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My Hair, My Identity
When I was born, I had thick, black hair that was 2 1/2 inches long. No matter what my mom did with it, my hair would always stick straight up. After two years, my hair was past my shoulders -- no longer sticking up, it was whitish blonde. My mom even gave me a perm one time. All of the pulling and yanking made me mad at my mom for a couple of weeks. To this day, I still have thick hair and a sensitive scalp.

My first traumatic haircut was when I was five years old -- just about to enter kindergarten. Everyone was cutting their hair like Dorothy Hamill, according to my mom. My hair was short. I hated it. One day, while walking to school by myself, a couple of "cool" second graders were walking ahead of me. I was wearing blue slacks, a blue striped polo shirt, and my signature giant glasses (which had become a permanent fixture of my face since I was about three years old). I will never forget what they said to me.

"Are you a boy?" they mocked. I told them I wasn't, and they flipped their long hair behind them, giggled, and sped away; as if to prevent me from walking close to them. I never really felt mad at the girls. It wasn't their fault that my hair was so short that I looked like a boy.

I went through a series of bad 80s hairdos. You don't realize how ridiculous they are until you look back at the pictures. I had the giant bangs. I had the faux-mullet -- layered hair that was supposed to look good, but bordered on White Trash America. When I was 11, the faux-mullet was chopped. Besides my bangs, my hair was one length -- just below my chin.

At the time I had changed my hair, I saw a great movie called Edward Scissorhands. In this movie, Winona Ryder played a girl named Kim who had beautiful, long blonde hair. At the part where she danced gracefully in the snow, I was inspired to grow my hair as long as hers. I thought to myself, "When I'm 17, I want my hair to look that great."

By the time I was 17, my hair had grown to my waist. I watched Edward Scissorhands again. What was I thinking? Winona Ryder's hair did not look good.... but mine looked great! It was really long, thick and shiny. A lot of my identity I associated with my plentiful golden tresses. And, even though we lived in Arizona where temperatures routinely exceeded 110°, I kept it going long and beautiful -- except for the occasional trim.

It was two weeks before my 19th birthday, and I had decided to go cliff jumping with my (then) boyfriend and friend. (My hair was past my waist; if I wasn't careful, I could easily tuck it into my pants.) On the way home, we got into a car accident and I became a quadriplegic -- breaking my neck at C4-C5. After the numerous x-rays and cat scans, I had to get the halo.

I was exhausted, eyelids drooping, when I heard the buzzing sound of a shaver. My eyes shot wide open. "Not my hair!" I pleaded. The man with the shaver smiled, and assured me that he would only have to cut four small areas of my head -- not much bigger than a dime. I agreed. The halo was fitted to me.

I was in the hospital (several hospitals, actually) for nearly 5 months. My attitude was positive, but there was something weighing me down. Could it have been a couple of pounds of hair? When the thought came up, I always pushed it back. It was my hair. It was more than my hair. It was a part of who I was.

Despite the anguish it caused me on a regular basis, I kept my hair long. After I got home from the hospital, I probably kept it for six months. One day, after getting my hair brushed -- with my sensitive scalp, it was a lot like a torture session -- I decided I had had enough. The hair would have to go. I would have to let that part of myself go, even though it felt like I had already given up so much. (Or rather, had so much taken from me.)

I told my mom to cut my hair to above my shoulders. She asked me probably a dozen times, "Are you sure you want to do this?" I said I was, but couldn't help sobbing as the scissors claimed the last part of identity that the car accident had left me.

I still love my hair as it is -- a little shorter, but infinitesimally more manageable. I could spend so much time missing it. I could spend so much time missing all of the things that I used to do before I was paralyzed. That would make me really sad, though, and I hate to be sad. So, I don't do it. My hair is not who I am. I am Kim, and I am great, and I don't need special hair to feel special anymore.