I can't grow a beard without pulling the fucker out. Gets long enough, quarter-inch or so, and I can't stop feeling the thing. It's a buzzing presence, stimulating every follicle with a slight irritation.
I smooth it down with the grain. Just spread my palm and flex my jaw and rub it on down. I feel hot spots, hypersensitive areas, their distinctions arbitrary. Now I know where to begin. Generally, I pinch a tuft, then twist to find the nice brittle ones in a given hotspot. These hot mamas are nice and thick, have a strange mass to them, like they've been dipped in wax and shot directly into my dumb face.
The twist is a filtration method. Twist a tuft long enough and the thinner hairs phase out or get wrapped up with the thick ones, the kind not worth keeping around. What remains is pinched and pulled taut. This is to get a sense of root integrity and skin sensitivity. Sends pleasure signals flying up to my neurotic roommate, the brain. I pull his hair and he pumps my blood.
Tension and release. That fucking capital tuh-eeh Tension. Pull taut, slow. The birth of a feeling. Like a tickle, an itch, but sharp enough to register as pain. Bounce it, bounce it, and PULL. It's out and my skin is vibrating, numb. Observe the hair and/or hairs. Chew them up and let them go where they will.
I've been doing this, well, I don't know how long. Somewhere in that hazy transition from childhood innocence to The Hairy Teenage Confusion, and finally, to me today: James Existential-to-the-bone-hey-let's-bone Davenport; somewhere along that (hair)line and that long drive I slept through, between Redwall and White Noise, twixt the birth of contemporary terrorism and fast-food oriented political agenda, in the midst of my pockmarked sexual discovery—cum socks and secret sweat— tucked away somewhere in there was the moment in which I ripped out a single hair, tongued it between my central incisors, and bit down.
A Scientific Theory on "Why"
Trichotillomania is loosely categorized as an ICD, or Impulse Control Disorder, the same category of psychological disorders as intermittent explosive disorder, kleptomania, pathological gambling, pyromania, onychphagia, and dermatillomania. Fire starters, money-gobblers, penny-pincher-pinchers, and folks who really can’t quite get enough of themselves. That’s me.
The people in white coats have yet to peg down a direct causation for the disorder. How could they? Regardless, a bullet list of archetypal instigators is out there: anxiety, depression, PTSD, all typical symptoms of existence.
Turns out our brains might be composed abnormally, though there is a distinct lack of structural MRI evidence to make it science-science. Not a surprise, the unbearable shame of admission and whatnot. Trichotillomania might still be a burrowing hereditary-habitual footnote if not for bored college students and the Wikipedia wormhole.
A few fellow hair-munchers reportedly have more gray matter up top than the status quo. Maybe that's where all the hair goes.
A rolling trichobezoar gathers no moss. No moss because it's a giant ball of hair rolling around in your belly, fucking with your function. Rapunzel Syndrome, an extension into the intestines. The self-induced tapeworm and, appropriately enough, my greatest fear.
Someday, I’ll probably have a real difficult time taking a shit. I’ll go to the doctor and say, “Hey, Doc! I’m having a real difficult time taking a shit!”
So he’ll cut me open and find it all wadded up in my viscera, a massive hairball. An opportune moment for him to connect the dots, maybe whip out a life-affirming metaphor, and say, “Son, I know you must be having a rough time, eating all this hair and whatnot, but you can’t ‘eat your feelings.’” And I’ll be like, “I’m unconscious. Shh.”
My Head, In the Right Place
I remember this: bored classrooms and math lessons, the lazy intellectual gospel, a hasty transcription directly from the textbook. (McGraw-Hill, where would my generation be without you?)
I remember the hardest part of fifth grade was staying awake. An elbow propped up on the faux-oak desk, my forearm and wrist at ninety-degrees, and my squinting head resting upon it all, gushing drool. The other hand drooped at my side, a short lean away from the off-white tile in an Archimedial posture. The eyes below a blonde bowl-cut begin to close. The free hand reaches up, doesn't rub the eyes—no, this signals defeat— rather, it reaches for the blonde bowl-cut and, like a genie lamp, rubs—an unconscious effort to summon my muse.
Oh, Muse of paying attention in math! Come to my aid! Bring thee visions of applicability! Of relevance! Visions of lunch! I'm hungry! Oh, Muse, bring thee a sandwich!
My scalp vibrates. Each root is distinct. I feel the depth of every hair and my eyes widen ever so slightly.
The Rub was part of muddled process, impossible to track. Find me the intellect that can illustrate trichophagia as a strict scientific phenomenon. More like an utter confusion, Satan coasting through chaos on the Fall; a happy accident, because in a way, it's a cure; maybe it’s a temporary anxiety, a threshold on my course through physical development that I might never cross.
No, more like a genetic habit, an inept encoded skill. And, as expected, human ability takes root and multiplies with experience, something I’m apparently a sum of.
I Have an Arm or Two
A healthy body is a healthy body. I'm running intervals on the Kim Williams Trail, getting my sexy right. Trying to. (I play Counter Strike the rest of the day with a spoon of peanut butter in my mouth. 'OOOOOM, 'EADSTHOT! A ragdoll model slumps and my mouse clicks in retraction. Tension and release.)
Television static floats above everything: the Big Sky, the stone "M" on Mount Sentinel, the Clark Fork River, floater free. No beer spilt today in the name of Summer. The Airborne Toxic Event erases all evidence of the North. Winter is coming. August and forest fires: the Montana guarantee.
"I wish I was a boy." I'm listening to A Cold Freezin’ Night by The Books, not the ideal workout music, but, hey, I'm a disgusting introspect, subconsciously chasing that death wish. I need this time, air toxicity warnings be damned.
"I'm gonna kill y—STAHT RAH-NING." A Scandinavian interrupts the music to let me know rest time is over. Yeah, I'm using an app for that. Technology lets me know when to run and when to Tweet the run to my followers.
One foot before the other. Faster now, my momentum grows. All I hear are distorted guitars and the faint internal muffle of labored breath, rubbing a pillow on a live microphone. Heavy inhalations and the sting and stench of smoke.
My arms pass in rhythm before my eyes and fade in my periphery. "Asshole", says a little girl in my ear. An arm passes again and I see the hair.
Alone, a grotesque black curl sprouts near my inner-elbow. It spills forth, a curtain-call for every meager translucent neighbor. Opaque.
The smell, the sights, the sounds of the Swede and The Books and my burning breath all dissipate. I stop running and eat the fucker after I pull it out of that tangled mess.
A Personal Theory on “Why”
Love: Love because even though the hair-pull drowning-victim safety-procedure saves lives, a fistful of brittle, and even plenty of strong, healthy, honor roll hair, will no longer have a place in your head; rather, it will find a new home among chlorine, Junior Lifeguard Tammy Johnson's death-grip of visceral evacuation, gasoline-tainted sulfur-bubbling mud, maybe the belly of an endangered Bull Trout that you mistake for a common Laker (You couldn't taste the difference).
"Please, for the love of Gaia, catch and release." says your father from the back of your throat.
And maybe, because that hair is no longer there—something solid, dependable, now gone and slow to grow again, but brittle and wiry this time—you come to think of hair as something that doesn't deserve the attention. No more hair cuts from a professional. Just buzz it yourself. No more conditioner. Let the natural oils do their thing. No more active attention. Keep pulling it out, ingesting it. Yum? No, just tension and release and endorphins coursing on through. Just do it. The Bull Trout would have brought it home anyway, you trout endangering dickhead.
Extroversion: Yell at a car and it won't move. Probably. Maybe. No direct causation, just circumstance. Put fuel into a car, ignite the engine, maybe throw her into first and lay a foot on the gas, then the car will move. Probably. Maybe. I guess that the only reason a vehicle moves is controlled circumstance.
This is the type of control I have over my anxiety. Chomp down on a few thick ones and BAM, I'm numb.
You: What’s up?
Incorrect answer, but, hey, it's a start. Add more fuel, stoke the fire, toss some soft breath on those coals to really feel the burn. The wheels are turning. Snap, crunch, etc.
You: What’s up?
Now we're moving! All aboard!
Makes sense, really. Heartburn? (But all that cheese.) Light your heart on fire and the acid reflux will reflux.
Fear: If I'm going to die, then I might as well eat my hair?
The casual, semi-secret (not anymore, whoops!) assurance that I'm still here, still growing, somehow still churning out fingernails, dirt-calloused skin, and hair, hair—long, beautiful hair. If the keratin is still coming, then I am too. Can't eat consciousness though. If only.
Auto-cannibalism isn't masochistic. No, it's a basic survival check. That said, I'm worried that when my body shrivels up, and the water floats away into the high heavens, that someone might mistake my dehydration for hair growth. No! A tree grows in a swamp and the swamp dries up. A tree cannot grow without water. Growth is an illusion. The ground just shrinks away, feigning height. Now, let me rest.
That feel, bro: Tension and release.
A cut and dry, scientific explanation for Why isn't feasible. I think the Why Nots would be more interesting.
You: Why don't you obsessively pull out and eat your hair, Mister Davenport?
Me: Because I'm perfectly happy and comfortable all the time. Because brain surgery isn't rocket science. Because GOD.
I Have Legs as Well
I'm on a boat. I don't remember where. A lake, I guess. Probably.
Some high school classmates surround me—Bud Light, Mike's Hard, the typical age-appropriate beverages abound—and we're going fast. Senior year and we're nurturing our nature, accenting out accents, really digging for that sense of belonging in a place we've yet to fully comprehend, America.
She is there. She assimilates without a hitch. I, on the other hand, sit in the back of the boat, heart racing (We're drunk driving, you guys!), eyes darting (There are strangers here!), and one hand, dipped low like the first step in assuming the fetal, picking away at that calf.
She pulls me aside later. Squirrels chattering in the tall pines. The boat's maw-me-maw in the distance, and a faint sulfuric odor.
"You're not okay."
"How can you tell?"
She touches the bald spot on my calf. A three, four inch diameter, obliterated. A barren patch, once a heavy forest of my assured masculinity now clear cut.
Not bad, I note, tonguing the hair stuck in the gums between my two front teeth.
I, Too, Have a Heart
I was in love for a good while. The kind of love that starts in high school oblivion, strengthens via the toil of collegiate distance, and whiffs out once in the vapid tunnel-vision of reunion. Elongated, exacerbated, intense hope and adoration, snuffed out in an instant by lurking incontinence and archetypal aspirations of SELF-DISCOVERY™. As if we ever stop searching. This is how I forgot how to cry about love.
But I look in the mirror and see a missing patch. I don't even remember pulling. Tension and release and the destruction of symmetry. This is what makes me cry.
The only intense feelings I can muster are for a missing patch of hair. Nearly twenty-three years of grand American living, and this is my life. This is what my brain interprets as my biggest problem. I don't cry for love, death, hope, injustice. I cry for my fucking beard.
Through a thick, robust, healthy psychologist-beard, the psychologist—healthy and robust—asks, "What ails you, Mister Davenport?"
My beard, sir. I keep pulling it out.
And he laughs, oh, does he laugh. A psychologist-beard laugh. Making direct eye contact with a department store manikin. The distant sound of a baby crying through brittle sheetrock.
And Beyond My Heart is My Chest
Yoda's death scene in Return of the Jedi is uncanny incarnate. Luke bounces between incestual inquiry masked by harrowing hereditary concern and ingenuine, dismissive sorrow for his dying master. Luke is never quite present while Yoda does his Miltonic thing and blindly proselytizes to the wall.
He curls over in what looks like a potato sack and closes his eyes, marbled glass. Nine-hundred years of wrinkles solidify and harden in the low-light of the fireplace. Long gray hairs expand and glow.
I look down at my chest, my own hairs alight in the unnatural incandescence of the television. My neck bends at a near ninety-degree angle between my head against the wall and my naked body on the floor. Hairy mother fucker.
I signed the lease the day before. Only a blanket in one corner and a television at the opposing end.
The chest hairs are numerous and unique, each a different level of translucence. A few, black and spindling. They all curl in a chaos of direction, following no set pattern, no hairline, no grain.
The chest is unique, a delicacy. I pinch a nipple and its circumferential hairs. Twist, rip, tension and release
"That is the most beautiful shot the entirety of Star Wars", I say, chewing with a grin.
I Can’t Find My Feet
We can all agree the whole eating dealio is a ubiquitous social taboo. I'm not sure how I, or anyone with mild autocannibalism, are supposed to embrace such habits. I can't speak for the autophagia community as a whole, but I certainly don't want to embrace them. Ripping and chipping away, yes, temporal relief, but, Jesus-H, it also brews a whole new breed of hormonal imbalance. An earthquake existential lubricant, eating hair.
My ultimate goal of I-don’t-know-what is nihilistic motive; the only obtrusions are talk of therapy. Not shock, mind you, but a mild form of such. If anything, I need to be trained, though I feel beyond that. I’m no dog. Most medicinal treatments for trichotillomania and trichophagia aren’t successful since they tend to just be antidepressents; some have been known to even increase the amount of hair pulled and consumed. This begs the question: is it worth treating? Something to even be treated? Do I eradicate a physically harmless (so far) coping mechanism purely because it doesn’t gel with societal norms? I catch my dog eating shit all the time. Why can’t I follow suit?
Because eating your beard will really fuck up that Walter White Halloween costume. That Heisenberg hat was twelve bucks. Twelve. Bucks.
Because eradicating your armpit hair certainly isn’t conducive to that smell you make. What is that? Grandparents’ basement?
Because pulling pubes is a nice way convince your loved one you have herpes. Prank’s on them!
Because the only thing eyebrows are good for are when you want to be passive aggressive and no one—noooo one likes that.
Because boogers just get all hammed up in your nose hairs, and the opposite sex go flaccid or dry up at the very sight of them anyway.
Because belly hair just points to your dick and/or vagina
Beca—because it’s just weird, freak.
I choke on laughter, but whether from the tragic beauty in irony or the presence of a trichobezoar the size of an infant baby’s head in my intestine, I know not.