I have a lot of hair. Never as long Rapunzel’s, but my hair has grown to my bellybutton. As a newborn baby, I had a head full of thick hair. This fact is recorded in family photos. Growing up, I loved having long flowing hair. It was pretty, easy to make into a fake beard to stroke as I pondered life’s difficult questions (Why wasn’t I given Gushers in my lunch? Could I get Shaffer to share his Gushers? Do I really need to know how to multiply to leave elementary school?).
My mother was not a fan of my hair. More precisely, she wasn’t a fan of cutting out the mats that formed in her crying daughter’s unbrushed hair. When she told me I could no longer leave my hair long, I had to think quickly.
That year, a friend had chopped her long hair to her ears. She wasn’t tired of her hair; she wanted to do good in the world. She donated her hair to Locks of Love, to be made into a wig for cancer survivors. With cancer afflicting my family and neighbors, I knew enough about chemotherapy and the resulting hair loss to understand why survivors wanted wigs.
This was my Eureka moment. I had found a way to keep my hair long and help people who had suffered like my family and friends.
My mom was on board, so I got to grow my hair longer than it had ever been. By the middle of sixth grade, a year after my Locks of Love discovery, I was ready. My first donation required only 10 inches, so I still had plenty left plus the pride for the good my hair would be doing.
A year and a half later, I cut my hair again, this time donating maybe 11 inches. By then I had forgotten that my plan had been to keep my hair long. I only cared about its growing fast so I could donate again. Cancer was harming more people I knew: friends’ moms, neighbors, family. I couldn’t cure anyone, but I hoped my hair would give hope.
In another 18 months, I gave a whopping 15 inches, losing five pounds of hair and adopting a trendy pixie cut. All the time my hair had been growing, I was hoping to save my friend Grace, diagnosed with brain cancer at 15. I could not save her and felt that I should have done more.
Still, I was having some measurable effect. The 11-year-old I babysat was inspired to donate her hair, 10 long inches to Wigs for Kids, a charity that focused on children.
Two and a half years later, three weeks before my senior prom, I cut my hair again. With 14 inches gone, I shocked my friends with a blunt cut at my ears with straight bangs.
After this fourth donation, my hair was growing more slowly, and I was missing it, even though I knew it would always come back.
I committed to one last cut, giving my hair two and a half years to luxuriate.
The day I cut my hair for the fifth time, I was so glad to be rid of it. Living in humid Maryland in July with long, thick hair is not fun. It was over 90 degrees when I walked into the salon. When I walked out, 11 inches of hair neatly separated into four hair ties in my bag, it felt 10 degrees cooler.
I already miss my long hair. But I know that after it has grown long again, I’ll want to get rid of it. Like Rapunzel, my hair long has helped others climb high.
If you have hair to spare, consider donating it. The organization of my choice is the Grace Badger Murphy Fund, established to honor my lost friend’s life, learning and joy. This fund contributes to charities including the Trevor Zoo at the Millbrook School and the Hole in the Wall Gang camps, as well as research into children’s brain cancer. Donate at www.cfect.org and select the Grace Badger Murphy Fund or send any donations to: The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, 147 State St., New London, CT 06320. In the memo section please note: The Grace Badger Murphy Fund.