Serial Hair Washer Gets the Day Off – Karen Uffelman
Peg stared hard at the bottle of conditioner. Its position on the shelf was ambiguous. She had come up with a method for getting through her shower routine – she’d pull both the shampoo and the conditioner bottles forward before she turned on the water. And then push them back to the tile wall once she had used them. Otherwise, she might wash and condition her hair two or three times, forgetting as soon as her hair was rinsed if she had actually done it yet. But today the bottle was in neither the use position nor the already used position. It was exactly in between. The water streamed down her back as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Peg began to feel panicky. She couldn’t be late for work again.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
This particular memory lapse – the one related to the hair washing – started about a year ago. At first Peg assumed that if she couldn’t remember washing her hair, than she must not have done it, but soon it became a question every morning. The bathroom would be steamy, she had definitely been showering for a while. The soap would be sudsy in its dish. But had she washed her hair yet or not? She tried to convince herself that her memory wasn’t so unreliable. That she wasn’t standing in her shower everyday like a piece of looped film, lathering and rinsing, lathering and rinsing, lathering and rinsing. Her increased consumption of shampoo and conditioner, however, gave strong evidence to the contrary, and, after one terrible week, when Peg used an entire bottle of conditioner (an entire bottle!), she came up with the clever cheat of bottle position.
So many things in her life now required set routines, or clues that she’d leave for herself. Keys had to be hung on the doorknob, or she could forget leaving the house in the morning. Shopping bags had to be immediately returned to the car after groceries were unpacked, or she’d never remember them. Peg forgot to brush her teeth before going to work last week (so embarrassed when one of her co-workers insisted that she accept the breath mint he offered) so she started leaving her tooth brush and toothpaste out, on the edge of the sink, after brushing her teeth at night so she’d have an immediate visual cue in the morning. She had post-it notes and timers and designated shelves and trays and hooks for her glasses, her purse, her work ID and on and on.
As long as she kept to her systems and rituals, Peg was able to hold it together. Lately, though, everything was falling apart. Two days in a row she hadn’t managed to put her ID key card in the tray on her dresser where it was supposed to go. The first day she’d been frantic; jamming her hands in coat pockets she hadn’t worn in weeks and squeezing herself under the bed with a flashlight. Peg had finally found the key card behind the dresser. She assured herself that she’d put it in (or close to) the right tray and it must have just gotten bumped or brushed to the floor. She vowed to be extra careful. But the next morning, it was missing again. The key card turned up later in the kitchen, behind the sugar bowl, but by then she had already called in sick.
“Hi Mr. Reese. I’m sorry but I’m feeling really under the weather.”
“You were an hour late to work yesterday, Peg, and now you’re sick?”
“Yes. I’m sorry sir. Yesterday was different – I was just…late. Today I’m really unwell.”
She decided it wasn’t really a lie – there was definitely something wrong with her.
She’d confided in her neighbor, Dan, that she’d been more absent-minded of late. He recommended she try Ginkgo biloba, some herbal remedy he’d heard about from his girlfriend.
“Great for the memory, Peg. Don’t you worry – these’ll fix you right up!”
Unfortunately, she could never remember if she had taken them or not. She finally resorted to counting the pills in the bottle, writing the total on a pad of paper she kept near by, and then writing down the date each time she took one. But then Peg misplaced the pad of paper. And recently the bottle of Ginkgo biloba had gone missing as well. It was clearly not the answer to her problems.
She should tell her doctor, she knew she should, but she was afraid or what he might say. What the problem might be.
And so she thought really hard about whether or not she had used the conditioner yet and why it might be placed so confusingly on the shelf in her shower. Peg touched the bottled gingerly. It felt slippery and her touch made the bottle slide forward slightly on the shelf. She noticed a pool of milky liquid around the bottle. It might have slid on its own. Of course, she didn’t remember spilling conditioner, and that was its own problem, but since the shelf sloped away from the wall she was pretty sure it must have come from the already used position. And, therefore, she had already conditioned her hair. She gave a sigh of relief. Mr. Reese wasn’t a patient boss and she couldn’t be late again.
Peg dried herself off, brushed her teeth, got dressed, and found her key card, on the tray, where it was supposed to be. She made some coffee and then turned off the coffee pot as directed by the post-it note on the counter where she usually left her coffee cup. She was about to walk out the door when her eye landed on the wall calendar. There were Xs through the days of the first half of the month. She couldn’t remember writing them. The next day that didn’t have an X through it was a Saturday. Was it Saturday? Were the Xs marked correctly? Was this even the right month?
Peg opened the door and looked around. Dan was sitting on his stoop.
“Hey Dan, what day is it?”
Dan laughed, “It’s the first day of the rest of your life!”
“I’m serious, Dan, don’t kid. What day is it?”
“It’s Saturday, Peg,” Dan looked concerned, “you okay over there?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. No worries.”
She had lots of worries, actually. But on the bright side, she wouldn’t be late for work today and her hair was washed. And only once, as best she could tell.