Today was to be the biggest day in the life of 7-year-old Lisa Tucker. Today a probate court judge would finalize her adoption by the Madsen family, ending a four-year period of multiple placements in foster care. Custody of Lisa had been taken away from her biological parents, the Tuckers, four years ago after authorities learned of the couple’s chronic neglect of their then 3-year-old daughter; neglect brought on by the Tuckers’ long history of drug abuse. Neither parent had been able in the past four years to kick their drug habit, thus setting the stage for today’s adoption of Lisa by the Madsens, the foster family with whom she had lived for the past year and a half.

Unable to contain her excitement, Lisa awoke at the crack of dawn, eager to begin the day’s events that would commence with the formal court appearance at 9:00 AM, followed by a party held to celebrate her official entry into the Madsen family. The party would be held in the large backyard of the family’s suburban home, and would include about a hundred of the Madsen friends and relatives with whom Lisa had become acquainted.

It was now nearing 8:00 AM, and little Lisa was in the upstairs bathroom primping herself for the big day that lay ahead. “COME OOOON LISA!” She heard her mother call from downstairs for the second time in five minutes. “You don’t want to be late for court now, do you?”

“But Mommy, I can’t find my barrettes,” replied Lisa, who indeed had spent the last few minutes searching anxiously for the brightly colored hair accessories.

“Don’t worry Honey, you won’t need them today,” called her mother from downstairs, as a smile slowly spread across her face. Earlier this morning Mrs. Madsen had gathered up Lisa’s small collection of barrettes and thrown them in the kitchen wastebasket, being careful to hide them under the morning’s used coffee grounds so Lisa would not see them. It was all part of the big surprise that the Madsens had planned for the newest member of their family.

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It struck Lisa as a little strange that her mother did not care if she wore the barrettes on this, the most important day of her young life. Lisa had always worn the barrettes as a way of keeping her long, chestnut brown hair out of her eyes. She would have questioned her mother about it, but she could tell from her mother’s voice that time really WAS of the essence, and so Lisa decided not to make an issue of it. All she wanted was to get to court and begin the day’s many festivities that were to be held in her honor.

Two hours later, Lisa and her new adoptive family stood before the judge. Lisa looked splendid in a pretty white dress bought specially for the occasion. Her little brown eyes peered from beneath her heavy bangs as the smiling, elderly judge officially pronounced her a member of the Madsen family. Lisa was so taken with the proceedings that she barely minded having to push her thick brown hair away from her eyes every few moments; hair that in the past had normally been kept at bay by her barrettes. A couple times during the proceedings Lisa had seen the three Madsen boys, her new brothers, smirking among themselves whenever they saw her pushing back her hair. At first she thought they were secretly laughing about something, but then decided that their amusement was just part of the overall cheerfulness that marked this very special day.

When the family returned home from court, there were still nearly two hours to go before the start of the party. Lisa overheard Mr. Madsen tell his wife that he was going to take the kids over to Sam’s, and that he’d be back in plenty of time for the start of the festivities. Sam’s, Lisa knew, was the barbershop downtown where Mr. Madsen would bring the three Madsen boys a couple times a year to be divested of practically all their hair. Lisa earned an invitation to tag along each time because she pretended to like the selection of kiddy magazines that Sam kept in the waiting area.

The Madsens were the only customers in the shop when they arrived at Sam’s. Lisa perched herself on a chair in the waiting area and began nervously flipping through magazines on the coffee table while 8-year-old Kyle Madsen was led to the barber chair. Far from being interested in Sam’s reading material, Lisa’s real reason for wanting to come to Sam’s was so that she could sneak glances at the boys while they were getting their haircuts, for she felt a strange excitement every time she saw the boys’ long, chestnut-colored locks being shorn away to the most severe of crewcuts. Lisa’s own hair was the same shade as the Madsen boys, and she knew, even at her tender age, that much of her excitement was a kind of vicarious thrill that her OWN locks were not the ones being dispatched to the floor. Oftentimes, during the many sleepless nights she had spent in strange new foster homes, Lisa would take comfort in the wonderful softness and smell of her hair, much the way many kids rely upon a favorite stuffed animal or security blanket. For a child whose identity had been largely stripped away through separation from her biological family, Lisa came to regard her pretty long hair as being something uniquely her own, something that no one could take away from her like they had taken away her parents. Foster parents who had awakened Lisa over the years would often find her sleeping soundly not on her regular pillow, which she hardly ever seemed to use, but rather on the thick pillow of her own long hair which she had carefully gathered beneath her head.

The “CLICK! BZZZZZZZZZ” of the clippers humming to life brought Lisa back to the present. She quickly grabbed a Highlights magazine from the coffee table and, turning to the page containing the monthly a Find-A-Word puzzle, held it in front of her face in such a way that her eyes could effortlessly look over the top toward the barber chair in which Kyle now sat.

The first glimpse Lisa caught was of the elderly barber hovering above Kyle, his droning clippers descending toward the boy’s forehead. Lisa watched in silent excitement as the clippers made contact with Kyle’s thick bangs and “BZZIP!” cut through them like a hot knife through butter. She saw Kyle wrinkle his nose as the bangs slid down his face leaving a trail of little itchy hairs behind. Her eyes were then drawn to the two-inch wide path the barber was making down the middle of Kyle’s head. Some of Kyle’s long hair slid down both sides of his head and onto his shoulders, but most of it was piling up against the plastic body of the clippers as they pushed their way down the length of the boy’s head. Sensing Kyle’s eyes about to focus on hers, Lisa glanced downward momentarily before looking up again and seeing a huge pile of Kyle’s hair hit the floor behind the barber chair. She continued to stare as Sam made successive paths across the top of her brother’s head, each time spilling more and more hair onto Kyle’s shoulders and adding to the growing mound of soft brown hair lying on the floor.

After watching Sam plow the clippers up the sides and back of Kyle’s head (and after seeing her brother’s lap fill with impossible amounts of hair), Lisa turned her eyes back to her magazine and waited for Kyle’s haircut to be over. She usually lost interest after the bulk of each boy’s hair had been sheared off, and would wait eagerly for the next of the Madsen boys to be invited to the chair.

After what seemed like an eternity, Sam called out to David, the middle Madsen boy, to have a seat in the barber chair. Lisa looked up to see Kyle stepping widely over the arc of hair that now littered the floor around the chair. Kyle looked a little shell-shocked as he ran his hand over his near-naked head, as if to say “Jeez… this feels shorter than ever!” but he quietly took his seat in the waiting area as Sam began wrapping the cape snuggly around David’s neck.

Lisa looked up from her magazine when she again heard the “CLICK!” and “BZZZZ” of the clippers resume. Sam would usually begin each Madsen boy’s haircut in a different manner, and Lisa could tell by the way the old man was tilting David’s head toward the left that he intended to whitewall the right side of her brother’s head first. Lisa fought hard to contain her excitement as Sam made three quick passes with the clippers up the side of David’s head. Long swaths of hair dropped from David’s head and gathered in a precarious pile on his shoulder. Lisa watched the pile grow larger with each successive pass of the clippers, until finally the swaying clipper cord pushed it off his shoulder and onto the floor.

Anyone watching Lisa’s eyes at this point would know that the magazine clutched firmly in front of her face was merely a charade. Lisa watched spellbound as Sam, having reduced the right side of her brother’s head to barely perceptible stubble, pushed David’s head downward and walked around the back of the chair to begin shearing the thick, velvety soft mane that now extended several inches below the boy’s shirt collar. A hard lump formed in Lisa’s throat as, through the mirror on the back wall, she watched Sam plow the clippers straight up the back of her brother’s head. As Sam’s first pass with the clippers neared the top of David’s head, Lisa’s eyes reflexively darted downward to watch the thick tumble of pretty brown locks hit the floor. For the next two minutes Lisa’s gaze moved between the mirror and the floor behind the chair. During this time she enjoyed an almost uninterrupted flow of hair cascading from the back of David’s head down to the white linoleum floor now strewn with piles of the Madsen boys’ hair. After four or five huge clumps of hair had thudded to the ground behind David, Lisa saw only wispier snippets wafting downward, a sure sign that Sam was finishing up the back and preparing to move around to the left side of David’s head.

Lisa’s view of Sam’s handiwork on the final side of her brother’s head was pretty obscured. She had to settle for watching a few long sections of hair tumble down the front of the cape, collecting in David’s lap. She was, however, treated to a good view of Sam finishing off the top. Sam would plunge his barber comb into the thick mop of hair atop her brother’s head, pull upward on a long section, and begin shearing it progressively shorter until all that remained was about an eighth of an inch of stubble. Lisa loved the way Sam would attack this last bastion of David’s hair, flicking thick clumps of hair in all directions so that they came to rest as much as several feet from the base of the barber chair. Once Lisa had SO wanted to reach out and grab one of the clumps that had slid to within a foot of her own chair in the waiting area; so soft and inviting her brother’s hair was to her…

The sharp “CLICK!” of the clippers signaled the end of David’s cut, and the ushering into the chair of the oldest Madsen boy, Brian. At thirteen years old, Lisa knew that it would not be long before Brian began to rebel against these semi-annual shearings. He was reaching the age where he was beginning to notice girls, and Lisa knew that at some point Brian would have to forego the “baldy sours” he got at Sam’s in favor of something a little less stark.

But for now, Lisa was content to sit back and enjoy it. For the past year or more, Sam had seemed to unleash upon Brian all his contempt for boys’ long hair, probably because Sam figured that a young man Brian’s age should be able to speak up and ask for a haircut long before he reached the “girly locks” stage that presently afflicted him. Indeed, Brian’s hair did grow the fastest of the three Madsen boys, so that as Sam wrapped the cape tightly around the boy’s neck, Lisa watched almost giddily as the Brian’s shoulder length locks swayed in the breeze one last time.

The “CLICK!” and “BZZZZZZ” of the clippers seemed angrier as they headed toward the nape of Brian’s nape, perhaps warmed into a fury by the two previous cuts, or merely anxious to start tearing into Brian’s thick pageboy locks. Whatever the reason, the customary drone of the clippers filled the entire barbershop as they began their ascent upward from the center of Brian’s nape. As he had done during Brian’s last two or three trips to the shop, Sam used his free hand to grasp at the boy’s long hair so as to lift and feed it neatly into the path of the oncoming clippers. Lisa thought she would burst with excitement as she watched Sam make one… two… three passes with the clippers up the back of her brother’s head while still grasping in his free hand all the accumulated locks of cut hair. Before beginning the fourth pass up the boy’s head, Sam heaved the handful of shorn mane forward onto the only remaining section of white linoleum left around the foot of the chair. Lisa could see Brian strain his peripheral vision to view the jumbled heap of hair Sam had just tossed to the floor, now totally unrecognizable as the foot-long locks that Lisa had seen her brother combing for what seemed like hours in front of the upstairs bathroom mirror as she and the other Madsen boys clamored to get ready for school.

The rest of Brian’s haircut proceeded in much the same manner. Sam would grab at thick sections of the boy’s hair while carefully maneuvering the clippers beneath them and along every curve and contour of Brian’s scalp. When the locks went limp in his hand, Sam would fling them onto the floor or “accidentally” onto Brian’s sneakers that protruded from beneath the cape. Brian knew exactly what was going on, and during the past year had begun to resent Sam for these twice-annual versions of “kiddy boot camp.” But, even as Brian felt his head being tossed from side to side, and even as he watched nearly seven months worth of hair being mercilessly shorn away to reveal his pale bald head, Brian knew that there was little he could do about it.

It was with both sadness and relief that Lisa watched the last of the Madsen boys’ haircuts come to an end; sadness because she could have watched Sam attack Brian’s girly locks all day long, but relief because she thought her racing heart would burst if she saw any more. As Sam withdrew the cape from Brian’s shoulders, dumping its weighty chestnut brown contents onto the now totally covered linoleum, Lisa could not recall when she had seen a more impressive display of her brother’s hair strewn about in piles on the barbershop floor.

“Well, Steve,” said Sam for the first time all afternoon to their father. “What about the newest addition to the Madsen clan? Is she ready for her first turn in the ole barber chair? It’s not often I get a chance to induct a new member of the family!”

Lisa’s heart stopped momentarily at the sound of Sam’s question, but quickly she noticed the four members of her new family chuckling in unison.

“Weeelll,” replied her father, “the wife and I always DID say we weren’t going to treat Lisa any differently from our own,” her father continued with a twinkle in his eye. “Alright, what say we go ahead and give her a whirl?”

Lisa knew everyone was getting a good chuckle out of the shenanigan, so, far be it for her to dampen the day’s enthusiasm, she agreed to go along with the joke. She allowed herself to be led toward the empty barber chair, careful not to slip on the huge piles of her brothers’ hair, yet feeling a burst of excitement whenever some of the velvety soft locks would briefly become entangled in her open-toed sandals.

The image reflected in the mirror when Lisa hoisted herself into the chair was one she wished she could get a photograph of. Crowded around her, and holding onto the chair so as not to slide on the hair, was her “officially new” father and her three brothers, of whom David and Brian were still absent mindedly rubbing their newly shaven heads. Near the edge of the picture stood Sam, readying his clippers for the proposed fourth Madsen haircut, and behind them all on the floor lay the remnants of nearly an hour’s worth of Sam’s handiwork.

Lisa played along with them as Sam carefully wrapped the cape around her shoulders, and as the “CLICK! BZZZZZZZ” of the clippers sounded once again. She even pretended to be nervous when Sam came toward her with clippers in hand (though, she had to admit, she got some very REAL shivers down her spine when Sam passed them within a couple inches of her left ear). Lisa was all set to step down from the chair and encourage everyone to head home in time for this afternoon’s party, when she felt the vibrating stainless steel blades on her left cheek.

She remembered thinking, “Okay, okay… a joke’s a joke, but this one’s gone far enough,” when all of a sudden a seventeen-inch long section of her hair that had been hanging from her head down onto the cape, suddenly began to slide down toward her knees.

In the time it took her mind to process the fact that her hair was not where it was supposed to be, two more equally long sections of her hair snaked their way down the front of the cape and collected between her legs.

It took the tears a few moments to come, but when they finally did, Sam thought everyone on the block had been able to hear them. Lisa burst out crying with enough ferocity that at first no one even noticed her thin, high pitched wailing. For her part, Lisa could do nothing but stare directly into the mirror at the now baseball-sized bald spot that appeared on the left side of her head, in front of her ear. Sam was all set to fold the ear gently forward so as to begin buzzing the super-soft strands that lay behind it, when suddenly he heard Mr. Madsen’s voice. “Honeeey… Honeyyyy… stop it nooowwww… you’ve been saying for months that you want to look like a member of this family… we’ve all come this faaarrr… don’t ruin things noooowwww.”

Mr. Madsen nodded to Sam to proceed. Sam responded by pushing the clippers from behind Lisa’s ear all the way up to where her head curved to meet the crown. A thick rope of Lisa’s hair, larger than any of the others, rolled off her head and deposited itself atop the previously cut hair in her lap. Lisa shrieked.

It was now her brothers’ turn to try to appease her. “Come ooonn, Lisa,” pleaded David. “Now everyone will know that you’re our sister.”

“Yeah,” added Brian. “You’ve liked sitting there and watching us getting our hair cut for years… now you can really feel like a part of the family.”

Lisa would have shuddered at the first part of Brian’s comment, were she not so busy struggling to see through her tears as another long slab of her hair separated itself from her head.

Mr. Madsen, shocked and distressed by his daughter’s reaction to his and the boys’ surprise, whispered into Sam’s ear, “Isn’t there something you can do to speed this up?” Sam nodded and, with a flick of the switch, turned off the clippers and returned them to their place on the counter. Lisa took comfort that the clipper noise had stopped, but it was nothing compared to what she needed now to feel better about the fact that the whole left side of her head had just been shaved practically bald.

Her wracking sobs began to slow somewhat just as she heard another sound begin to emanate from the counter area. She looked up just in time to see Sam lift a huge pair of scissors from out of the drawer. He tried them out a couple times “SNNNICK! SNNNICK!” before walking around to the back of the barber chair. For as long as Lisa could remember, Sam had never used scissors on the Madsen boys’ hair, and she was as sure as sure could be that she had NEVER before seen a longer, more wicked looking pair of shears than those that Sam now held above her head.

Lisa saw in the mirror her head being pulled slightly backward as Sam worked quickly to gather all the long hair on the back of her head into a thick, impromptu ponytail. She felt almost sorry for the old man as he struggled with the unfamiliarity of a little girl’s long hair, but sympathy soon turned to shock and anger as she felt him twist slightly the now tight ponytail, and saw him wrap the big scissor blades around it.

If Lisa had thought the drone of the clippers attacking her head was bad, she now wished she had never heard the sound of the old, dull scissors chopping madly through her thick, precious hair. She could see the muscles in Sam’s forearms bulge as he tried to sever the huge ponytail from Lisa’s head. After much hacking and mashing of hair, Sam contented himself with stabbing at smaller sections of the ponytail, and found that he was having more success that way. It felt to Lisa like an eternity had passed before even half her beautiful tresses lay lifeless in the old man’s hand. As tears rolled freely down her upturned cheeks, she could hear Sam finally achieve a certain stride with the scissors (SHNIIIK SHNIIIK SHNIIIK SHNIIK SHNIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIK!)

Lisa could tell from both the sound of that last cut, and from the release of tension on the back of her head, that Sam had finally managed to hack through the bulk of her hair. She could hear him now snipping away at the few little hairs that still dared to cling to the back of her head.

As awful as the preceding ten minutes had been, nothing could prepare Lisa for what she saw in the mirror next. Behind her in the chair, Sam approached Mr. Madsen and held out what appeared to be one of those Elvira wigs that kids wear on Halloween, only this one was chestnut brown and much more luxuriant. Lisa heard Sam say some about a “souvenir” to her father, than watched as her father slowly nodded “no” to the offer, at which point the barber simply tossed the huge, wig-like mass onto the floor.

The scissors could be heard again shortly afterward, but for some reason they sounded muted to little Lisa, who right now seemed to be hearing everything as if she were in the next room. She watched almost disinterestedly as the sharp points of the scissor blades were leveled over her right temple. She watched matter-of-factly the pumping action of Sam’s scissor hand while, in the mirror, she could see the last remaining sections of her long hair slide down her chest and into her lap. Her head was now the ugliest thing she had ever seen: totally bald on the left, pixie-ish on the right, and still fairly long on top.

She was wondering how Sam was going to fix it when suddenly the CLICK! BZZZZ of the clippers returned for a fifth and final time. Of course! How could she have been so stupid? Lisa’s mind used sarcasm to try to protect itself from the oncoming insanity as Sam hastily set about running the clippers all over her head. She watched in the mirror as her brothers, who at some point had retreated to the relative safety of the waiting area, silently appraised Sam’s clipper technique on her head. “Fitting,” Lisa thought to herself, with an appreciation of irony that was far beyond her years.

Lisa couldn’t exactly recall being led out of the chair. She did remember that Sam had foregone the usual brushing-of-the-hair-off-face-routine that he did with her brothers, perhaps because Lisa’s own face was now such a messy mixture of hair and tears that it would take a full-fledged shower to get clean. What she did recall, and continued to recall for the rest of her life, was her last look back at the barbershop floor as Sam began poking at the large wiglike object with his broom, eventually sending it airborne where it landed atop the strewn remnants of Kyle’s, David’s, and Brian’s hair. Lisa and the Madsens were officially one.


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