Graphic by Jessica Chen / North by Northwestern

It’s Sunday, a day of rest for many people, but I’m about to commence the week’s most arduous task. It’s more tiring than walking from 555 Clark to Lincoln, more tedious than Newsroom 101 quizzes and more gut-wrenching than jogging towards an open door only for it to close in your face as it lets out a small woosh.

I have to wash my hair today.

First, I gather my comb, shampoo and conditioner and survey the showers. I would love one with little to no residual hair, lest I accidentally touch something that definitely did not come from my own head while I’m picking up my own afterwards. Unfortunately, hairballs are practically unavoidable, so I calm my stomach and pick randomly.

The act of washing my hair in a communal shower is a far cry from my early wash days – back when I was 6 years old and my mom laid me horizontal on the kitchen counter and ran her fingers through my scalp. Instead of the stainless steel sink poking my sides, I now wage intelligent warfare with a sticky shower curtain seemingly intent on antagonizing me if I so much as breathe.

Leaving the bathroom after the actual act of washing is no less disorienting. I tote bottles of shampoo and conditioner back to my dorm room and feel like I’m on my own little island of dripping wet curls and denman brushes.

It only gets funnier when I go to style my hair. Every bit of skill I’ve picked up in my adolescence flies out the window when I’m sitting on my rug, leave-in conditioner clutched in my hands. It hits me at this moment that I don’t know as much as I thought I did. I only knew as much as my mom knew, but my mom is at our house, back home, three hours away.

Now it’s not just about my hair; it’s about being riddled with uncertainty at every turn of the first few weeks of college. I experiment with different buns, I blow-dry my hair, I try smaller braids for braid-outs, but I don’t know how to do what I used to do because I’m here now. Whether that's good or bad I’m not sure, but my hair is slick when I finally pull the comb through, and my voice is rough when I finally call home. But anything that’s rough just needs a bit of sanding, a bit of practice and a bit of settling.

Every day I’m here, I learn to let go more. I lean into the uncertainty of my hair and try to care less about how presentable it is or how it is perceived. I try to lean into the discomfort and unfamiliarity of a new city, state, academic schedule and social circle. The certainty of home was nice, but realistically, I know that I wouldn’t have grown if I were still there. Everything is new, which means instead of the training wheels being yanked off, I’m hurtling towards Sheridan’s sidewalk frizz-first. But being at college will only be novel for so long, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll miss fist-fighting a sticky shower curtain while shampoo is burning my eyes. (I probably won’t.)

Photo courtesy of Jade Thomas.