“Dear Miss Martin,
Congratulations, you have been chosen to participate in the summer internship program with Efficient Forestry Inc. Along with this letter, you should be receiving a packet with information detailing the scholarship and stipend that are attached to this internship as well as practical details about packing, preparation, schedule, and transportation…..”
I audibly sighed as my brain said “woohoo.” I needed the scholarship and stipend. This particular summer internship was even on the list of ones that earned academic credits at my university. I took the envelope and settled on the couch to keep reading.
After the first two opening sentences, the letter was mostly just filler. I put it to the back of the stack of papers and started scanning through the rest of it. The schedule was grueling, which I had expected, fourteen hour days six days a week. Even the “break” day was pretty heavily scheduled including things like a group trip into the laundromat in town. The packing list was pretty basic, more notable for what it said not to bring than what to bring, “Do not bring any dress up clothing. Space for personal items will be limited and casual comfortable clothing is appropriate for all scheduled activities.”
I flipped down to the page on preparation. I skimmed over it, it was mostly pretty obvious stuff refilling prescription. Then I got to something I hadn’t expected.
“You will only get 10 minutes each morning for personal hygiene, and during the day you will be engaging in activities that having loose hair in your face and on your neck will make difficult. Please get a practical haircut that doesn’t require daily styling before arriving at the bus station for departure.”
I wrinkled my brow, that was vague and ominus. My hand went up to the soft curtain bangs that I had blown dry to hang next to my eyes instead of in them. I had a feeling this was exactly the kind of thing that this paragraph was about.
I got up from the couch and went to my bedroom. I sat at my dressing table, the round brush and hairdryer I used pretty much everyday to style my curtain bangs had been left out on top of it. I picked up my regular hairbrush and very swiftly smoothed the bulk of the chocolate brown hair that reached the small of my back into a nice easy ponytail.
Making the ponytail had only taken me a minute or less, it wasn’t going to be a problem. But that left the bangs and soft layers next to my face loose. I knew how long it had taken me to style the hair in the front that was too short to reach into the ponytail, it was more than the allotted 10 minutes. I sighed.
I brushed the loose hair down how I knew it would fall naturally if I didn’t style in. It was totally in my eyes and in my way. There was no getting around it, I was going to have to get my lovely curtain bangs cut into regular bangs even though I didn’t really want to.
I sighed again, and turned away from the mirror. I took out my phone and reluctantly made the phone call, to move my next appointment for a trim back to just before I was going to be leaving. This way I would be sure I could get an appointment, and it would be harder to chicken out.
It was just two days before I was supposed to leave for my internship as I nervously sat in my salon’s waiting area. The black leather and metal frame sofa, that fit the clean late modern vibe of the salon, was comfortable but not exactly cozy. I twisted the end of my hair around my fingers contemplating the scattering of split ends, since I was overdue for my usual trim.
For the millionth time that day, I brushed the hair out of my eyes. I hadn’t bothered styling my bangs that morning and had just pulled the rest back into a ponytail. I figuring I could explain my needs better if I spent my morning with the dilemma I was facing. Maybe also I wouldn’t be as sad about losing the curtain bangs if they were annoying me.
“Emily,” my regular stylist, Amanda, addressed me as she arrived at the waiting area and smiled. “Are you ready?”
I swallowed nervously, not feeling very ready, but nodded and got up anyway. I brushed the hair out of my eyes again so I could see Amanda, and started following her towards the sinks as I had done many times before. I clutched my purse nervously, to me.
As we walked, Amanda casually asked “the usual one inch trim?”
“No,” I barely managed to push out my tight throat. “I need something easier for summer.”
“Oh?” Amanda sounded intrigued. “Let’s stop at my station to talk about it before I shampoo you then.”
I sat down in the familiar styling chair. Just like the couch, it was comfortable, but not cozy, the seat having a thin leather covered pad, the low clear acrylic molded backrest was hard though. I faced the large frameless mirror that was held up by metal beams. I reached up, pulled out the elastic holding back my long hair, slipped the tie around my wrist, and gently shook out the hair to fall over my shoulders, over my chest and nearly to my lap.
“So what exactly do you mean by ‘easier for summer?’” Amanda asked from behind me as she gently played with my long hair, so the soft waves draping over my chest bounced.
“I have an internship.” I began to explain. “It’s fourteen hours a day, six hours a week of working, and I will be living in a camp type situation with the other interns. We only get 10 minutes each morning to get ready, so I’m not going to have time for styling. And we need to keep our hair out of our faces and off our necks. The instructions said to get a ‘practical’ haircut before we show up.”
“Oh, ok.” Amanda nodded. “So something short, a pixie or a bob?”
Amanda demonstrated what she meant by pulling my long hair up and back so it folded, while making a sawing motion with her other hand at about the hieght of my jaw. I felt my heart skip a beat as I realized she thought I was asking to have all my long tresses chopped off. I watched my eyes go wide with panic in the mirror.
“WHAT?!” I stammered, “NO! I…I just meant that I need it a little simpler. Blunt bangs above my eyebrows so I don’t have to blow dry or use the curling iron every morning. The long part I can pull into a ponytail really quickly, it’s not a problem.”
“You said there were instructions about getting a haircut?” Amanda sounded a bit confused.
“It just said ‘practical,’ it didn’t say short.” I clarified.
“Do you remember the exact words?” She asked me with doubt in her voice.
“Hang on,” I said and opened my purse, digging around for the envelope I’d grabbed since I had needed one of the lists to go shopping, but was trying to keep all the papers together. “Here, it is ‘You will only get 10 minutes each morning for personal hygiene, and during the day you will be engaging in activities that having loose hair in your face and on your neck will make difficult. Please get a practical haircut that doesn’t require daily styling before arriving at the bus station for departure.’”
“That sounds to me like they expect short.” Amanda told me apologetically.
“If they meant short, they’d have written ‘short.’” I sounded a bit defensive even to my own ears. “I’m unhappy enough about the bangs needing to change. I don’t want to cut the rest of it.”
“I could take it up to about shoulder length.” Amanda suggested, folding my hair at that point to show me. “It will be a lot faster to comb out, but not really short,”
I frowned at the way she was trying to convince me to cut off so much more hair than I had planned. “I just want the back trimmed one inch like usual. I only want the bangs cut shorter, well I don’t even really want that, but I’m ok with it.”
Amanda pursed her lips. I could tell she still thought I was interpreting the instructions incorrectly.
“Ok, so you were thinking about up to here on the bangs?” Amanda asked as she placed her finger on my forehead just above my brows. “That’s about three inches off the bangs. How about I trim the same amount off the back, just a couple of inches more than usual? It will be a really healthy trim, so it should make detangling a little easier, and it can all just grow back to your regular length at the same time. Also I’m going to skip the layers, so they are less likely to escape the ponytail. How does that sound?”
I wasn’t sure why she thought this was something she should be negotiating a compromise about. I mean even if she was right, and I was misinterpreting the instructions, it didn’t affect her. I looked up at her eyes in the mirror, and realized it was just because she cared. She actually looked a little worried.
I frowned and nodded, “ok.”
As I reclined in the shampoo chair, with my long hair trailing in the sink, I tried to relax, but failed. Usually the sensation of Amanda’s gentle fingers massaging the mildly scented suds against my scalp, felt great. I was just not in the right mindset to enjoy it though. When Amanda had finished the final rinse, and was wrapping my hair in a towel, she even commented “you seem tense.”
When she had me back in the chair, and started shaking out the cape, I couldn’t help but frown at my towel wrapped reflection. I was trying to imagine what I was going to look like with blunt bangs, and shorter one length hair. I feared I was going to look like a little kid.
Amanda swung the slick black nylon cape over me, with a rustle. She fastened it loosely at my neck, then pulled the towel that was tucked into the neck of my blouse out from under the cape, then refastened the cape more tightly. It was familiar and not inherently unpleasant, but in my current state of anxiety it was making me uncomfortable.
“Try to relax,” Amanda soothed. “You can totally rock blunt bangs, and by September, your hair will be back to its normal length anyway.”
“I’ll try,” I promised and took a deep breath in an attempt to actually achieve it.
“The internship is the one you applied for in January with the scholarship and stipend and stuff?” Amanda asked me as she squeezed water out of my hair. If one didn’t know better, one might think Amanda took a specific interest in my life, but Amanda remembered details to amazing degrees for everyone. A couple of friends of mine also were Amanda’s clients and they had remarked about it too.
“Yeah, it’s that one.” I confirmed.
As Amanda genly combed through the length of wet hair that looked almost black in its wet state, we talked about all the reasons I had been hoping to get this internship and what I would be getting out of it. By the time Amanda had sectioned my long hair, leaving just the bit from my nape hanging down, I was well reminded that the sacrifice would be worth it.
Amanda smoothed the hair down, running the comb through. It was a familiar sensation, something that I experienced every trim; the teeth scraping down my neck then over the fabric of the cape. But then she stopped, not continuing down behind the chair back, instead holding the comb against my back a couple of inches above where the ends usually reached
As I listened to the sound of the blades slicing through the hair below the comb, I tried to relax. It was just a few extra months of hair, heck since I had pushed back my usual trim date, I had a little extra to spare anyway.
After cutting all the way across, Amanda swung a freshly trimmed lock in front of my shoulder, and asked “How’s that? That it, or are you up for going a little shorter to make it a little easier?”
I looked at the hair hanging down my chest that didn’t reach quite as far down as I wished it would. Instead of wanting more off, I wished putting some back on was an option. I drew in breath and reminded myself, it wasn’t that much, and it was going to be worth it.
“That’s enough,” I said. “I don’t want to go any shorter. It’ll be easy to handle at this length. Too short and it will be hard to get in a ponytail.”
“We are no where close to too short for a ponytail,” Amanda had a slightly amused tone, “but if you want it this length, it’s your call.”.
She combed the hair back behind my shoulder, and let down more of the long locks to trim. She went back to chatting and distracting me as she sliced the rest of my length to match. Once all the hair in the back was the same length, I watched her comb down the sides, and trim the length up the same as the back, but of course, many of the soft layers escaped the shears.
Amanda began to separate out my bangs, combing them forward. I could barely see through the aptly named curtain bangs as Amanda smoothed the hair straight down my face. In the center the strands fell just below my nose, but on the sides they slanted to my jawline. I looked down at the ends of the hair too close to actually focus on.
Then I felt the pointy tips of the scissors right at the spot between my eyebrows that I wasn’t sure if counted as the top of my nose, or the beginning of my forehead. I heard a tiny little snip. The first strands of my doomed bangs fell to my lap that I could just barely see. The damp lock landed on the cape with a gentle plop.
Amanda kept snipping along level to my eyebrows, till I could see again. My eyes spent a few moments taking in the pile of hair in my lap, then looked at my reflection in the mirror. The shortened bangs created a strong line, so different from the way the curtain bangs had framed things.
After just a couple of more swift snips here and there, since she wasn’t taking anything off the layers to make keeping it in a ponytail easier, Amanda pulled out the hairdryer and round brush. She just smoothed the hair straight down, including the bangs which were looking even shorter as they dried.
“How often are you going to have chances to get your bangs trimmed?” Amanda asked as she put away the hairdryer.
“I’m not sure if there will be any opportunities.” I admitted looking at the not too harshly blunt line that rested on my forehead just above my eyebrows.
“I’ll take them up a little more, so they won’t be in your eyes again too soon.” Amanda simply stated, then added. “I’ll also make sure everything except the bangs stays in a ponytail.”
I watched in the mirror as Amanda pulled the long back into a ponytail, and added a few of my old layers that weren’t staying back with the rest of the hair to my bangs. Then she began to snip. I closed my eyes so the dry locks that began to drift down didn’t get in them. I felt the tips of her shears on my forehead, and the prickles of the fallen hair on my face.
When Amanda had finally finished snipping then cleaning me off, she took off the cape, allowing the hair that had piled in my lap fall to the floor. Between the short bangs well above my eyebrows, and the blunt ends that hung only to the bottom of my ribcage, I looked about 6 years younger; more like a barely teenager about to enter highschool than the adult, who had completed her sophomore year at college, that I was.
“Thanks Amanda,” I said politely, “it’s very cute.”
“Hi everyone.” A woman holding a clipboard who looked just a bit older than us called out. She looked surprisingly like a grownup Peppermint Patty. “I’m Penny, I’m the internship program coordinator for Efficient Forestry Inc. I will be spending the summer with you, and you can come to me with any questions or concerns. OK so far?”
She looked out at all of us as we nodded that we were all listening. She then told us about the bus ride, and led us up to the bus platform and out into the garage-like space where the bus waited.
Up on the platform she called us up one by one to put our bags into the open luggage compartment on the bottom of the bus. The whole thing was making me feel more like a kid going to summercamp than an adult with a job.
“Emily Martin?” the woman with the clipboard called out.
“I’m here” I responded, and lugged my heavy duffle bag up to the opening of the cargo compartment.
“Ok, here’s your luggage tag,” she told me, then pointed, “put your bag in there right on top of that blue one. Emily, that’s an awful lot of hair. You know how little time you will be getting to take care of it? Did you get the page in your packet about a practical haircut?”
“I know, 10 minutes.” I said as I attached the tag to the handle of my bag. “I got a haircut. I got my bangs cut from curtain bangs into blunt ones, so I wouldn’t have to spend time curling them every morning, and several inches off the length to make detangling it faster.”
“You realize that 10 minutes is for everything, like brushing your teeth and stuff, not just hair?” She clarified, as she watched me hoist my bag on top of the blue one.
“It really only takes me less than a minute to put it in a ponytail.” I tried to sound confident as I dusted my hands off on my blue jeans.
“Time to untangle any knots daily? Time to wash it during the shower you get every other day? Time to let it dry from the shower? You can do all that in under a minute?” She looked doubtful, then checked her watch. “We have 38 minutes before the bus leaves. You should be attending an orientation during that time. But, that orientation is basically just repeating stuff you already read in the packet and a video about how wonderful Efficient Forestry Inc is. It won’t be the end of the world if you skip it. There’s a barbershop down on the lower level just before the entrance to the subway.”
“It really doesn’t take much time.” I swore to her. “It’s healthy so it doesn’t tangle much.”
Penny sighed heavily, muttered “your funeral” softly to me, then called out the next name on the clipboard.
“EMILY!” Penny yelled into the bathroom that was at the center of the camp. “The bus driver needs to keep on schedule, the driver works for a company that we hire and we are not their only contract, the bus driver has to get to summer camp as soon as he drops us off.”
I listened to her as I skipped my usual mouth wash and went straight to swishing water around my mouth to rinse away toothpaste.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” I promised jogging out the door, while trying to pull my still damp hair back.
“How much of the time you took in the shower this morning was spent combing conditioner through your hair?” Penny asked as we walked to the bus that was going to be dropping us off in a forest where we would be surveying trees.
I ignored the question as I climbed onto the bus, where we would be watching a video about tree identification, while we ate our bagged breakfast.
“Penny, I know it’s not the women’s day to shower,” I admitted as I begged, “but please can I just have a couple of minutes when the guys are done to wash my hair, it smells so mildewy.”
“You aren’t going to be out in time for the bus,” Penny chided. “Even if I did let you into the showers on the men’s day, you would just end up mildewy again anyway, since you would be putting your hair up in a ponytail wet again.”
“It’s not just for me, the smell is bothering everyone.” I admitted the embarrassing part.
“Yeah,” Penny said with zero surprise. “I’m glad you brought it up, it makes asking you to sit in the back of the bus away from the rest of the group easier, I wasn’t sure how to mention it without hurting your feelings. Try to get a little sun on it during lunch.”
I sighed with resignation as Penny walked away.
“Ok everybody.” Penny stood at the front of us interns as we were having a much more relaxed breakfast than we usually did. “Since it is your break day, going today is optional. If you really want to you can just hang out here at camp and catch up on sleep. However, not only is this your only opportunity to do laundry this week, but it is also an opportunity to visit the other shops in the strip mall the laundromat is in. There’s a pizza place and a chinese restaurant. Best of all, there is halfway decent cell phone reception there.”
“The washing machines and dryers are two fifty a load,” Penny started in on the nitty-gritty details, ”so you need to bring at least five bucks for that, if you need detergent they have single size containers for three bucks. The pizza place only sells full pies not slices, but they have really small ten inch ones, which start at eight bucks, or you can find someone to split a medium or large pie. The Chinese place has pretty typical prices. So most of you should bring at least twenty.
“The bus will be here in fifteen minutes, so everyone who wants to go, grab what you need. We will be there for three hours, enough time to wash and dry. Ok, that’s it.” Penny wrapped up her little speech, but then turned to me and added in a more personal tone, “Emily, come with me.”
She took me to a quiet spot away from the others. I followed nervously and when we got there asked, “What’s up?”
“You need to come, and you need to bring an extra twenty five dollars above what you need for food and laundry.” She simply stated then walked away without giving me a chance to ask why.
I sighed, I’d planned to go anyway because I had laundry to do, and the idea of getting spring rolls was tempting, but now I was suddenly feeling trepidation.
I was putting the last quarter in the ancient washing machine’s slot when Penny came up to me. She just stood there waiting very slightly impatiently as I pushed the lever in to start the machine.
“Come.” As soon as the machine started Penny simply ordered me to follow her. “You need to do something with that hair, it’s taking way too much time, and the smell of mildew the other day was bothering everyone.”
“I washed it twice this morning and then let it dry fully today while loose.” I assured her. “The mildew smell is gone I think.”
“That’s just because you got extra time this morning since it’s our break day. That only happens once a week.” Penny dismissed my assurance. “We’re back to our regular schedule tomorrow. You’re taking too long in the shower because of that hair. And frankly, the mildew is a health issue.”
Penny finally stopped walking one shop from the end of the strip mall. My stomach lurched, my appetite for spring rolls suddenly lost as I realized where she had brought me. Painted across the plate glass window was “Hank’s Barbershop,” the classic spinning pole next to the door.
“Do something about the hair, or start making phone calls to arrange for someone to pick you up and take you home tomorrow.” Penny stated. “Hank’s is the only place to get a haircut within walking distance of the laundromat, so unless you have another way to deal with it, Hank’s it is.”
I sighed deeply and looked into the shop. It was full of middle-aged and older men. The shop itself was a pretty basic barbershop, nothing either old enough to be vintage cool, or new enough to be nice. The floor was covered in not quite white anymore linoleum with red and blue flecks punctuated with small piles of mostly gray hair. Stuff looked mismatched, as though things had been replaced here and there as they’d failed over the decades since the seventies.
“What if I put it up in braids and just leave it that way like Janelle does?” I asked.
“Janelle had those braids done professionally before she came, and has a completely different hair texture.” Penny pointed out. “I don’t think you can manage to get yours braided, or handle just putting it in a shower cap for a week without washing it.”
I felt my lips wrinkle, as I realized she was right. I could do a basic braid, but not the kind that would allow me to just leave my hair up all week.
“There’s got to be another option.”
“Unless you can come up with something right now,” Penny warned me, “you need to claim your spot with Hank. It’s not like you can come back tomorrow.”
“Is this where you get your hair cut?” I asked her.
“God no,” Penny snorted. “Hank is a cranky misogynist who only puts up with women in his shop because he is legally required to. You should have gotten it cut back at the bus station.”
I stood there staring into the shop, not entering. I felt so torn, I’d already gotten my hair cut shorter than I really wanted it. I started fondling the phone in my pocket, just one phone call and I could go home. I pulled the phone out of my pocket and looked down at it.
“Emily,” Penny said a bit more warmly than before. “Your hair will grow back, if you give up this opportunity, you aren’t getting another one. Think about how much this will reduce your student loans, not just the scholarship, but you’re also getting four credits you don’t have to pay for. Plus the stipend for books and stuff. And then there’s the work experience. You’re going to be reaping the benefits of this internship long after your hair has grown back.”
I took a deep breath, looked into the shop where the men were chatting, and shoved my phone back in my pocket. I nodded to Penny, admitting she was right. I ran my hands back through my hair one last time and turned to open the door to Hank’s Barbershop.
As the bell above the door jingled, the jovial conversation continued, until they actually looked to see who had joined the group, then the conversation died. A half dozen men all at least twice my age, stared at me with varying degrees of curiosity, amusement, and hostility. I stood there feeling uncomfortable.
“This is a barbershop, I don’t do long girly hairstyles.” The white haired man behind the barber chair warned me, having paused the cut he was obviously in the middle of, the comb and scissors still in his hands. “You want a haircut it’s going to be nice’n short.”
“Yeah, I don’t have other options.” I admitted.
The men all continued to stare at me expectantly as I tried to figure out what I should add to the explanation. Hank looked annoyed by my not just turning tail and running.
“Oh,” Penny stuck just her head in the door, drawing everyone’s attention. “I forgot to tell you, if Hank can’t get to you quickly, then go and move your stuff from the washer to the drier and come back after. Don’t be late for the bus.”
All the heads that had turned to look at Penny looked back at me.
“I need to take less time washing and detangling my hair.” I offered an abbreviated explanation. “And I can’t drive to a salon.”
“I can give you something simple that’ll be wash and go,” Hank promised gruffly, “But I don’t want any complaining about it not being pretty.”
“Thank you.” I muttered as I reluctantly walked towards the waiting chairs.
“Hey Hank,” said the guy in the barber chair, with a slightly malicious tone. “I’m not in a rush, you can take care of her before you finish me.”
“Anyone else mind?” Hank asked his waiting customers.
I was a little surprised as I heard the eager chorus of “no problem”s and “sure let her”s, it seemed like an oddly friendly gesture from a group that had seemed to resent my presence. Not that I truly appreciated the gesture, since I wasn’t really looking forward to my haircut, but I was in a rush. Then as I looked around at the faces, I realized they didn’t look nice and kind, they were curious, and eager, possibly even a bit lustful. The men looked the way my uncle did before a big football game, or like my grandmother when there was a new episode of Outlander. I realized, they weren’t being nice, I was about to be the afternoon’s main entertainment.
I swallowed nervously, not sure what to do as I watched Hank take the cape off the man in the chair. I stood frozen halfway between the door and the waiting chairs as the guy from the barber chair passed me on his way to take the seat I had been planning to. Hank watched me hungrily as he dusted off the chair.
“Come on young lady.” Hank complained, “don’t you need to get back in time.”
I just nodded and started walking towards the chair on numb legs. When I got to the tan vinyl covered seat, I remembered my manners and said “thank you,” even though I didn’t mean it. Though in so many ways, I was less comfortable as I climbed into the barber chair than I was when I had sat in Amanda’s styling chair, it was actually cozier. The vinyl squeaked slightly as I shifted my weight, the room was so quiet that the slight sound stood out.
“Can you just bob it to about here?” I requested in a small voice, as I indicated a spot as high up as I could stand on my neck.
“I told you, I don’t do girly.” Hank rebuffed me grumpily. “How ’bout a number one all over?”
I didn’t actually know what that meant, but something about Hank’s tone made me suspicious that it was something deliberately callous.
“Hank, be nice,” one of the men suggested. “She obviously didn’t come in because she just felt like it.”
“Fine.” Hank conceded. “I’ll leave you a bit to style.”
I just swallowed and nodded, because I had a feeling that was best I was going to be offered. Hank just started working, not starting the conversation up again, since he was now putting on a different kind of show.
He started by placing paper around my neck up under my long hair. Then he shook out the red, white, and blue striped cape that had been on his previous customer, before swinging it over me. It felt like polyester on my bare arms. He pulled it tight around my neck and fastened the snaps.
I watched as he picked up the largest pair of shears from the row of them on the laminate counter below the mirror. My heart pounded as he walked behind me with them. He simply lifted up a large lock of hair, or really several locks as one, holding it away from my head with his left hand as he brought the shear up with his right.
Shhhnup, snip, shnup, snip shnap.
He cut carelessly, just inches from the back of my head. I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that I couldn’t see what he was leaving behind as he dropped the locks to the floor. He swiftly lifted more hair up, and with the same cavalier lack of care started chopping away at it
Shhhhhnip, shnip, snip, snap.
Hank dropped more of my hair to the floor. The next lock he lifted, had been covering my neck and resting on my shoulders. As he raised the hair up and away from my head, the warm comforting weight was replaced with an exposed feeling as the air conditioning hit.
The hair that fell back to my neck left a gap above the cape and tissue. I swallowed. I stiffly looked ahead, determined not to cry. Hank dropped the hair to the floor, my senses had become heightened with emotion, I heard it land with a soft brushing sound.
The next lock Hank lifted was just behind my ear. I could see in the mirror as Hank simply sliced through it bit by bit, not making it even. Obviously just getting it out of his way before the next step of the haircut I had a feeling would be reducing the choppy tufts greatly.
Hank kept working his way forward, leaving behind the messy layers of hair that must have only been a few inches long. When he finally snapped the shears firmly closed on the last long lock, the only hair on my head that looked like it had been cut with the care of a professional was my bangs, the rest might as well have been done by a kindergartener who had gotten their hands on real scissors while unsupervised.
It took everything in me to hold back the tears as I stared at my ruined hair in the mirror while Hank returned to the counter. He placed the shears back in line, and took a set of large clippers off of a hook under the counter. He held them out before us, as he sprayed the blades with something. Then he took something out of a drawer, and clicked it on to the clippers. Instead of walking behind me, Hank just spun the chair, so that I faced sideways, my back to the waiting area full of men watching this show.
I bit my lip as I heard Hank turn on the clippers with a cluck. They soon settled into a steady hum though. Hank lifted the choppy locks up off my neck with his comb, and started pushing the clippers up into the hair. As Hank worked his way up the back of my head, he began to use the comb to push the hair down, feeding my hair into the angry blades.
About half way up the back of my head, Hank finally pulled the humming clippers away. He let the chunk of hair that had built up on the top fall to my shoulders, My body tightened as I felt the weight land.
Hank wasted no time letting me contemplate how naked my neck felt under the strip he had just cut before he started buzzing another strip. On the third pass of the clippers up my head, the hair Hank had buzzed off fell forward over my shoulder, tumbling into my lap.
As I sat there watching the brown hair pile up on the striped cape that covered my lap, it occured to me I could have said thank you and gotten up at the point when my hair just looked like it had been hacked off by a kindergartener. It hadn’t looked good, but it had been short enough that it shouldn’t have taken as long to comb conditioner through, and it wouldn’t have been as severely short as this obviously was going to be. Or I could have promised Penny I would cut it myself and found some scissors. It wasn’t like I would have been able to give myself a really perfect bob, but I’d have had a lot more hair left for Amanda to fix when I got hom than it seemed Hank was going to be leaving me with.
Hank ran the clippers around my ears. The vibrations as the machine touched the cartilage caused me to cringe. It was a hard to describe sensation, not painful, but unpleasant anywayThe physical discomfort just served to intensify my sadness.
Working around my head, Hank gradually turned the chair. When he got to the front, I was facing the mirror. I watched as Hank buzzed my sideburns down to fuzz so short it stood up perpendicular to my head. He worked all the way up to my temples, using the comb to feed hair into the blades.
My ears were being left uncovered, just there naked and on constant display. I wasn’t sure why I cared considering how often my hair was pulled back in a ponytail anyway, but somehow losing the option to cover them for special occasions bothered me immensely. I started thinking about how I would brush my hair back when flirting.
Hank turned the chair away from the mirror, facing me towards the waiting area as he worked on making the other side of my head match. As the sound of buzzing filled my ears, I looked at the men’s faces. A few looked smugly satisfied, a couple looked excited, one looked amused, and one just looked bored. I looked back down at my lap, trying to not let the pain show.
When had finished, he took the attachment off the clippers, and started making some kind of an adjustment to the area he’d already cut. He combed the hair on the back of my head, and ran the blades of the clippers over the teeth of the comb, the metal rattling against the plastic I just concentrated on not crying as he worked. I breathed a sigh of relief when he finally finished, and turned off the clippers, letting my ears rest from the constant droning hum.
Of course, even though Hank was hanging up the clippers, he wasn’t done with the hair cut. He began wetting what little hair I had left on the top of my head.
My hair fairly damp, hank picked up a pair of scissors and stood behind me as I faced the mirror. He combed the short bangs Amanda had given me up and back, then trapped the short tufts in his fingers. He sliced straight across,
Bits of brown hair fell on my forehead. Hank combed my hair back again, gathering it further back, and sliced again.
This time the cut bits just landed on the top of my head. Hank combed them off, then once again combed my hair up into his fingers slightly further back before slicing again.
It became a simple rhythm. Comb, comb, slice. Comb, comb, slice. Over and over. First working his way back across the top of my head. Then repeating the front to back pattern a little to the side. He worked back and forth, making sure each hair was sliced down.
Then he changed the pattern, combing upward, starting down where he had cut the hair with clippers. He used just the comb, snapping the scissors quickly against them as he worked upward into the hair he’d cut against his fingers.
Shnap, shnap, click, snip, schnap.
Just a tiny dusting of hair fell as he worked up and down rapidly. I watched as my hair, which had become pretty much dry, just stood out from my head. For a moment I had thought Hank had finally finished when he paused and put the scissors down on the counter, but then he was back with a toothy set that reminded me of Amanda’s texturizing shear, but the toothy part was much finer.
Hank began again, working up and snapping the blades right against the comb. Maybe at a slightly slower pace. They made more of a chomping sound than the regular scissors though. Little bits of hair rained down all about me. My shoulders were covered in a carpet of my own ruined hair.
When Hank finally dusted me off, I just stared at the mirror. I’d gone from the blunt cut that had left me looking like a young teenage girl, to something even worse, I looked like a prepubescent boy. The couple of inches that Hank had left me on top, had started to lay flat after a while with the toothy shears. The sides though gradually went to being dramatically shorter. I could see scalp in spots.
I thought Hank was truly finished when he put down the fluffy dusting brush, but when I tried to rise out of the chair, reaching up to release the cape, he put his hand on my shoulder and pushed me back down. “Hold your horses young lady.”
Hank picked up a trimmer from a charging stand on the counter. It made a high pitched whiny hum. I sat there as Hank used it to carve a line between my head and neck. Then he carved an arch around my ear. Finally, he removed the softly pointed bottom of my sideburn, leaving it in a squared off line just above my targus.
Hank dusted me off again. When he got to my face, he ordered me to close my eyes, which cause the tears I had been fighting to hold in to squeeze out the corners. He undid the cape, dumping my hair on the floor.
Hank held up a hand mirror behind my head. I stared at the big mirror in front of me, my eyes switching focus between Hank’s cruelly satisfied expression and the shocking reflection of the hand mirror. It wasn’t that he had butchered the haircut, it was perfectly executed, but it was very deliberately as masculine as possible.
The neckline was sharp and crisp. At the bottom straight as an arrow, then precisely squared off corners at the sides. If I hadn’t known better, I would believe it had required a ruler and carpenters’ square to layout. He’d avoided letting it have even a hint of softness or roundness.
I raised my hand to it, feeling the very faint hint of the meerest stubble on my neck. Above the unforgivingly precise line, it felt like soft velvet.
Hank put the mirror down, commenting “Hope that’s sufficiently quick and easy for you, kid.”
“It’s fine,” I said in a flat tone, “Thank you.”
I stood up slowly, Looking down at the tangles of long brown hair scattered all about me. My legs were too wobbly to walk, so I spent a moment pretending to dust off my blue jeans while I gathered my strength. I finally took a deep breath, and began to walk stiffly toward to door, away from where the malicious shearing had taken place.
“Are you forgetting something young lady?” Hank stated.
I looked up and over to him. Hank was standing next to a cash register. I sighed, realizing I was expected to pay for this haircut, even though it wasn’t the bob I had asked for. In a normal salon, one would complain and not be charged for a style that deviated so widely from what had been requested, here that didn’t really feel like an option. Unfair as it was, I walked over to the register and handed over the money to Hank, while he smiled wickedly at me as I tried to ignore the quiet tears that occasionally dampened my cheeks.
When I got back to the laundromat, my load had obviously just finished, so I walked over to the washer, and started opening it.
“HEY!!” I heard the shout behind me. “That’s my friends load.”
I turned, and saw Sean moving his own load into a dryer,
“It’s mine, Sean.” I said to him as he paused shoving the wet cloths and linens in looking mildly confused. After waiting a few moments for him to acknowledge who I was and apologize, I realized he didn’t recognize me and added, “It’s me Emily, I just got a haircut.”
I turned and started pulling my own wet cloths from the machine and into a shiny metal rolling basket. The tears on my face started falling much more swiftly, as I heard Sean saying things apologetically that my brain couldn’t quite process. I tried to just keep working at the task of removing things from the washer, because I couldn’t be late for the damned bus, but when I got to a pair of blue jeans that had knotted up around a towel, I lost patience.
All the anger, frustration, hurt, and pain boiled over and I kicked the basket hard. It slammed into the wall of machines, making a loud thud and clattering sound. I went and sat on the nearest bench, pulling my knees up, and just started sobbing uncontrollably.
Sean tried saying things to me for a minute, but then left. I sat alone in the laundromat, the tears drenching my hands and my jeans where I leaned my head against my knees. A few minutes later, someone came in, and simply took over moving my laundry. I was too upset to try to stop them.
“Sean came and found me.” Penny’s voice was softer and gentler than it had been before. “He was worried he’d upset you, but I assured him it had been my fault not his.”
Penny wheeled my load of clothing over to a dryer, and began to put it in. “Medium temperature good?”
I took a deep breath and squeaked, “yiehp.”
“I’m really sorry about this whole thing Emily,” Penny stated gently, “but I really couldn’t figure out any other way to rectify the situation. I didn’t think you’d be this upset.”
I heard Penny push the quarters into the machine that then started chugging. As I looked down at my knees, her soft foot steps came closer. I saw her lap apear next to mine, and felt her hand on my back as she sat next to me.
Penny just gently rubbed my back as I kept on crying. When the tears started to run out, and I fell quiet, Penny reached up and stroked the short hair on the back of my head.
“I didn’t expect you to get it cut this short.” Penny observed in a slightly speculative tone. “It was really brave of you to ask for such a practical haircut. It will be really easy and comfortable for you. And I bet it’s pretty cute on you, though it’s kind of hard to tell with your face hidden the way you’re sitting.”
“I asked for a bob.” I told her struggling to get the words out with my still ragged breathing.
“Ohh,” Penny breathed, the realization of what had happened coming to her. “I knew Hank was going to give you a hard time, but I didn’t think he was going to just ignore what you asked for. I’m sorry.”
Penny put her arm around my shoulders. I put my legs down and turned into the hug. The warmth and comfort of her arms made me feel safe, helping me release more of the tension in renewed sobs. Penny just held me and made a soothing shhh.
Finally all cried out, Penny started lifting me up “Let me see what this looks like.”
“I look like a boy.” I told her miserably, as she put her finger under my chin and gently coaxed me to look up towards her.
“You don’t look like a boy.” Penny assured me with a slight smile as she stroked the short hair on the side of my head. “I’m not going to deny that it is a rather boyish haircut, but you are feminine enough to still look like a woman with it. You’re a very pretty woman. By the end of summer, it will have grown out enough that your regular hair stylist should be able to soften the look into a feminine pixie cut without the sharp line at the end of your sideburns and stuff.”
I sighed, I had been supposed to be back to my normal length by the end of summer. As it was, I wasn’t sure I would be there by graduation. Feeling like a boy hurt more though.
“I didn’t really want a bob,” I said, as Penny kept comforting me, “it would still have been a long time growing back, but at least I would have still felt like a girl.”
“I know what you mean.” Penny sympathized, her own light brown Peppermint Patty bob with its side swept bangs swing just below her jawline.
“With my color and the bangs I had, I could have been the Marcie to your Peppermint Patty with a bob.” I joked before thinking that she might either take the joke the wrong way, or just not get the reference.
Fortunately Penny smiled and chuckled, the skin at the corners of her eyes crinkling. As I stared into her eyes, her hand still on the side of my head absentmindedly stroking the soft pelt of short hair, I saw more than just amusement in them. She leaned forward slightly, her lips very slightly puckered. I felt my own lips part very slightly, as something stirred inside me.
I knew a kiss was coming, every part of me wanted it,
Penny startled me as she very suddenly gave her head a little shake, closing her eyes. She sat up straight, pulled her hand back. She obviously deliberately schooled her expression.
“I’m your supervisor.” She stated quietly but firmly.
She got up with a certain forced deliberateness and started to turn to leave. I sighed, knowing she was right. It would be completely inappropriate for us to have a relationship. We should not have a summer fling while she was supervising my ten week internship.
But then it came to me, “9 weeks. You’re my supervisor for the next 9 weeks. After that, we’re just two adults.”
Penny turned back and looked down at me smiling, the crinkle returning to the corners of her eyes. “9 weeks.”
I smiled back, and tilted my head, leaning on my hand, which reminded me my lovely hair was gone. I felt my face wrinkle in a cringe as my fingers dug into the cropped length.
“I heard you mention spring rolls earlier,” Penny said, her own brow furrowing when she saw my reaction. “Want to go get some? It might cheer you up a little. Just as two coworkers, completely professional.”
“I’d like that.” I had a feeling the next 9 weeks were going to take a lot of self restraint.