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Of cutting my 'Ben&Ben' hair, dying love, and letting go

By NICK GARCIA Published Jan 30, 2023 3:18 pm Updated Jan 31, 2023 11:05 am

On the first week of 2023, I cut my 13-inch hair short.

After over three years, the "Ben&Ben days" are no more. Gone, too, are the half buns and ponytails, the intermittent brushing and combing, the high-maintenance shampooing and conditioning, the mistaken calls—and catcalls—of “ate,” “miss,” or “ma’am.”

My family and friends were taken by surprise upon seeing me. In fact, I’m still getting used to my new hairdo à la John Connor if not Peter Parker, not because it’s uncomfortable but because it also marks the end of what has existed for a long time.

BEFORE AND AFTER. Selfies of the author showing his two different hairstyles.

What led to my decision of getting a haircut still beats me. Maybe it’s the proverbial stress. An impulsive move or a coping mechanism, feasibly.

Or perhaps necessity, inevitability, one that had to happen just because.

Like the case of my grandmother, my Lala, who passed away on Jan. 8 in Binangonan after a 17-day battle in the hospital that began just three days before Christmas.

On that fateful day, Papa said Lala, who had been partially paralyzed and rendered speechless due to stroke, was puking. Her blood pressure was higher than usual.

Papa said the doctor told him there was bleeding in her brain even as she had hydrocephalus. Should Lala survive, she would be dependent on nasogastric tube. Whatever it takes, she would be in a vegetative state.

Her CT scan report dropped several medical jargons that ordinary people would never understand or bother understanding at all, but they’re all pointing out to one grim reality: Lala wasn’t long for this world.

Another grim reality: This isn't the first time I faced a tragedy ahead of something celebratory. On Feb. 2, 2021, or three days before my 26th birthday, my Lolo died of a heart attack.

I distinctly remember that it was a typical work-from-home setup for me in Sampaloc as a television writer at the time. The day’s stories weren’t that big and heavy. Our newscast even wrapped up with a fitness instructor in Myanmar inadvertently filming the military coup as she does her workout routine with gusto.

Papa, then, broke the news.

Weeks before that, I already planned to hold a simple, intimate celebration in Binangonan. Lolo should’ve been among my VIP guests as always.

Excitement for my birthday turned into anxiety, as it's the only day that I can take an unpaid leave from work (as a contractual "talent"). Instead of going to Papa's residence to party, I headed to the funeral home instead.

The hat trick happened last Jan. 5, or a month before my 27th birthday, when my girlfriend broke up with me after nearly six years of being together.

She, a law student, said she fell out of love with me, stressing about the flaws in our relationship dynamics, the clash of our personalities, and our mostly petty disagreements that have long snowballed.

The final nail in the coffin, however, is that she fell for her blockmate even before that.

For some reason, I was never angry with her. I told her that if we’re indeed breaking up, we should cherish the good times we had and never harbor resentment against each other moving forward.

Let justice be done though the heavens fall, the legal maxim goes. In love, however, even if the heavens crash and burn, justice can be so elusive. All that can be done is suck it up.

On Jan. 24, I went to her condo unit by surprise and gave her a farewell letter and a gift box that included a karma bracelet, a frosted mug, a sunflower crochet, and a frame stating, “You are stronger than you think.”

I asked her how she’s coping with the situation. She said she’s “okay.” She was also mostly looking at the floor during the minutes-long exchange.

I wished her well and waved goodbye, reiterating that there’s no need for bitterness. She didn’t respond, turned her back, and closed the door. As the locks were clicking, I let out a huge sigh and headed to the elevator.

American poet Mary Oliver’s “In Blackwater Woods” tells readers that to live in this world, one must be able to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

Though I sported jet-black, inches-long hair for years that it has already become my identity and asset for a certain few, I know that I cannot hold on to it forever.

The author spends time with his friends days after the breakup.

Sure, I could just ditch the long hair in the coming years, especially when I’m already turning bald, but there shouldn’t be a sunk-cost fallacy. Even if I invested a lot of time and effort to maintain its splendor, I shouldn't fear the good old razor and pair of scissors.

I may grow my hair back eventually, perhaps keep it short or have it even shorter, but the point is that I should be willing to accept things as much as I should be willing to refuse them. I should be willing to change my course as much as I should be willing to carry on.