A mouthful of a name for the compulsion to pull out your own hair. All hair, the hair on your head, arms, your eyelashes, eyebrows. Lots of people have it, it’s usually paired with anxiety and other lovely issues.
Mine got worse when I felt anxious, my fingers would just curl up in my hair and I’d pluck a strand out. Then another one. And another one. During high school I’d beg the principal to allow me to wear a hat to school so no one could see the bald patches but he told me ‘Just stop pulling out your hair.’
Needless to say, I got picked on. A lot.
I suppose it was a learned habit though.
My mother pulled out her hair too.
I was raised only by my mother, but that didn’t mean we were close. She was a mousy woman who never went out, only to work at the salon and to pick up some groceries. When I was twelve, she started giving me the money so I could go do that.
My mom’s trichotillomania was much worse. Her arms were bald and she had no eyebrows. Her head was covered in bald patches that looked irritated and sore from where she picked at the exposed skin. When she went out, she did have the luxury to be allowed to wear a hat. People tried to get her help, I think. But as far as I know, she never pursued help.
Her obsession with hair went farther though.
When I pulled my hair out, I just wad it up in a ball and toss it. Not my mother.
In the living room as we’d watch TV, her fingers would curl into what little hair she had and pluck! Out came a strand. She’d set it across her lap, run her finger along it, before her hand went right back to her hair. Pluck. Pluck. Pluck.
Pretty soon she’d have several dozen hairs stretched across her lap. She’d stroke them, ever so softly, before pulling out more. At the end of whatever movie or show we’d watch, she’d go down to the basement. At the time, I had no idea what she was doing with the hair, but she’d come back up without it and get to work on dinner.
My friends hated coming to my place. They’d pull faces at my mom’s balding head, and were disgusted by the hair. I’d gotten used to picking out hair from my sandwiches and stews, but one time my friend found a long strand of hair in her spaghetti and screamed before she ran to the bathroom to throw up. She refused to come to my house after that.
I’d grown ashamed of my mother and her compulsion, I’ll admit, but it didn’t stop me from pulling out my own. When I got to be eighteen I moved out with a few other students. We weren’t friends at the time, but I was the only one with a car, so they let me stay with them.
I learned to stem the habit when I was away from my mother, and after one of my roommates suggested I cut my hair, I went the extra mile and shaved it all off. A strange style for a woman, maybe, but it stopped me from pulling it out. At times I’d find myself tugging at the hair on my arms but that wasn’t nearly as strong a desire. More like an itch rather than a need.
The next time I saw my mother I was twenty four years old.
She hadn’t attempted to call, or message me on Facebook, hell I didn’t get even so much as a text from her. It was hurtful, maybe, but I figured that’s just how it was going to be.
Then one day I found myself turning onto her street.
We’d only lived maybe half an hour or so apart, but I’d never bothered to go visit. She never invited me after all, but today I felt different. Someone needed to check up on her, after all.
When I got up to the front door I thought the window was covered in cobwebs at first. When I got the door open, I heard the several familiar snaps.
I forced the door open to the hair web of my mother.
It was the only real way to describe it, a web. Strands of hair had been woven together, over everything in the house. I covered my mouth to stop from inhaling the musty scent. God, had my absence made my mother’s compulsion grow out of control?
Half tempted to call the police, I walked past the hall into the kitchen, where a similar sight of woven hair greeted me. It appeared that these hairs were woven first, they were starting to crumble and seemed more like efficient tangles rather than the smooth plaiting that concealed the couch.
Where the hell was my mother?
I heard something clank downstairs.
Let it be clear, as a child my mother always made clear I wasn’t allowed down there. She said the stairs were steep and I could break my neck. As a teenager I didn’t want to go down there. It was dark and smelled bad.
But curiosity got the better of me, that and the possibility that my mother could be injured down there. So I walked to the door.
It had been entirely taken over by hair, I ended up having to take a pair of scissors from the kitchen to cut my way open.
The basement was dark, and the moment I set my hand on the banister to steady myself I felt it.
Even more hair.
But this wasn’t my mother’s hair.
See, I should’ve put it together when I was upstairs. That my mother had fine, brittle brown hair.
The hair upstairs varied from blond to black. And the hair I rested my hand on was thick, I could almost imagine the locks of curls that had been stretched out to weave together.
Feeling dread seep into every pore, I walked into the basement.
It was a maze of darkness. I could only feel my way through twisting walls of hair. I could feel textures, coarse, fine, curly, thick, frizzy… had she stolen it from work?
Then I turned to a room only lit by a dim desk lamp.
A woman was strapped to the chair, and I took notice of her luxurious and long red hair. She was entirely unconscious.
I heard the buzz of a razor. And I saw a pair of hands extend from the darkness to stroke that lovely red hair.
I screamed and ran from the house. I ripped through so much hair, tore down all the sheets of it that I could. I was trapped for god knows how long.
I finally reached the kitchen and went out the back door, ripping away locks of dyed green and pink hair that had it tied closed.
Apparently you look like a crazy person when you run down the street, covered in enough hair to make a whole new person and screaming your head off. Someone called the cops and I was lugged in for questioning.
Someone had been going around and kidnapping people, returning them after three days physical unharmed save a few nicks, but telling stories of a dark basement and someone stroking their hair and complimenting it before shaving it all off.
I was partially relieved my mother hadn’t become a serial killer, but the worse problem was when the police searched the house.
They hadn’t found my mother.
But they did find a tunnel that led into the ground, covered by a mass of hair so thick they had to burn it in order to get through.