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Maddie Baxter


I keep having this image of my hair falling out from my head. It happens most in the mornings. I lather my hair with coconut-scented shampoo and get the vision as the suds slither into the drain.

In this vision, I part my hair off center to the right side of my head, and a firm line splits down my skull. My part looks like a long hairy caterpillar. The bulge of my stomach is pushed against the bathroom countertop as I lean closer and closer in to the mirror. If this vision were to follow my normal morning hair routine, this is the part where I flick my red hairdryer on and watch the steam emit from my hair like a hot spring. This is the part where I drag the comb from root to base to root to base until my hair lays just where I want it. But in this vision, that’s not what happens.

In this vision, I am grabbing the clumps of hair that sit at either side of my part. Eagerly, yet restrained, I slowly pull the clumps of hair farther apart from each other, widening the pale portion of my scalp that is exposed.

I want to keep pulling. I keep having this image of my hair falling out from my head. I keep having this image of my hair falling out of my head.

With enough pressure, I can pop some of the hairline follicles from their home in my head and begin to split the skin of my part softly. My head opens like a gentle ravine, a straight wound with the stitches ripping. There’s never any blood, in this vision, only an ease of green liquid that flows from my scalp, a pale puss that indicates my body is pushing the bad parts out of me. It’s always in my hairline. It’s always at the very front of my scalp. It’s always in the mornings.


Want to know something gross? A long-time anxiety-induced head scratcher and scab picker, I have forced my habits to evolve recently. I assume that this transition occurred because of my change in hair products. Now, sitting in a chair, I have unlocked the unexpected entertainment of scratching a particular section of my scalp and watching my skin flake off in a flurry into my lap.

There’s something hypnotic about watching your body fall off you.

I called my mom the other day.

Me: Hello. I am having a lot of dandruff!

Mom: Do you wash your hair?

Me: Too much. How much would it take for you to send a care package filled with only Selsun Blue?

Mom: I can make it happen.

I am eagerly awaiting my care package filled with Selsun Blue. I keep having these visions of popping the bottle like champagne and letting the dusty blue medication ooze out from the spout. I want to pile a good portion of Selsun Blue in the palm of my hand and apply it directly to where my forehead meets the beginning of my hairline. I can’t wait to feel the selenium sulfide sizzle on the top of my head, letting my crusty scalp know what’s coming. My skin cells will shiver with eager anticipation for their slow re-acquaintance with moisture. Inhaling deeply, my nose will engulf the dentist office scent of menthol and rejoice at such a quintessential indicator of cleanliness.

The Wikipedia page for dandruff declares: “there is no known cure for dandruff.” I am doomed. I can apply Selsun Blue to my hair part for the rest of my life but that will never save me from the underlying paranoia that will be deeply seeded in my heart until I die, knowing that if I for one-day stop using Selsun Blue my scalp will immediately regress to its arid, flaky disposition, continuing my body’s inextinguishable instinct to shed from one layer to the next.

I want to be clean. I want to be clean in the way that birds are when they molt, shedding their feathers to grow newer, brighter ones. A snake grinding against rough wood to slip itself out from its old skin, leaving it in its slithery path. A hermit crab, buried underneath the sand in the early morning, eating the exoskeleton that it sheds.

When I pull my hair apart, in that split middle, I want to see a crisp line of follicles, not one unhinged from its buried root. I want to see each hair resting in linear monotony, and I want to pull and pull and pull and not have any pop.

I keep having this vision of my hair falling out of my head. It’s always in the mornings, in the shower, when I’m washing my hair and I can’t seem to scrub hard enough. It’s always in the mornings. 

Madeline Baxter lives and writes in Richmond, Virginia. She is currently working on her first collection of poetry. This essay is about her dandruff problem.