack’s has never been cut.

Egg Snake: the fun craft that is also a tally of how long you've been imprisoned!
I’m kind of proud to say that Room the movie didn’t hit me much differently from Room the book, despite the fact that I became a mother in between. I’m proud because I hated and hate the notion that only parents truly understand the human condition—that parenthood, and especially motherhood, is this magical, exclusive club.

Okay, so maybe during the scary parts AK had to lean over and whisper, “It’s okay—Dashaboo is home cuddling with his Nana.” But love and empathy are accessible to all humans.

Emma Donaghue wrote the screenplay as well as the novel, and she makes all the right choices, saving Jack from being cloying and his mother from being a Law & Order: SVU-type victim. The story functions as a metaphor for parenting in general—you protect your child from the horror of the world in order to prepare him to face it.** It’s also a portrait of the “good enough” mother. Jack’s mom is arguably the best mother in the world, but she has “gone days” when she curls up in bed and succumbs to the hopelessness of their situation. Jack entertains himself and is okay.

Later she says, “I wasn’t a good enough mother.”

He says, “It’s okay. You’re Ma.”

When she needs strength, he lends her his hair.

2. give me down-to-there hair

There’s plenty of real-life awfulness happening today. Some people shot up a holiday party at a center that helps people with developmental disabilities; why not just kill Santa and Jesus while you’re at it?

I was already in a jumpy mood because I have a cancer check-up coming up. Just writing about it beforehand makes me superstitious—I’d much rather talk about my anxiety in relieved hindsight than in real time. But I’m trying to be brave, for whatever it’s worth. Quite possibly nothing.

In very important news, I’ve been thinking of growing my hair out. When I asked my friend Kenny to cut it just before I started chemo, I was surprised how much I liked it. Keeping it short since then has been a stylistic choice and also my way of saying, “I have short hair because I want to, not because cancer is keeping me from long hair.”

My current awkward 'do. Dash is growing out his hair too, but somehow it looks cuter on him.
Behind that statement, though, is this whispered, opposite one: “Why grow my hair out if I’m going to lose it again anyway?” Why wear your hope right there on your head for everyone to see?

But maybe the brave thing, now, is to be vulnerable. To love (my hair) knowing that it’s better to love and lose (my hair) than never to love at all.

Also, I’m really fucking lazy about getting haircuts.

I was debating my hair choices out loud and Kendra said, “Growing it out could be a good fuck-you to cancer.”

It feels like the opposite—an admission that cancer didn’t just change me in good, wisdom-y ways, that I am scared, that I miss what I lost—but now I think maybe it’s this third thing, and in my experience, the third thing is always where it’s at. Maybe it can be my strength and my weakness at the same time.


*See Susan Straight’s A Million Nightingales for another amazing story of parenting in captivity and the possible magical qualities of hair.

**I didn’t make up that theory. But here’s one I did (theory includes spoilers, but none that aren’t also in the trailer): Room is a little bit of an adoption story (in the book Jack’s mom was adopted by her parents, which she mentions in passing), or at least a love-makes-a-family story. When a reporter asks Ma what she’ll do when Jack asks about his father, she growls, “He is not his father. A father is someone who cares for his child.” And it’s Jack’s step-grandpa who plays the most grandfatherly role in his life.

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