Today I’m happy to welcome actress, writer, producer, model, philosopher, activist, watercolor painter & illustrator, and composer Jeanne Marie Spicuzza with the first part of her experience with a scarapist. Check out her story below and check back next Thursday for part two of Jeanne’s story.
At twenty-nine, I learned that the word “decision” is derived from the Latin, meaning, “to cut away.” To choose one path, to sacrifice another. The losses can bring great gains, but also grieving. Our choices invite an outcome often invisible, hidden, outside of our control. To be sure, one is never the same after the cut, and we cannot go back, only forward.
My life is wrought with such cuts.
And that’s how we begin. We come from a small, warm, embracing place into a cold and open world. We are naked and vulnerable, bearing a soft and throbbing spot atop our heads, seeking closure, seeking wisdom.
I’m not sure when I became so attached to the idea of security. Maybe I was born afraid, looking for something to hold, a thing that could never be taken. It would have to be something mine, something of me… something forever. There are traumas, too, places of empty despair, strange pockets of lost time. I think that’s how I got here.
When I was very young, I wanted to be a boy. My mother was educated, decorous and passive. My father was stout, a controlling Sicilian-American who dominated our family.
One afternoon, while my mother was changing my diaper, I told her that I was actually a boy. I wanted to have power, you see, and not to bend.
“You’re not a boy,” my mother insisted, laughing. “If you’re a boy, where’s your penis?”
I imagined myself in our backyard during the frozen Wisconsin winter, playing on a snow bank below our kitchen window.
“It melted,” I answered.
Winter spun into summer. I persisted in my wishing for a shifted gender identity. I asked for a doctor’s kit for my fifth birthday. I was devastated to receive a white plastic version.
“Boys get doctors’ kits and girls get nurses’ kits,” my older sister chimed.
“No!” I cried. “It doesn’t even have a stethoscope. That’s the best part!” I became livid. I screamed, “I want a stethoscope!”
I later received said stethoscope, but not the doctor’s kit. Fine, now I wanted to be a priest.
That same summer, my mother instructed my friend and neighbor, Tara Peterson, to take me to her mother. It was to be my very first haircut.
Upon arriving, Tara disappeared. Mrs. Peterson sat me in a chair and put a smock over my tiny shoulders.
“Shag or pixie?” she asked.
“Shag,” I answered.
Now I answered “shag” because I was all of five years and I didn’t know the difference. Mrs. Peterson called my parents to see if her instructions were okay. Then proceeded to cut my long locks down to 1/2 inch. The purpose was a parental lesson in shame, to show what happened when I wanted to be powerful and in control. Perhaps it was my mother’s shame, too.
Now, my hair was weird. I grew up in a suburb of German and Polish immigrants. As a Sicilian-American, instead of thick wavy strands, my head was full of frizz and curls. I watched the girls brush each other’s hair. I sat apart. But I wanted to belong.
When I was seven, eight and eleven years old, my mother checked into St. Michael’s Hospital for depression. I broke out in horrible hives. My hair was unbrushed. My mother later had to cut chunks of my hair out, the snarls that formed in my soft, fine locks. Then her cousin took me to get my second hair cut. I got sick and cried. A few years later, I sat at my mother’s friend’s beauty parlor for over an hour while a stylist brushed the snarls from my hair. Her friend later offered me lodging when I became pregnant with my daughter, Stephanie. My mother smiled as she explained that her friend told her I could sleep on the kitchen floor.
When I was twelve, my long, all one-length hair was burned by our outdated kitchen stove. Like our cars, furniture and clothes, our appliances were used until they broke down. The gas pilot was so clogged that the oven was extremely slow to light. One afternoon, I leaned in with a match and waited. When the pilot finally lit, it blasted heat in my face. I went upstairs to the only full bathroom, accommodating our family of seven. I noticed what appeared to me to be burned fragments from the oven all over my head. I washed the pieces out. As years passed I saw a singed hair and realized that the burnt fragments had been my own hair. At thirteen, I had my long hair cut into layers for the first time. My father called me a prostitute. It remained layered throughout my teen years. Stylists always cut it too short.
Shortly after my sixteenth birthday, I met him. He was a mean and ornery boy. We dated for four months, and I became pregnant. In the state of Wisconsin in 1985, a minor required parental permission for a legal abortion. The boy wanted me to pay him to sign adoption papers. Instead, I gave him his walking papers. Then I gave my daughter up to my parents, after they presented me with guardianship documents and told me to sign. The alternative, they said, was give up college, go on welfare, and raise Stephanie on my own. How terrified I was! I didn’t know how to survive myself, or so I thought. So with shakes and tears, I made their deal in the children’s court. I felt I had given up the best part of me.
One might question how a woman can give up her child to her abusive parents. I was thinking about airplane crashes. You have to fix the oxygen mask over your own mouth first, learning to breathe in a crisis, before you can turn to help your child. So, at age eighteen, my beautiful baby girl, having toddled up to the rear screen door of my parents’ house, stared at me, my belongings piled into a station wagon, and watched me leave.
From twenty years old on, I longed for long hair. Maybe I wanted to grow some part of myself that I’d given up. And to feel a part of something. I wanted to be beautiful, feminine– alive! I began to grow my hair out, or at least attempt to.
But at twenty-one, my then-boyfriend, an abusive type whom I just discovered was cheating on me, cut off way too much of my hair. I looked in the mirror and saw it crooked, shorter on the right side– right side, father issues. The taking of control. When I broke up with him eighteen months later, I decided to cut my own hair. I wanted to show him, and my father, that I didn’t need them anymore. I had the power. I was twenty-two. Unfortunately, I cut off too much. About six or eight inches. It looked horrible. Crooked on the right side. Father issues. At twenty-three, I fell in love. But he ran off with another woman. I developed Trichotillomania, an obsessive-compulsive hair pulling disorder.
At ages thirty and thirty-five, having finally grown out my hair, two different stylists cut six and eight inches of hair. Always six or eight inches. The first was layers everywhere. The second, at least, was even, a better cut. Still, both more than I’d asked for. Still not in control.
By my wedding in 2005, the second cut had grown out, eighteen inches, perfectly even. I was in balance. Fullness and length… perfect, a blissful time. But five short months later, my day of glory ended, and my happiness was shattered, splitting at the ends.
It was to be the culmination of all cuts.
I had met her at a mutual friend’s wedding. She smiled sweetly and hunched slightly, indicating to onlookers a sort of demure, civilized submissiveness, like a fragile little girl trapped in the body of an elderly woman. She beamed with honeyed eyes and the welcoming flesh of fresh and fragile cedars.
She invited me out to lunch, and after several months and three lunches later, I found myself vulnerable, in the midst of a huge life crisis.
I had just purchased my first home. Six weeks later, it flooded. My daughter, now living with me in California and adjusting to my parental influence, had run away from home with my older sister, who refused to bring her back for nearly a week. I was devastated. My family was unsupportive, my boyfriend and future husband, absent.
The mutual friend called. Seemingly concerned, she urged me to call her. I dialed. She said she could help me. She promised I would be freer than I’d ever been.
After two years, I began expressing desire to terminate. I was planning my wedding. It was January 2005.
“I’m the first therapist to let people go when they’re ready,” she cooed, sweetly, “and, dear, you’re not ready.”
She began to tell me what books to read. She instructed me on how to wear my make-up. She told me which plays to see. Hypnosis. It was all good for me, she said. How safe it seemed, tucked inside her nurturing. And she liked to produce such feelings of security, always offering blanket and pillow, speaking calmly, delicately. So safe, I’d thought, that didn’t notice how much it could cut, how much it controlled. I was regressing.
In the summer of 2005, three months after my dream wedding, I had become successful. I had grown my hair to a gorgeous, healthy and feminine all one length, twenty-one inches, three inches from my waist.
She asked me what I wanted to work on. I told her about my hair.
One might question how a woman can give up her deepest secret to an abusive therapist. The simple answer: I didn’t know. She was someone I’d grown to trust, someone who seemed to understand my past, my pain. Someone who acted like a mother I’d never had, someone with a soft and gentle nature who seemed to truly support me. A person who cared and accepted.
Then I told her. I said that if anyone were to cut up my hair, six or eight inches of length, create layers, crooked on the right side, leaving holes where hair should be, thinning it out, it would destroy me.
I thought I’d be free of my dangers at last, my fear of cuts! The truth, my disclosure, would liberate me! And she would save me! Yes, she would. She said so. And I believed her. Only later would learn that such salvations are never what they seem. Often, these places of solace turn out to be toxic, even poisonous… prisons of our worst nightmares.
I told her I’d been having problems saying no as of late, problems with boundaries. I hated the word “should.” I was becoming very anxious. I had just returned from a visit from my hometown. It was fun. She told me I wouldn’t go back there until my father was on his deathbed, and maybe not even then. I said I had friends there to visit. I said I had a stylist there, the only one who could cut my hair properly. My hair therapist, I called her.
“That’s silly,” she uttered. “You need someone here, in Los Angeles.”
And I didn’t know how to defend myself. I didn’t even know I didn’t have to! I hadn’t yet learned to win by walking away.
“But she’s the only one… Everyone I go to cuts off too much of my hair.”
She called it “an excuse” and, for the first time of several to follow, suggested that I see her stylist. I said no. She assured me that her stylist was safe and sensitive. Would only cut what I asked. Several times. At least once for every inch.
“I’ve heard that before,” I answered politely. “No, thanks.”
After weeks of insistence, she did what I had told her I’d had no defense against. The method my parents applied when presenting me with guardianship papers. She’d remembered it. She had planned it. She’d counted upon it. Her triumph! She rose from her chair, stood up in front of me and, looking down as authority to novice, placed the stylist’s phone number in my hand.
“Do this. Call Brenda,” she said firmly, but kindly. “I want you to do this,” she added, cooing. “This will be good for you.”
And I did it! I was so excited! It was good for me! I wanted to make her, and myself, proud. I would be healed, healed at last! Or so I’d thought. And I called. I made an appointment.
To be continued next Thursday.
Jeanne Marie Spicuzza is an award-winning performance artist and poet, actress, writer, illustrator, producer and master herbalist. The author of various books, including Beautiful Terrible & True and My Italia, Jeanne Marie is published in Shepherd Express, Blue Fifth Review, The Nervous Breakdown and others. She is the founder and CEO of Seasons & a Muse, Inc., a seven-division arts and entertainment corporation, and the creator of Womanness Skin Care. Jeanne Marie has starred in movies and theatre, on television and radio, and at festivals and venues, worldwide. Her premiere feature thriller, “The Scarapist,” is in post-production, and scheduled for release in 2014. She lives in Los Angeles.
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