Howling at the blood moon: a tale of anxiety and armpit hair

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

Mosquito time of day, we climbed to the highest point of Tilden. I was carrying a six-pack and an opened can, and I was wearing sandals and sweating. I’m a notoriously slow walker, so I hung back to sip my beer and enjoy a pretty gradual climb.

I like to go at my own pace, and I want to drink beer while hiking. I like my slow stroll. I think I get to see a lot more than fast walkers. I revel in a lazy, observant-by-default existence.

This is precisely why my near-crippling anxiety problem of late isn’t exactly easily digested. At seemingly random intervals, I will be overtaken by panic attacks during classes, on the street, in my bed. I don’t fully understand them, and honestly, I don’t want to. I have to assume they have something to do with my imminent and fast-approaching adulthood. Whatever walls erected between me and an absolute terror at the thought of post-grad life fell, and now panic ricochets around my skull, unchecked.

I know this isn’t a very original experience. In fact, I sadistically enjoy the thought that everyone around me has the same rattle in their lungs, a resistance when they try to take a deep breath. This might be the jaded thought of a senior who is about to be evacuated from the womb of collegiate life. But I can’t imagine anyone really leaping from this cushy academic bubble to an indifferent job market, a high-fiber diet and Thanksgiving conversations about such things. I’m sure it happens; there is plenty of evidence of it here at UC Berkeley. I just can’t conceive of it.

We climbed along a dirt path to watch the Blood Moon on our way to meet a larger group of friends, it briefly occurred to me that I really shouldn’t be wishing these sorts of troubles on people whom I care about. It was just a vague concern, nothing nagging. But it did come up.

As the last person to find our meeting spot, I was welcomed by a party of sweaty enthusiasm as the beers in my hand swiftly found new owners.

At first, the Moon wasn’t all that impressive. Only a small sliver of the disk was this rusty-brown shade. I wanted to laugh that we, along with countless other Berkeley citizens, lost half of our Sunday and climbed a small mountain to see the turd-flavored Moon pass through our line of vision for 20 minutes. A friend told me later that it made him appreciate the normal Moon so much more.

“Because, like, what if it looked like this all the time? Gross.”

But soon, the Moon was fully taken over by an orangey-grapefruit hue that grabbed me by my intestines. A thousand years ago, I would have looked up at that moon and thought the gods were sending me an omen. I would have looked for a million different explanations for what it could be telling me, what I had done that led to this horrifying, bloody flash. I’d probably assume it had something to do with my period.

There’s no denying that the Blood Moon was pretty menstrual. I’ll admit that my awe was deeply feminine, though I don’t believe that kept my uterus-less friends from sharing that awe. If anything, I feel that all of my friends spiritually connected with the Blood Moon. We were just a bunch of kids on a mountain, but we were bathed in red light and immersed in something, quite simply put, strange.

Sometimes, we just stared in silence. In other moments, we hugged and laughed. We’d sit down in random dirt patches and then get up and dance for a bit. We were in awe.

I experienced this awe free of panic about my fate or future. This drove a stake between me and the me I would have been a thousand years ago. I wasn’t confused. I took Astronomy C10 like half of the UC Berkeley student population — I got that it was an eclipse. But I didn’t have to think about what sort of past actions I was about to be punished for. I didn’t think about how the red light might represent the blood of my family raining down upon my future.

A couple of my friends grabbed my arm quite suddenly. “Let’s meditate.”

I was super into it. My brain could only sit, pregnant with an ever-rising, bloody Moon.

Meditation is not as esoteric as it seems. I don’t think anyone is ever doing it right. Sure, maybe monks and enlightened folk are somewhere in the world with entirely blank minds, but the fun of it is more just taking 10 minutes out of your life to try not to think. I don’t know if it’s possible.

I don’t really remember much from this meditation session other than the Blood Moon above me. I would call this a success, but something incredibly strange emerged from what I had assumed was a perfect blankness.

I want to grow out my armpit hair.

My conviction caught me off-guard. I was fascinated by its strangeness and its strength. As absorbed as I was in my own epiphany, I still felt involved in my surroundings. Throughout the eclipse, I felt warm and fuzzy toward everyone around me. I mean, I was drinking, but that’s beside the point.

The commanding sentence stuck with me from that post-meditative glow to the reemergence of the Moon’s whiteness. Why was I thinking about my armpits? I have no idea. Is there some sort of visual-physical connection between the color of rust and the growth of armpit hair? It’s not like I felt my hair growing. No one was tickling me. Where had this sharp notion come from?

I’ve never had a problem with my absent armpit hair before. I’m a feminist, definitely, but I always enjoyed shaving my armpits. I think it’s important for people to do whatever they want with their bodies, and because I had yet to dislike shaving, I’d never stopped.

I tend to like my rituals, repeated habits. I liked to shave my armpits while I conditioned my hair. It had a place in my shower time for which it had never had to negotiate.

But after that night, my shaving habits disappeared as apparently unremarkably as they had arrived. Since hiking up to the closest place to the blood moon as possible, I haven’t skipped a beat in my shower routine. I haven’t paused in the water, conditioner in hair, confusedly holding a razor only to remind myself that I’m not shaving my armpits. In fact, it felt like my routine had always accounted for this desire to grow out my armpit hair.

This desire continues to be unexplained. But I derive every bit of satisfaction from the dark tufts of hair my post-meditative brain assumed in its confident declaration. In class sometimes, I like to pet the hairs. They’re very soft and slightly curly, pointing in different directions, wildly reaching out of their pores. To their confusion and mild aversion, I forced my roommates to pet them just for fun.

Sometimes I’ll just stare at them for several minutes at a time. It is during these instances when I am dazzled by my own armpits, that I revisit the same state of mind of my orange hike. My skull feels pregnant with the non-omen of a blood-red orb, and I make myself smile.

My parents visited me recently and were repulsed.

“This is so anti-feminine. It’s a terrible quality of modern feminism to discourage femininity as if women can only take on men’s roles if they are masculine,” my mom said.

“Don’t you realize you’re closing doors for yourself? Professionally and romantically,” my dad said.

I didn’t feel equipped to point out how problematic both points were nor explain myself. How could I explain that this decision was in fact an incredibly feminine experience for me? That the joy I derive from my patches of brown hair is one that arises from a womanly sort of acceptance, one of my body as a bloody temple of female experience, and that my armpit hair makes me feel more open to opportunities, more capable of handling them. That this spiritual attachment to my armpit hair came from some sort of ritualistic experience of the blood moon.

It simply wasn’t possible, so I just told them “You guys are too old now.”

I’ll admit that this is all a little too touchy-feely for me too. I’m still deeply anxious about adulthood and jobs and living expenses. I don’t think there is a cure for that. But the moments of respite that something so arbitrary as my armpit hair offers me is invaluable. While I still occasionally fantasize that my friends are overwhelmed like me, I also get this weird desire to force them to touch my armpit hair and laugh at how soft it is and enjoy its strangely meaningful presence.

Outside of my ritualistic shower habits, ritual has taken on new meaning in my post-grad panic. The hypnotic allure of my armpits has a place in my day that is particular to me. During the winding hike down the massive hill in Tilden after the moon had re-found its glow, I felt strongly that, despite the science behind the blood moon, my friends and I had participated in a sort of ritualistic worshipping of the oddity of nature.

We youthfully celebrated a phenomenon of some sort of mythic significance to the us of a thousand years ago, walking down the path as one large group, and I think we all came out of it with warmth. I came out of it with new armpits.

I wouldn’t underestimate the power of ritualization. Especially as a modern college student about to graduate.