Time and Again By Barbera
The summer I turned 14 I went to get my hair cut. I would always go to my mother’s hairdresser since this was a small town and there were only two choices. I had just been to my grade 8 graduation dance the night before and that afternoon had a real date with a friend named Robert. Everything there was nearby and I was able to walk to the salon in about 5 to 10 minutes. What happened I will never forget and comes back to haunt me again and again.
My mother was one of those women who visited her hairdresser every week. I don’t ever recall her even washing her own hair. As a result her hairdresser knew everything about everyone in our family and my mother was a valued and respected customer. As I walked over that day it never crossed my mind that her hairdresser knew about any discussions between my mother and me and my hair. My mother was on a campaign that if I kept my hair long I should look after it every day. But at age 14 I was not about to become a slave to my hair and on that day in particular I certainly wasn’t interested in listening to my mother. My hair was almost waist length and if I just kept growing it I was sure it would be there by fall.
I knew her hairdresser by name, it was Rose, and told her I needed it straightened up across the bottom. She nodded and dampened my hair. Then sectioned out the back and told me she’d cut it just an inch or two. I agreed. Suddenly she was cutting and I could feel it was a lot more than just a couple of inches. I didn’t know what to do. By the time I got my thoughts together, most of my hair was chopped close to my head. I remember being very upset but she told me there was no way she could put it back and just kept cutting. She said my mother had called and wanted it easy to look after. She even went back over what she had just done and cropped it even closer. I remember her running her hands over the short stubble and telling me, “It would be care-free for the summer. Just like the boys have.” I went home in tears with my hair cropped into a 1-inch pixie cut. I felt I looked horrible but my parents insisted I keep my date.
I don’t know if it was just to make me feel better, but I actually believed that Robert liked my hair short. He kept touching it and telling me it looked “Wow”. We saw each other most of that summer but that fall he moved away.
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Growing my hair was my project right through high school and I had learned not only to look after it but to use it to every advantage as well. I made sure I went to the other salon in town for a trim once or twice a year. But in the last year I was dating a really cute guy from the football team. When prom night came I was looking forward to it. I can’t describe the feeling but it had been building up for two or three days. On the Saturday morning of the dance I decided for the first time since I was 14, I wanted to get my hair cut short. After all, I told myself, it was summer. It was irrational and impulsive and I really don’t know what made me do it, but I went back to Rose’s salon. She remembered me from the years before; so when I told her I wanted it cut she was quite ready to do it short all over again. I was shaking as I sat there feeling her cut one handful after another. She didn’t need any encouragement to do it short. She just cut! The one thing I remember was her wanting to clip it close so it was away from my ears.
There I was staring into the mirror again. My hair had been cropped just one inch on top and about a half inch on the sides. She used the clippers to shape the hairline at the back and around my ears. I felt so naked. I remember being shocked when she asked if I wanted it even shorter! This time everyone was caught by surprise, even my mother, to say nothing about my date. So much for summer romance.
I now had the endless task of growing it again and I spent every effort to keep it looking its best. Cutting it had been such a stupid idea. I looked so much better with it long. I spent the next six years devoted to the project. I had moved about 50 miles away and I was getting it trimmed professionally near where I was working and even tried a few blonde streaks. I was heading home for Christmas that year and I warned my parents I was bringing a boy home for the holidays. I was leaving a day or two ahead and meeting him at the bus near my parents two days before Christmas.
The day I left to head home he gave me a big hug. I wasn’t thinking about my hair at the time but I knew it needed a good trim. It wasn’t until he began running his hands through it and saying how he’d miss me that I began to wonder if I should make it his last opportunity. My better judgment told me to forget it. But it kept coming back to me on the long bus ride home.
The day he was to arrive I went into town to get a few last minute gifts and wait for the bus. As I walked around town I looked over at Rose’s salon. A strange sense of terror rushed through me. I told myself, “No! Don’t go over there!” I tried to dismiss it but it kept haunting me. I went into the coffee shop and had something to drink. As I sat there I kept telling myself, “My hair is beautiful now! I have spent six years growing it back. He’d freak out if I met him at the bus like that!” But the thought was still there. “I need a trim!” I tired to rationalize it. “It’s winter time. You don’t want short hair now. Things are going well. Don’t do something stupid.”
My hands were shaking as I put down the empty cup. I would just go over and check. Chances are she’d be too busy to take me anyway, even for just a trim. As I walked across the street I told myself, “But if she can take me I’ll have to do it. I spend too much time on it anyway. Getting it cut will do me good!”
When I went in she welcomed me enthusiastically. I think she understood even though I didn’t. She rolled her eyes. “Christmas week… I’m extremely busy but if you want something that’s just really quick I’ll fit you in.” I sat waiting several minutes, each second testing my fortitude and asking myself what I thought I was doing! I could always leave and just say I’d come back another time.
She sat me in a chair right at the front window. It was the only one available and seldom used since the mirror was off to one side. She apologized she was in such a rush. “Everything short again? All over?” she asked. I nervously nodded. She smiled, “Your hair is looking really good! I like the blonde you have in it.”
“Good!” I thought, “Maybe she won’t crop it too short!” She brushed it and stood back to look at me. She said nothing but just smiled and shook her head. My hands were trembling. She put her brush down and told me she’d cut my hair dry since she was in a hurry and I wanted everything really short anyway. I stared out the window at the people hurrying by. When she stepped back along side the chair I glanced down to see her holding the electric clippers. My heart pounded. She snapped a large attachment over the blades and I began to pray quietly to myself. I realized she was planning to be really ruthless this time. I could feel she was enjoying my nervousness. I was afraid I was going to look really scalped. I wanted to stop her but something told me I had to sit still and see it through.
She was talking to her assistant as she brought the clippers to just in front of my ear. Without allowing a pause for second thought, in one firm sweep she went right up the side of my head. I gripped the armrest with my sweating palms. I prayed to myself as hard as I could, “Please don’t make it any worse!” But I remained silent. The next stroke went at least an inch higher and the one after it even more. My hair was sliding into my lap in great thick sheets. She worked her way around my ear, then brought the clippers to the base of my neck. In one stroke she went right up the back of my head. It happened so fast. I shuddered as I felt the clippers come to the front and sweep straight back through the top. She commented how I was losing all my blonde streaks, and seemed amused she could see my scalp through the short hair. My head was feeling so bare. I was getting really shorn. I sat frozen too afraid to move. As she rotated my chair around to the mirror for me to examine my heart pounded. “That’s just under 3/4″ all over!” she smiled. She ran her hand back over my head. The short bristles just flicked back.
Well it was quite a Christmas! I can’t remember what I got from anyone including my boyfriend. Our relationship did last long enough to have combed my hair. I told myself if he loved me just because I had sexy hair then he wasn’t worth it. But I knew it was a real shock and no one was ready for it, me included
I was once again faced with the task of growing it back. I promised myself this time I would never cut it again. After university I took a teaching job. I had a few relationships but this summer I found myself with over two months vacation and no real plans. So I went up to spend time with my parents. Mom and Dad had moved into the retirement home so I stayed with a cousin. Each day I drove down the main street and there was Rose’s salon. Still there… and Rose was still operating it. I cringed at what I thought each day as I went by.
It was over 20 years ago since she first cut my hair so short. Why could I not get over it? Was it because that first boyfriend seemed to like it so much? None of the others ever did! Why was I so intent on destroying in seconds what took me years of work and care? I liked my hair. It was beautiful! I didn’t have the answers. I looked at my reflection in the car mirror and ran my fingers through it. There was that voice urging me again.
It was my last day there. I had packed the car and said good-bye to Mom and Dad. I guess the final touch was my mother saying, “Your hair is looking so nice longer.” I had to wonder, since it was her phone call that first ensured it was cropped short so many years before. I tired to tell myself to just drive straight home. My hair really was the best it had ever been. My streaking it made it look almost blonde, and it was staying healthy. It was over halfway down my back for the first time in more than 15 years. “Don’t do it!” I kept telling myself! But there I was parking my car again and walking across the street to her salon. I still had over a month of vacation, lots of time to let it grow a bit, I told myself.
Rose was still glad to see me. She had shut down a couple of chairs and was working alone now. It was mid-week and no one else was in the shop. I told her I was just about to head back home. She’d closed the chair by the window, telling me it was too cramped to use anymore. I told her if I had to watch I’d probably chicken out. She laughed and assured me it was no problem, if I didn’t want to watch she wouldn’t make me. She wrapped the cape around me and began brushing my hair out in long strokes. I could see the mirror to the side and how wonderful it looked with its highlights and shine. She realized I could see and rotated the chair a bit further. She smiled “Cut everything close again?” I nodded. “We used the clippers last time didn’t we?”
I began to shake nervously. Did I really want to get it right down to just 3/4″ of bristles again? It was a simple question, Yes or No! I took a deep breath and nodded as I exclaimed, “It has the rest of the summer to grow.” She smiled, then put down the brush and reached behind her to take the clippers off the counter..
She asked, “Do I use a large comb?”
At first I thought she meant a regular normal comb so I said, “Last time you just used the clippers to do everything!” My voice was shaking.
She then rephrased her question. “Did it end up really short?” I guess I was too nervous to think.
I told her, “It was really short. I remember you told me you could see my scalp!”
I saw she was rolling over two attachments in her hand. She slipped the large one into her smock. My heart pounded. Still holding the small one in her hand, she paused. “You want to try it really short?” I was starting to shake nervously. “You won’t have to worry about it.”
By then I was honestly having second thoughts. She wanted to really scalp me. I knew with just 6 weeks of vacation left there wouldn’t be time to grow it enough. I decided to stop her. I was trembling as I spoke. “Maybe just do a small bit just to show me. I might keep it a bit longer.” I figured then I could tell her it was too short.
She tilted my head forward. The long brushed lengths of hair from the front slid forward over my face. She started the clippers. Her other hand put a firm grasp on the back of my head. I was expecting her to do a patch just in front of my ear or at the base of my neck. “I’ll show you how close I can go!” she exclaimed. She quickly brought them right to my forehead. My heart leaped in terror. But in that same instant it was suddenly too late. The vibration pressed against my forehead and swept straight back over the top of my head. “You’ve always had such nice hair!” she chuckled. “It doesn’t take long to get rid of it!” She did a second sweep to widen the path then rotated the chair for me to see the mirror to my side. I was in panic. She had shaved my hair right down to my scalp. “That’s going to look really different!” My stomach flipped up to my throat. Telling her it was too short at this point was useless. She left the chair facing the mirror as she brought the clippers back to my forehead and continued to widen the path down the center of my head. “You can watch now,” she told me. “There’s no way to chicken out now!”
The long thick sheets of hair slid once again down into my lap. As the cape collapsed beneath the weight they continued to slide onto the floor. I felt her hand on top of my head. My heart stopped. My hair was really gone. I sat there staring, unable to recognize myself. She shaved me like a skinhead, right to my scalp. She swept the floor around the chair as I sat there, the cape still around me. My long hair was gathered up and dropped into the trash. It had looked so wonderful just minutes before hanging so softly over my shoulders and down my back. There was nothing left.
I went back to my car. My head felt so naked and the sun penetrated my scalp as I crossed the street. I looked at myself in the car mirror. It was truly gone. Everything! My scalp felt like sandpaper. There was nothing I could do about it now. Why I let her do it I don’t know. I drove back to my apartment and stared into the bathroom mirror. I am too scared to let people see me.