Louise O'Neill: 'Indulge me, please. I cannot wait to skip out of the hair salon, with a swish of silk and a bounce in my step'

Louise O'Neill: 'Indulge me, please. I cannot wait to skip out of the hair salon, with a swish of silk and a bounce in my step'
Generic photo of a hairdresser looking at a woman's hair. Photo: PA Photo/iStock. 

THE last time I had my hair cut was December. Remember December? 2019? Those halcyon days of half-hearted handwashing and coughing in public without being treated like a leper? Come back, all is forgiven!

It was early December, too, I had to give the gruaig time to ‘settle’ before Christmas. I had a follow up appointment made for late January but had to cancel due to work commitments. Not to worry! I told myself as I blithely made another booking for March and … well. You know the rest.

It’s July now, and I look like the missing member of a one-hit wonder ’80s glam metal band. I was so desperate, I ordered a pair of professional scissors online, thinking how hard can this be? Very, it turns out, as I frantically tried to correct my mother’s hair which I sheared into an eerily similar approximation of Jim Carey in Dumb and Dumber. (She’d asked for Demi Moore in Ghost, if you’re wondering.)

When Zara King, a news reporter with Virgin Media, asked Tony Holohan when we would be allowed to return to hair salons, I would have followed that woman into war, such was my gratitude. Please don’t judge me for being shallow — I know how incredibly difficult the last few months have been for many people, particularly for those on the front line of this crisis. People have been afraid of losing their jobs, their homes. They have worried about their vulnerable friends and family. My mountain of frizz and split-ends is utterly inconsequential — I am aware of that.

“A bit busy, are you? Ha ha ha,” I laughed to the receptionist, who treated my inane attempt at humour with the pity it deserved.

After an awkward silence, I quickly hung up, worrying about what I had done wrong during our brief conversation.

What will I talk to the stylist about while they’re cutting my hair? I wondered. I’m not going on any holidays — chance would be a fine thing — and I don’t have any news because life feels like staring into a gaping abyss right now. (Can I say that to them? Talk about my existential crisis and my fear that life may be a computer simulation that has glitched? No, no, they’ll think I’m a complete weirdo.)

Then it dawned on me. I have become even more socially awkward during lockdown. I wasn’t sure this was even possible — I’ve worked from home since 2012 and my levels of introversion have risen accordingly.

But I only left the house once a day for a walk; the Big Shop was done on a Monday, facemask on as I scuttled in and out of my local Londis as quickly as I could.

No one was in the mood for much chit-chat, and that suited me fine but now it’s months later and I’m scared I may have forgotten how to talk to other human beings.

Eye-contact that lasts longer than two seconds feels over-familiar; I look at the floor in embarrassment, like I’m a shy teenager again, blood rushing to my cheeks.

A friend phones to tell me of her plans for a garden party. “I need to be around people,” she says. “I need to have the craic.”

ALARMED at the thought of a) a gathering of more than two people; b) those two people not consisting of my parents, and c) having ‘craic’ of any kind, I pretend that I will give the idea some consideration while practicing my excuses in the mirror. The best one I can currently think of involves “food poisoning” and “I need to be stationed by a toilet at all times.” Let’s just hope she doesn’t read this column…

I know I will have to get over this pathological aversion to ‘Other People’ as soon as possible. Namely because I haven’t seen my partner since March and I doubt he’s prepared to continue our relationship via Zoom indefinitely. I will finally see him this weekend which means I have to brush my hair, shave my legs, and speak in full sentences for the first time in four months.

I feel like Jodie Foster in the movie Nell, where a wild young woman is found living alone in an isolated mountain cabin, completely cut off from the outside world.

A Liam Neeson character is going to have to teach me how to speak English and re-integrate me into polite society but I refuse to return to underwire bras and non-elasticated waists, no matter what. I know what true comfort is now and I’m not going to give that up without a fight.


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