Fear Remembered – Part I By Jim B
Sitting here in my car I am looking towards Erin’s Barber Shop with the fear I had remembered for years. Years that go back to my childhood, my preteen years.
Years I spent staring up at them in that chair, as a child, as my dad, my mother, even my two brothers, sat getting their hair cut by Erin. She was a lovely lady, a few years older than my parents. She stood almost as tall as my dad, later my brothers. Mom came to her shoulders. Her hair was kind of long, so I thought back then.
It reached a few inches past her shoulders, and was a natural dark black. “Black like a blacksmith gets after hours of work,” I remember hearing mom tell dad one day. Sometimes she let it hang from a center part, a few times from a part on the left side. Mostly she would pull her hair back tightly and tie a ribbon or scarf to hold it tightly in place behind her head. Never do I remember seeing her with her with her hair in curls, or even styled in the back of her head, like my aunts sometimes did.
I would sit on the floor, as a child, looking upward as she cut the hair of her customers sitting in the chair. I would use my little hands to sweep the cut hair into piles, then pick up a small, but full, handful and toss the clippings in the air. Sometimes I would blow as hard as I could into them as they fell back to the floor. A few times my breath was taken too close and I would inhale some clippings, causing me to cough then try to spit out what hairs I had taken in. The fun times, I thought, were the summer times – late March, or early April – if the weather began to turn hot.
Dad mostly, but mom sometimes, would march my brothers off to Erin’s for short summer haircuts. I would watch with interest as she pushed the silver, later black, humming object over their heads. Then, she would take something off this object and push it up the sides and back of their heads. They looked funny from where I sat, on the floor in front of the chair.
And she would, every time, put some white stuff along the bottom of their hair. She would move her right hand, which was holding a stick-like object that shone in the light of the sun coming through the big window, or of the shop’s lighting. She would move this little shining stick a little, not much, around their head, only where she had put the white stuff.
She would wipe some sticky stuff on their head afterward. And take a brush and brush their hair, what was left of it, upward to make it stand up. When they stepped from the chair, I would quickly get to my feet, my arms stretching upward, to feel their haircuts. It became a game for us. I would rub my little hands over their heads and the little clipped hairs would stick to my hands. I would run after each one to try to wipe my hands on their pants. Everyone in the shop would begin to laugh, then they would pick me and turn me around in a circle, causing my little legs to swing outward. I enjoyed these times, as did my brothers and my dad.
Mom, when she would sit in the chair, only got a little hair cut off, but when she was finished, Erin would push her head downward and I heard the humming sound. I could not see it from the floor.
Then, there was that day, one I shall remember.
Dad had taken my brothers fishing. Mom and I had gone to Erin’s without them, something we never did.
As mom sat in the chair she and Erin talked, and mom began pushing her right hand up the back of her head. Whatever it was about, Erin was shaking her head as if to tell mom she knew what she was saying.
Erin began cutting just the edge of mom’s hair, as she always did. This time she cut the right side first, then the left side. Then she stood behind the chair pushing mom’s head downward. I got up from the floor and walked behind the chair by Erin, something I had never done. She was cutting mom’s hair upward and to the middle of her head.
I ran to the front of the chair to see mom’s face. She winked at me with a smile.
“Getting my hair cut different this summer,” she told me. I ran back behind the chair to see Erin cutting the other side the same way.
It looked like a “hill” with a pointy top. And it looked funny.
When she was finished she put the scissors and comb on the shelf, and took hold of something. When she turned back to the chair, she pushed mom’s head downward a little more. In her right hand was that silver humming object. She pushed it up into the “hill” and any hair that was there began to fall to the floor, or on mom’s shoulders. It did not take her long and she was hanging the object under the shelf.
She undid the cape, so I ran to the front of the chair to look at mom again. As the cape slid down into her lap, I stared at her. She smiled and winked at me.
I started to reach for her, but I saw Erin pushing a towel in her blouse around her neck.
“Not finished yet, sweetheart,” mom told me. I walked behind the chair as Erin began putting that white stuff right where she had just pushed the silver object.
Just like she did when she put the white stuff on my dad and brothers, she moved that stick up and down over that brown thing. Then she used it on the back of mom’s neck doing the same thing it did on my dad and brothers.
When she was finished she dusted that sweet-smelling powder on her neck, and mom got out the chair. When I put my arms around her neck I felt the back of her neck. It felt strange, just like dad’s face did after he came out the bathroom in the mornings. When I looked back there, there was no hair. Mom felt back there and told Erin, “I should have done this years ago.”
Only a few times each year did mom let Erin cut my hair, then only to trim the edge. Dad, on the other hand, liked to play with me when we went to Erin’s Barber Shop. After they got their hair cut, he would pick me up and sit me in the chair. It was big.
“Now, young lady,” he would say. “Time for you to get your hair cut like your brothers.”
I would look at them, seeing how short their hair was cut, and quickly I would slide out the chair. “NO! No! no,” I would say, running to the door, or mom if she was with us. My brothers would chase after me saying, “YES! Yes! Yes.” One of them would make a buzzing sound as he moved his hand in the air, then over my head when they caught me.
When we got home I would be crying for my mom. “They want to call all my hair off,” I would say. As she knelt, hugging me, she would say, “They are only playing. It’s a game, you have to understand that.” But I liked my hair like it was. It was not too short, nor too long. I liked how it touched my shoulders, it tickled my shoulders after I dried it. It would fly around my head when I turned in circles. Mom liked it this length because I could not put it in my mouth like other girls my age did.
Then, that day of real “fear” came.
I had been playing around the house. My brothers were off playing baseball with their friends. Mom was fixing lunch. Dad, he was putting some wallpaper up in the family room.
I was stood in the doorway watching him every now and then. He looked funny with all that paper hanging over his head as he pushed it up the wall. Then it happened.
He dropped the brush he was using to paint over the paper, after it was on the wall. “Damn,” he said as he tried to reach for it on the floor behind him.
“I’ll get it for you,” I shouted and ran to pick it up for him.
Just as I bent over to get it, dad did too. His backside hit the ladder, which had a pan of glue on it. The ladder tilted enough to send the pan of glue spilling over me, covering me from my head down to almost my waist.
“Becky!” I heard him call just as the glue hit my head and the pan my back. “You all right, love?”
I stood up all covered with the glue. I started to reach for my head, but he grabbed my hands. “NO! no,” he told me. “You’ll get the glue in them, too.”
“Martha!” he called out to mom. “Come quick. The pan of glue fell on Backy’s head.”
Mom came running in from the kitchen. “God, Allen,” she cried. “Why couldn’t you be more careful?”
Dad looked at her very displeased. I tried to tell her it was my fault. When her voice got louder as she began telling him more, I started to cry. “Mommy, mommy. I tried to help dad, but…” I cried as she wiped the tears.
“I’ll have to take you to see Dr. Mike,” she said. Dad just shook his head.
“Here,” dad said, handing mom the can the glue came in. “You’ll need this.”
Mom took it and we were off to see Dr. Mike.
There was hardly anyone there, but when Connie, his receptionist, saw me, we went right in to a room. After a few minutes Dr. Mike came in. He and mom talked as he looked me over.
“Glue,” he said. He looked at the can and began shaking his head.
“Why don’t you go see Connie,” he told me as he opened the door. “Tell her I said to give you a soft drink.” I smiled and waved to him. “See you later, then.”
When mom came out she was crying a little. I asked but she wouldn’t say.
As she drove home, so I thought, she began telling me what the glue did to my hair. That I would have to have my hair cut short, and we were going to Erin’s to have it done. I started telling her “NO!” but she said there was no “no” about it. I was going to have to have my hair cut “real” short.
When we arrived at Erin’s she was cutting a man’s hair. She looked at us as we came in the door, she asked, “What in the world happened to you, sweetheart?”
“Glue feel on her,” mom said. “Dr. Mike says the only way to get it out is to cut it out.”
We sat down and waited. I continued trying to talk mom out of the “real” short haircut. But she just shook her head every time.
Finished with the man, Erin put a board across the chair’s arms. “Come here, Becky,” she told me as she reached out for me. “I’ll help you get up in the chair.”
I folded my arms, and made a face that said no. Mom looked at me with her stare, the one she gives my brothers when they are in trouble with her. She took me by the right elbow and moved me towards the chair. I took the hint, and walked to Erin.
When I was seated and caped, she asked mom, “Well, what do you want to do?”
“You tell me,” she said. Erin looked my head over, picking up some parts stuck together with the glue.
“Going to have to be real short,” she told mom as she moved her right hand over her head, as if she was telling mom something I was not to hear about.
Mom sat up and took a deep breath. “That bad?” she inquired.
“Yes,” Erin replied. “Worse than it looked like when you came in.”
“Do what you have to,” mom told her as she picked up a magazine.
Erin didn’t move the chair upward, as she did with my dad, mom, and brothers. Instead she left it like it was, down.
“Honey,” she said to me while standing on the right side of the chair. “I have to do this, there is no other way to get the glue out your hair.”
I looked at her and started to tell her, “You can wash it out,” when I heard a click and that humming sound. I looked at her with wide eyes, my throat became dry as I tried to cry out for my mom.
Erin’s left hand grabbed the back of my head as she raised the humming object to my forehead. I saw her starting to cry as she pushed it back into my hair and back over my head. I felt the coolness of the air conditioner on my head as she brought the humming back to the front of my head. Again she pushed it back over my head as I being to cry out loud.
“Mommy!” I cried out. But she just looked at the magazine. With half my head with no hair I looked at my mother. I could see her crying, her face was turning red. I hated her, I hated Erin, most of all I was beginning to hate my dad.
With the top of my head with no hair, I sat quiet, my arms crossed in anger under the cape. Erin let go of my head as she being humming away at the hair on the sides of my head. Soon, I had no hair to speak of. I looked bald, worse than my brothers did when they got their hair cut for the summer. I hated them, too.
When she was finished, she looked at me as she tried to help me down. I pulled my arms from her. “I’LL DO IT MYSELF!” I yelled at her. When my mom came to hold me, I pulled away from her, too. I walked to the door, opened it, and ran for the car. It was locked, so I pounded on the door, yelling out loud, “I hate all of you. I hate all of you.” And I started crying out loud again.
Nothing was said when we got home. My dad tried to hug me, but I ran from him. When my brothers came to my room, I slammed the door in their faces. “I hate all of you,” I cried out, over and over, until I fell asleep.
Now, twenty-five years later, here I sit looking in Erin’s Barber Shop. I still have the fear of that day. I remember it every time I walk, or ride, past here. I even get a little taste of the fear when I do the same to other barber shops or beauty salons. I have not cut my hair since that day.
It is now down to below my knees. It just hangs, I do nothing with it. It is shaggy with the split ends showing, having never been trimmed, either. I was eight then, now I am thirty-three.
I still feared Erin’s Barber Shop, and everyone that day.