Standing in front of the mirror with a buzzer whirring in my hand, I snap out of what feels like a trance. Freshly dyed bright red locks are piled thickly around my bare feet and my shoulders are covered in the prickly little hairs. There is no hair left to cut.
My head feels light. I’m not sure if it’s because my head is shaved or because I’m panicking.
I sweep up the mess on the floor and climb into the shower, tears streaming down my face. I rub my hands over my newly shaved head as the water pours down my skin. It’s so vulnerable, new skin exposed to the sun for the first time since I was a baby.
It’s been a rough week. When I got off BART the other day there was a stranger sitting on the ground calling for help as crowds of people streamed by without making eye contact. When I ran over they asked me to call for help. The paramedics arrived and carried them away, and they’re okay now. But what if no one had stopped? If I needed medical help would people stop and call, or would they just let me die on the floor, crying out for help in the BART station?
When my homeless neighbor across the street was getting harassed by the police, she told me my neighbor has called the cops on her every day all week. She told me she’s trying to get on general assistance but it’s hard to make it down to the office for the meetings and this morning she missed the appointment because the cops came to throw away her bed. The spider bite on her chest that she got from sleeping on the cold ground is getting infected but she doesn’t have time to worry about that.
“I’m an old woman,” she tells me. “I can’t live like this anymore.”
The cop looks sad as he tells her she has to leave. He says he’s sorry. He tells her to leave but he doesn’t tell her where to go. His politeness makes me sick to my stomach. He is only here to make things worse. He has nothing to offer her. Because she is poor.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Sorry is what the police say when they kill someone,” someone said.
I don’t trust the police so I trust the strangers on BART instead. But as this person calls out for help they just walk by, ears and hearts turned away. So who can I trust?
I look in the mirror and I cry. Because I don’t feel beautiful. Because the unevenness of the shaven hair makes me look wounded. Because my pores are too big. Because my eyebrows are asymmetrical. Because I’m not thin enough. I look like a boy. Some days I am a boy. The lies of attraction I have heard a million times grow loud in my ears and I can’t hear anything else over my self-hatred.
On a normal day I tune out all the stories that tell me I’m doing things wrong. You have to be thin, have perfect skin, shave your legs so that men will want you. If your partner has sex with another person it is because they don’t love you and you aren’t enough. If you have sex with another person it is because you are a slut. Your opinion doesn’t matter very much. If you aren’t making money it’s because what you’re doing is not valuable. These stories will never really go away because they have been repeated again and again since the day I was born, but on a normal day the stories I have written to replace them are louder and easier.
But on days like today when everyone, including me, feels like a stranger on BART, everything feels wrong. I want to be prettier. I want to be smarter. I want to be wanted.
Later, I lie in the sun on my roof, hands on my shaven head, soaking in the sun. The tears have cleaned me out and now I am breathing deeply. Smiling, I savor the feeling of bristly hair on my fingertips and think about the new stories yet to be written. I feel beautiful, I feel vulnerable, I feel competent. Today I am going to talk to strangers and they are going to love me. And I am going to love them.
And always and forever, fuck the police.