Kaycie Howell takes a thick rope of her Rapunzel-like brown hair and wraps it around her neck: "Look, Mommy, I can make a scarf."
Laughing, her mother plays along, running her fingers through her daughter's fine hair, more than a foot of which will soon fall to the floor. Mom pulls a few strands across her 12-year-old's top lip: "A mustache, too."
Kelly Brotchi allows them their fun. But there is work to do. Seventeen and a half inches' worth, to be exact. The owner of Beau Monde Too salon starts to comb the hair, parting it into four distinct ponytails.
She pulls out the scissors. No more scarves. No more mustaches.
With a triumphant smile, Kaycie reaches back and grips the severed ponytails. She holds the long strands out in front of her, showing her family. All those years of brushing, detangling, conditioning. Done and done.
The hairdresser's niece is sitting nearby, getting her hair done. She looks at Kaycie's ponytails.
"If my hair was that long, I would never cut it," says Kori Bates, 17.
Kaycie grins and touches the nape of her neck. Nothing. Just air. Just skin. She isn't fazed. Someone else needs it more than I do.
• • •
Kaycie Howell remembers that hospital room. There were about 12 beds. Maybe four other kids. She was there for surgery on her eardrums. Scary but fixable. They were there for worse.
In the bed next to her lay a little boy with no hair. His leg might have to be amputated. His parents were crying. He was crying. Kaycie cried, too.
"She was shaken up by this," says her mom, April DeAngelo, 35. "It was her first awareness that the disease is out there. She thought to herself, 'I get to go home. That little boy may never get to go home.' "
When she went in for doctor appointments, Kaycie would play with the kids who had cancer. She wanted to make them smile.
Today, the girl with the long hair wants to become a doctor, find a cure for cancer. She's a straight-A student at Osceola Middle. She plays the piano, the drums, the xylophone. She takes photographs. She reads. Anything to grow her brain.
On her iPod, you won't find Justin Bieber. (Kaycie emphasizes that Selena Gomez is wayyyyy too good for him.) Half her music collection is classical: Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi. Her favorite song is Fur Elise.
"She's definitely 12 going on 24," her mom says.
So when Kaycie wanted to donate her hair to Wigs for Kids, a nonprofit organization in Westlake, Ohio, that makes wigs for children with cancer, nobody was surprised.
• • •
Brotchi, the salon owner, carefully surveys Kaycie's hair. Each cut is precise. She makes sure the longest point of her hair is chin-length, just like she wanted. Like a recent 'do of Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise's wife.
Kaycie's mom met Brotchi, a 41-year-old mother of two, at Starkey Elementary, where their 8-year-old daughters go to school. They became friends and a relationship formed between the two families.
In 2009, Brotchi was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, a form of breast cancer. After chemotherapy treatments, Brotchi's long strands of blond hair that used to run down her back started falling out in clumps. She lost her eyebrows. She lost her eyelashes.
But there was one little girl who could always lift her spirits.
"When Kaycie saw me (at school), she came clear across the room," says Brotchi, who is in remission now. "She gave me the biggest hug and was funny and goofy to make me feel better. She never treated me differently."
Now Brotchi swivels Kaycie's chair around so she can see her new hair.
"I look cute!" Kaycie says with a big smile. She looks at Brotchi in the mirror. "It's not in my way anymore!"
With that, Kaycie hops out of the chair. It's not in her way anymore.
Sabrina Rocco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8862.