(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

I’d specifically chosen Valentine’s Day as the day to shave my head because I wanted the act to be one of love. I wasn’t just doing it to learn something about myself; I was giving my hair as a gift to someone whom I would never meet: I was donating it to Locks of Love, an organization that provides children suffering from long-term medical hair loss with what they call “hair prosthetics.” It brought me comfort knowing that it would at least be appreciated and cared for.

In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t stop thinking about my hair. I’d never thought about it so much in my life, certainly not with longing and goodbye. I’d mostly taken it for granted. But knowing it would soon be gone—ALL gone—I kept getting teary eyed. I also had the strange sensation that I was completing a cycle. The first time I cut my long hair into a bob was out of anger. I was young, about seven, and I unconsciously decided that it was my hair that made me a girl and made me look like a girl. So I cut it all off in the aftermath of sexual abuse.

Then, oddly enough, I grew it long again during those sexually curious years of high school and college. I used it, however, to take attention away from my face. I didn’t know how to have beauty, or have a beautiful face—I couldn’t hear that. But I could have beautiful hair; that was okay with me; that was somehow less personal.

It struck me—the idea that having no hair would allow something else to emerge. I thought:

God, I wonder if I’m ready to show my face now. At 40. Has it taken me this long to show my face?