It’s A Semi-Wonderful Sort of Life (With all apologies to Frank Capra and the gang) by HeadBoy
The deli was crowded, the line headed out the door and onto the street. Jen stood in front of me, her nape a positively delicious distraction to the wait. Her hair had that shade of brown that drives men insane – chocolate, with glistening red undertones, and near-black highlights. It stopped just short of the bottom of her ears on the sides, and there was a ton on top, combed straight back so you could see her crystalline eyes, eyes that were a sort of blue and green locked in a swirling duel for supremacy.
She looked over her shoulder and smiled that frustrated “we could be here a while” smile that soldiers stuck in foxholes must have. The look, however, is nowhere near as alluring on a GI though. Not nearly as alluring, and not capturing the Irish girl features that can look so forlorn and so optimistic at the same time. She had all of those qualities, all those qualities and the haircut of the gods. So sculpted, so flattering and so damn perfect for her face.
Standing there, Jen wondered about the girl in front of her in line; a girl with a flowing mane of hair. An unkempt, just fell out of bed, quality to it. She had a flirtatiousness to her, an “I’m too-sexy-for-words” look about her. Jen wondered what hair like that would look like on her. How different would her life be if she’d never cut her hair in college to rebel. It turned out she liked the way it looked on her and kept it short all these years. All the years post-college had been a swirl of activities, some positive, some negative, but overall she was happy. Happy, but without the one guy in her life to make her heart skip. To make her all giddy inside.
That night she fell asleep, and visions of an angel came to her. Well, a temp angel, trying to get on full-time. Her name was Clarissa, she had a kind face, like all angels, even temps, had as a matter of course.
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“Jen,” Clarissa said, in a gentle, sweet voice. “Jen, it’s time to get up.”
“Ummmn.” She said, still blurry.
“Jen. You made a wish, I’m here to help you realize it.”
“Ummmn.” She said again, stirring awake with a start.
“Whhhhh-ho are you and what are you doing in my bedroom?” Jen asked, shocked awake.
“I’m Clarissa, and you made a wish today at the delicatessen. We do listen, and we do hear things.”
“You wished that you had never cut your hair. I’ve been sent to show you what life would be like if you hadn’t.”
Jen was sitting up in bed, and before she could pull up the covers against the cold 3 a.m. chill, she was back at Stanford, back at the Gulf War protest that was where she first cut her long hair. She was standing beside herself, watching her life unfold, almost exactly as it had. Just one small change.
There on the grass, Jen sat, Red Hot Chili Peppers blasting away, anti-war signs waving, a throng of students jeering, screaming and Jen’s best friend, Sandra, sitting next to her, scissors in hand. This time though, Jen didn’t beat her fears, and she told Sandra “No, not today.” And with that, Sandra put the scissors in her backpack, passed Jen a lukewarm Anchor Steam, and shouted obscenities at the faculty. Jen’s hair rustled in the breeze, brushing past her shoulders, flowing in the Northern California sun.
Instead of her hair falling away as Sandra sawed it off, badly, then cut off her own, the two had instead grown bored of the event and went home. Home, hair intact, rather than chopped away in haggard fashion. A haggard fashion she went to get fixed that day while Sandra slept off a drunk until sundown.
That night, in the dorms, Jen met a boy – just like she had on her first tour at Stanford, back when she’d cut her hair, and he wasn’t interested in her. Not with her mangled hair cut above the ears and off the collar to even it out – and he spent the evening flirting with her, making her feel sexy, making her forget her big brother off fighting in the oil-rich desert. His name was Rob, and he swept her off her feet this time around. It was love.
Jen looked at Clarissa, “Wow, he never noticed me before.”
Clarissa smiled, “Just watch and learn.”
Rob and Jen dated through college, moving in together for their senior year. He would brush her hair in the evenings, putting her to sleep, humming Peter Gabriel tunes softly while she relaxed to the sensual feel of her hair being pampered by such a kind man.
After Jen was safely asleep, Rob was off to the dorms, into the arms of Sandra, and spending many nights roiling between the sheets. Laughing at Jen behind her back. Jen didn’t suspect a thing, not even when she almost caught them, in her own bed.
Jen was too busy most nights, fawning at Rob, to study. Teachers didn’t challenge her due to the fact that she’d gravitated toward the back of the class to sit by Rob and rub his knee during class rather than pay attention. Somewhere along the line, the thirst for knowledge she’d found in college was quelled when she fell for Rob. Somewhere, the passion for school and her future grew shorter as her hair grew longer.
At graduation, Jen hugged Rob and Sandra, kissed her mom and dad and went off to enjoy her graduation present: a trip for her and Rob to Jamaica, courtesy of mom and dad. Rob dropped the bomb on Jen on the sunny, unspoiled beach the second day there, sending her into a deep funk. A funk the sort of which she would never fully recover. Her true love and her best friend had both stabbed her in the back. And she was halfway around the world from home. Alone.
Returning to the states, Jen was despondent, and blew her interview at MacTell, and didn’t get the job. A job she got the first time around. A job that she nailed fresh out of college when her perspective boss became interested in her because of her bubbly but intelligent personality and the fact that she stood out from all the other Marcia Brady clones applying for the job.
Jen looked at Clarissa, “so, I didn’t get the job?”
“You just saw what happened.”
“But that means I don’t get sent to Europe. That means I never get into the marketing department and meet Theresa. She’s my buddy.”
Jen went home, single, jilted, jobless and dejected. Clarissa walked past the comfy home on Haight Street, directing Jen to follow her alternative self up the street. Up the street to her next job interview. An interview she did not get either. Or the next one. Her blue mood, and progressively unkempt mane was not nearly as impressive as her professional, well-groomed appearance of old. And her transcripts from college without Rob in her life reflected a serious student; with Rob, well… school was not her first concern.
Four weeks, and about twenty interviews later, Jen landed a job. It was in the mail room for a weekly real estate magazine. A magazine with a portly, balding boss that smelled of herring. He had so many bad habits you couldn’t count them all. Worst of the bunch was the way he ate, chewing with his mouth open and attempting to flirt with Jen as he did. The only thing worse than his herring stench was his fashion sense. A mixed-bag of things thrown on in the dark and from so many varied eras it would be impossible to tell when, if ever, he would have been considered hip. And he insisted on eating his lunch next to Jen every day.
Jen stopped eating regularly, in an attempt to get away from the disgusting troll of a boss she’d been saddled with. Her attractive, tone figure waned away to a frail thinness that looked like it would blow away in a stiff breeze.
“Clarissa. What is happening?” she pleaded to her temp angel.
Clarissa just shrugged. “Life. Your life. It is what you wished for.”
“But it’s not what I wanted.”
“Very seldom does life go according to our highest aspirations.”
“Don’t go getting all esoteric on me, you’re not even a real angel.”
“And you’re just a shell of your old self,” she said, pointing to the Christmas party at the real estate magazine.
Behind the pile of jackets on the bosses desk, the portly boss was forcing himself on Jen. In her feeble half-attempt to force him away, she gave in to his hideous advances and let him kiss her neck and face. His rancid tongue ran the length of her earlobe, Jen suppressed the urge to vomit and kissed him back on his hairy chest.
At home that night, she looked to find no messages on her machine, an unclean feeling about her and an undeniable urge to cry.
“Make it stop Clarissa. Please,” she begged. Clarissa just looked on.
“I don’t want this life. I was happier before. I was happier with my old life, with my old job, with my old hair. I wanna go back. Please, Clarissa, please. Have mercy. Clarissa. Please! Have mercy.”
Jen kept pleading, kicking and screaming with Clarissa, even as she woke up to find herself in her cozy bed on Haight Street. In her sweetly decorated loft. She bolted out of bed, skidding across the hardwood floor in her stocking feet on her way to the bathroom.
She flicked on the light, looked in the mirror and saw herself – hair messy, but just brushing the collar. The tips of her ears sticking out from the sides, and the bangs that hung slightly over her left eye. She showered and shampooed herself, to rid herself of the vague feeling of the herring-smelling boss of her dream/alternate reality.
Jen brushed her hair in the mirror over and over. She marveled at how sleek it looked when wet. How smooth and sculpted the sides looked as she brushed them back. She combed the bangs over the top of her head, instead of draping over her left eye. Then she combed them so they fell where she was used to seeing them. Then, with a giddy chortle, she tousled her short, sexy hair. She watched the mirror to check her figure, not too skinny.
She walked back toward her bedroom, grabbing her phone on the way and hitting #6 on speed dial.
“You have reached ‘Hair-i-see’ hair salon. If you wish to make an appointment, leave your name and number and the name of your stylist and she will get back to you during regular business hours.”
After the long beep, Jen left a message: “Hi, it’s Jen. I was hoping Clarissa could fit me in for a trim today. Give me a call, ‘Ris. You know the number.”
Jen didn’t go back to sleep. Instead, she headed back to the bathroom to play with her hair in the mirror. And chuckle at what might have been.
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