My Worst Haircut

Today I read an uplifting story about a kid who was insecure about his haircut at school, but everything ended up working out. It reminded me of one of the worst experiences of my entire life.

I think I was twelve. Growing up, my parents only allowed me to get my hair cut four times a year out of what I considered to be performative and unnecessary frugality. Before we got the internet, as well as when we had it but didn’t know how to put it to much use, my dad used to drive from store to store comparing prices on DVD players, or whatever, in an approach that surely lost more money on gas than it ever saved on DVD players. But I had just realized that all NBA players—my only role models—had very short hair. Therefore, my hair, which was mid-Beatles McCartney-esque, had to be fixed. And because my parents refused my request for a bonus haircut, I had to do it myself.

I wasn’t so optimistic that I thought I would do a great job, though I considered it a possibility and if so, all the better. My goal was simply to demonstrate to my parents the severity of the situation, something they had somehow not yet grasped. I started with the front and at first thought that I was doing well. Moments later, my bangs were gone. Perhaps my poorest choice of all was to stop there, no bangs: the rest as long as ever. I looked like a lobotomy patient.

But my parents, no less stubborn than I, wouldn’t cough up the ten dollars to fix the disaster. My mom said I’d just have to wear a baseball hat to school, so, devastated and afraid, I wore my baseball hat to school.

The main flaw in my mom’s plan was that it was common practice at my school to steal hats off of classmates’ heads. I had done it myself in the past, not knowing that I was helping set a precedent that would so seriously jeopardize my future well-being. I entered school my first day post-op with this in mind, resigned to hyper-vigilance. My only wish was that my hat would stay in perpetual contact with my head, and for a few days, it did.

The first time or two that someone made a grab for my hat I was able to clamp down on it before the thief could abscond. It was actually novel. No one in school had thwarted a hatnapping before. My justified paranoia had given me Spider-Man-like reflexes, and I noted the bemused respect in the eyes of my classmates.

But one day I let it get away from me. In a panic, I shot my arm across my forehead as if to reach in the direction my hat had gone. It was quickly returned to me and my head. I wasn’t sure that I had successfully concealed my poverty of bangs, but no one mentioned it, so I told myself that I had.

I started wearing a hoodie all the time, even if I was too hot. My hat was stolen again, but I immediately flipped my hood onto my head. Still no one said anything. Now wiser, I have a hard time imagining that this truly obscured my front buzz quickly enough to be effective, but, psychologically unequipped to entertain the alternate possibility, I continued to believe that my dirty secret might still be my own.

What if I had just been able to laugh at myself? What if I had shown everyone what had happened the first day, made a self-deprecating joke, put my hat back on for obvious reasons, and moved on with my life? Well, it certainly didn’t occur to me at the time, I’ll tell you that.

Instead, I wore my baseball hat to basketball practice, controversially. At the end of practice—not the beginning, thank god—my coach told me I wasn’t allowed to wear a hat during practice. Did he know? I wonder. Did everyone know? I felt relief more than panic upon hearing this because I thought it would be the thing to finally force my mom to get me my haircut. It was not. She simply suggested that I wear a headband. She even had to buy the headband. Sure it cost less than the haircut, but come on.

Then one morning my teacher announced that hats were considered gang symbols, and no one at Sunnyside Elementary was allowed to wear them. This was my nightmare—worse, actually, because I had never imagined such a draconian eventuality. My insides churned and my face got red. All eyes fell on me and the one other kid in the class who was hatted at the time. He removed his cooly and without any discomfort at all. I hadn’t moved. My eyes darted around the room meeting the inquisitive gazes of my classmates. I tried to think.

I asked if I could go to the bathroom. The class laughed but the teacher excused me. Sweating, I went to the bathroom and tried some more to think. Maybe I could go home and explain the situation to my mom. We could get my hair cut quickly and I could return to class, my absence hardly noticed. I snuck out of school and ran the two blocks home. The door was locked and no one was there.

I climbed over the gate into the backyard to try the back door, but it was locked too. I had run out of ideas, yet there was no going back. What would I do? Would I have to transfer schools? What lie would I tell the kids at the new school to explain my mid-semester relocation? Would they hear about the hat incident? How much inter-elementary school communication was there?

I went into our chicken coop (because if your parents were hippies in Portland in the 2000s you had at least one and up to three hens: the maximum allowed within city limits), and held my chicken named Feathers (I was terrible at naming pets) and cried.

It turned out that my mom was volunteering at school that day. Someone found her and told her that her son had gone missing after the hat-ban was announced. She found me in the chicken coop and took me to Supercuts. It was there that I looked at my hair for the first time since the day of the cut. It had hardly grown back at all. It was horrifying. My barber made a remark and chuckled. I smiled thinly, and we got on with it.

I returned to class after lunch. As I had planned, I entered wearing my hat. I sat down at my desk, removed it, the kid next to me said, “Nice haircut,” I said, “thanks,” and class began. Of course I was interrogated after school, but I had prepared for that. I told the boy who started the questioning and the onlookers that I had felt nauseated (before there was any mention of hat-wearing or not-wearing), and when I went to the bathroom I threw up in the sink. Realizing the severity of my illness, I simply went home. It was there that I felt much better, but it was almost time for our lunch break and I had happened to need a haircut—total coincidence—so I went and got one, then returned to school.

They didn’t buy it. A kid said he had gone into the bathroom after me and didn’t see any throw up in the sink (why did I say ‘sink’?). I said I had cleaned it up. He said he didn’t see any remnants in the garbage can. I said maybe it was emptied by the janitor. He said he didn’t think so. I said I thought so. We were at an impasse, which meant that even though my story was doubted, it hadn’t been debunked, and everything was going to be okay. It’s remarkable how much lying is required to be a child.

Ironically, inspired by Steve Nash (and to a lesser extent Johnny Damon), a year later I started wearing my hair much longer: late-Beatles McCartney-esque. It is pictures from that time period, which spanned most of middle school, which impressed upon me the importance of always opting for the most boring haircut possible. Now, much like then, my best-case scenario after a cut is for no one to notice. And ever since I decided to prioritize blandness I have had no regrets—relating to haircuts. Well, that’s not true, actually. Not sure why I said that.


Daniel Winn is a a writer and person of other hobbies currently living in Flagstaff, Arizona. His work has been published on Defenestration Mag, Citius Mag, and hardly anywhere else.