written by Matt Jones | illustrated by Vladimir Milosavljevic
The weary trichologist stands in front of the mirror and parts her hair. She threads her fingers along the seams of her scalp feeling for the places where she might be coming apart. Hand settled atop her head, pulling back her thick brown curls so the lines on her forehead go smooth, she squints into the mirror and says, “Here! Look here.”
I put my hands on her shoulders and turn her around. “What am I looking for?”
She sighs. “For hair, Matt, for lack of hair. I don’t know. I think I’m going bald.”
The weary trichologist is my wife and she’s as much a trichologist as my sixteen-year-old self was an erotologist. Still, she takes an obsessive interest in the health of her hair and scalp. Before we were together, she was married to someone else, someone who made her hair fall out, who made her scalp itch with yeasty red rashes. Had she shaved her head at that time, I believe those rashes would have spelled out in perfect, wraparound and dandruffy script, “Get out now!” A message from the body’s internal control center.
She’s not always the weary trichologist. Sometimes she’s the angry trichologist. Other times she is the sexy one, the bright-eyed one. Like two love-bound bonobos, we spend inordinate amounts of time grooming one another. I look closely at her hairline and tell her, “No, you are most definitely not balding.” She examines my part, pries at my scalp and tells me that I’m not washing well enough. “Show me,” she says, “show me how you shampoo your hair.”
So I show her. I show her how my hands make invisible suds and she shakes her head disapprovingly, spreads a towel on the bathtub’s edge, and has me lean my head over the side. She turns on the water, pours a warm cupful over my head so it streaks down the back of my neck, wetting the collar of my shirt. She works her fingers deep into the skin and says, “When you’re washing your hair, you’re not really washing your hair. You’re washing your scalp. It’s where all of the oils collect.” I feel like a child, a patient in the way she explains how I’ve been inadequately cleaning myself all these years. The sense of doubt that wells up in me is almost enough to make me ask her about how to properly do other things — wipe, boil an egg — but I hold back because the sensation of her scrubbing fingers behind my ears feels so right.
When she was married before, she developed something called Telogen Effluvium, literally an “outflow” of hair in such an amount that, everywhere she walked, the bottoms of her dainty feet were covered with the keratin-bulbed reminders of her shedding. It is a fully reversible condition that is often caused by an intensely stressful event or period in a person’s life. So now, whenever the house is dirty, whenever there is a big deadline approaching, she compulsively examines her hair, afraid that a stack of ungraded student papers is going to make her go bald again. She worries that the hardest parts of life will repeat themselves and I know that in her worry is more than just a fear of balding.
I can do little to comfort her anxiety. After all, I am no doctor, no trichologist. In fact, I recently discovered that I’d been improperly washing my hair for the last quarter century. Really, I can only stand by her in the overwhelming fluorescence of our bathroom. I can lean against the wall, shoulder blades biting into the towel rack, while she inspects the integrity of every follicle. Then, when she’s finished and weary and her hair still hasn’t fallen out, I can be close by to tell her that, just because it happened once, doesn’t mean it’ll happen again.
About the artists:
Vladimir Milosavljevic is an artist with a degree in Book Design and Illustration from the National Academy of Arts in Sofia.
Matt Jones is a graduate candidate in the University of Alabama MFA program. His essays have appeared in Slice Magazine and Okey-Panky.