I’ve been in California a couple months now, and it’s been an unbelievably slow acclimation. It’s not something I understand consciously—I can’t point to anything that’s been “wrong.” I just knew I didn’t feel right yet and that I had to be patient with myself.
At the same time, I’m acclimating to my new body. I realized I don’t really understand how to connect to it consciously either. I have to do the slow, patient work of getting in touch with it. I’m not going to start dating again and just suddenly feel self-assured. I’m not going to buy new clothes in bigger sizes and not have to process it.
So between the new coast and the new flesh, there’s been a steady undercurrent of anxiety and sadness that I just had to sit through. That right there is the hardest but most effective part. The only way out is through.
But today, I felt a tiny little shift. I dropped Finn at a groomer’s this morning, and I realized I wanted to go explore. I didn’t have to force myself this time. I didn’t have to build up to it in my head for days. Suddenly I just felt OK.
I happened upon (googled) the finest hair salon in the area (Supercuts, San Jose), and asked the tiny little hairdresser (Anh) to cut off however much she thought was best.
On the drive there, I realized I’d been keeping my hair long because I was afraid short hair isn’t flattering on my now-rounder face. I was afraid that getting fatter meant having to prove my femininity even more, and that I’d have to keep growing my hair if I wanted to feel OK dating again.
So when I sat down in the chair, my first thought was factual: I am big. I was seeing it how someone sitting across from me would see it. My belly folded over itself in tiers of flesh, and I looked away. As inches of hair dropped to the floor, the piano solo version of Alicia Keys singing “Empire State of Mind” came on. My eyes welled up with tears, and I couldn’t tell if it was because I didn’t get to give New York a proper goodbye, or because I felt like it didn’t notice I left.
As she was cutting, she said my hair would be one color again now. I had dyed it forever ago in my Queens apartment—or maybe it was the infamous Brooklyn apartment before that (the one where a burglary sent my healing journey off in a whole new direction). Either way, it was long enough ago that I still had my accidental ombré, and now it would be back fully to my natural color.
When it was all over and I got in the car, I saw my mother looking back at me in the rear view mirror. She’d never really had long hair so I guess she was easier to see now that I’d cut mine off. She smiled, I smiled back.
To kill more time, I roamed around Target, trying to find the plus-size section (I didn’t find it, which means they don’t have one), when I suddenly felt overwhelmed with the thought that I was free to do whatever I wanted. For the rest of my entire life. I had all the time in the world to roam. I touched all the pillows and visited every aisle.
I hopped from errand to errand, walking from the car with purpose, accomplishing one small normal thing after another, until I had to head back to Redwood City to pick up my freshly bathed Finn.
That’s when Phantom Planet’s “California” came on, and I felt the shift. I excitedly sang along while it built up to that first chorus crescendo, turned onto the ramp to the 101, my speed increasing as the song intensified. I got that weird tingly sensation you sometimes get when you’re feeling super earnest and super emotional at the same time. I shouted the lyrics, my mouth open wide like I wanted to swallow the song whole. It was like I was hearing the song for the first time and the millionth time all at once.
When I got home, a housewarming gift from a shop owner friend back in Sunnyside arrived with a card on it that said “Home sweet home.” After pairing it with a magnet on the fridge, I fluffed my hair with my fingers, wanting to check out my new hair with my new ‘fit (Amazon-purchased Hanes sports bra and high-waisted bike shorts), and looked in the mirror that hangs on the pantry door. It felt like my body was looking back at me. It’s like we were meeting each other’s eyes for the first time, like we’d never truly seen each other before. And the intensity of it made us both blush.