The powerful, surreal scene in an El Paso hair salon

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I am a psychiatrist living in El Paso. My husband was the orthopedic traumatologist on call at the academic center last weekend when 22 El Pasoans were murdered and 26 wounded in a mass shooting at a busy Walmart in town. The rest of this week has been oddly surreal for me or maybe numb. Until this afternoon. Something happened while I was getting my hair done that made me feel.

While my color was processing, I saw my stylist help the woman who cleans the store into her chair. I thought that it was nice of her to do her hair but was a little puzzled how extravagant the woman’s hair was; she usually wears a short, neat ponytail and her hair was being styled in long, flowing curls with bangs. After feeling confused for a few minutes, I realized it was a wig.

When I got back into the chair, I noticed my stylist was tearful. I asked her about the wig she had been styling. She told me that it was a wig for one of the victims who had been shot. The family had brought in a picture to show the stylists how the woman had worn her hair so they could replicate it for her funeral.

Everyone in the salon, including the owner and the custodian, helped to make sure the wig looked perfect. This gesture made me feel so profoundly sad.

The woman getting her hair done in the chair next to me was a police officer. She said that the local police department was offering a significant hourly rate for the officers to help process the crime scene but that it was very difficult to return to the store where the shooting had occurred.

My stylist was born in Mexico and lives here with her young family. She talked to me about feeling nervous about going out anywhere over the last week. She asked me for reassurance that this would never happen here again, almost like she was hoping El Paso has served its dues. I could not give it to her.

While this mass murder unfolded in my town, I felt anxious but oddly numb. Almost like: “Well, it was only a matter of time before this came to my doorstep.” We are all essentially just waiting for this to happen in our town and to our loved ones.

Today, there was no way for me to feel removed. The events touched every part of this community. The politicians have come and gone and smiled in photos. And we all keep moving forward without actually responding in any meaningful way to this bizarre and atrocious part of our culture.

Watching the victim’s family member come into the salon and gently carry out a perfectly-styled hairpiece left me asking myself: How on earth do we actually stop this home-grown monster? What is my role as a physician in battling this gruesome American epidemic? How do we stop dressing our loved ones for an early funeral?

Laura Adler is a psychiatrist.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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