“Hey babe,” The guy I passed on my way down the beach towards the water called out from under his beach umbrella. “Why don’t you stop and enjoy a little shade with me.”
“No thanks.” I simply said and continued walking.
He didn’t just accept the no, like he should have. Instead, he got up and started following. He made the usual offers and asked the usual questions as he followed me into the water.
“I’m in a relationship.” I said vaguely, and started wrapping an elastic around my long dark wavy hair.
I was hoping he would assume it was with a man, since being with a man often made guys back off, but being with a woman just made them think threesomes were a possibility. Of course, that was really never a possibility, but porn had trained them to think it was. So I would say “relationship” instead of girlfriend.
My girlfriend hated it. It left her jealous. Not jealous that I might actually fall for one of the guys harassing me, jealous of the completely fictional male that I had to conjure up to make men harassing me go away. She wanted to be enough to make them go away. She wanted to be my savior whose mere existence intimidated creepy assholes.
“He doesn’t seem to be around,” the creep said, “but I am, so why don’t we just chat. I saw you and your friend arrive, if your boyfriend won’t make time to take you to the beach, he’s not much of a boyfriend. I’d make time for you.”
I sighed, I didn’t want to chat, I wanted to swim. While I was trying to decide if it was safe to just turn my back on him and head into the surf, or if I would be risking him becoming violent, I noticed Melissa was coming up behind him.
“How about you just leave the lady alone, and let her swim.” Mel said to him in her lowest deepest tone.
I noticed she’d pulled her bobbed hair up into an elastic revealing her short undercut. She stood with her feet apart as the foam swirled around her ankles, her arms crossed in front of her flexed. She was at the ready for trouble, and obviously aiming to intimidate. Most guys failed to see her as the threat she was, they tended to assume just because they were generally a bit taller than her and had several pounds on her, that the well toned muscles were meaningless. Of course they couldn’t see what I knew about her, which was that she had skills to back up the muscles.
“What do you care?” the creep sneered. “You a friend of her boyfriend?”
“I AM her girlfriend,” Mel asserted. “Now how about you just leave her alone and we can forget about this.”
“Hey,” a smile spread across the creep’s face as he turned and started approaching Mel. “The three of us could…”
Approaching Melissa had been a mistake. She’d simply used his momentum and he was face down in the water before he could finish his sentence.
“The lifeguards are going to be annoyed if they have to give the creep mouth to mouth.” I pointed out as Mel left him face down in the wet sand with the foam swirling around his face.
“Yeah, yeah.” She admitted as she pulled him up enough that his face wasn’t under water as each wave lapped against the shore line, then left him as he kneeled there coughing.
“Sorry I didn’t want to go to the gay beach.” I said once the creep had dragged himself up and staggered away. “The extra couple of hours in the car wouldn’t have killed me.”
“It’s not your fault, Mandy.” Mel assured me. “You should be able to walk down any beach without being bothered, not just the gay ones.”
“I’m still sorry,” I said feeling bad about having caused trouble even though I knew she was right.
“I’ll get back to my book while you swim,” Mel’s tone had turned tender, “if you’re ok. I’ll keep an eye out to make sure the creep doesn’t try to block you when you are ready to get out of the water.”
“Do you want to just get going?” I asked. “Before he has time to find friends?”
While Mel was perfectly capable of standing her own with one creep, I was just barely backup if there were two, and we could be in trouble if they outnumbered us. And when there was trouble, it tended to fall harder on Mel. She was the one with the dyke look, so guys felt differently about fighting her. I always felt guilty, I was the one who attracted the attention, but Mel faced the consequences.
“It’s fine, we’ll just be careful when we head to the car,” Mel assured me. “We can leave early at the same time other people are leaving so we won’t be alone in the parking lot when we pack up. Go swim and enjoy yourself, just don’t get eaten by a shark.”
I floated on my back, my eyes closed tightly against the bright sun thinking and relaxing as I let the waves break over me. I knew it wasn’t my fault that guys hadn’t yet learned to just take no as an answer and leave it. It sure as hell wasn’t my fault that their fragile egos had trouble just walking away from it when Mel kicked their asses. I wished I knew a way to just make it stop.
I tried to let it go as I felt my long hair swishing back and forth in the waves. It was something I couldn’t do anything about. The problem was in a society that had left men thinking they could do shit like that. It was a problem much bigger than me. It wasn’t my fault.
I turned over, and started swimming again, heading away from shore. I dove into the waves as they rose up before me. I relaxed and forgot for a bit, just getting to be me. I swam till I was nearly exhausted, then headed back to shore.
When I arrived back at our umbrella, Mel only looked a little on edge. She had her book open, though she wasn’t noticeably further along than she had been when I’d announced I was going to go swim. As I used a towel to squeeze the briny liquid from my hair, I noticed she looked up from the page every couple of minutes over to where the creep and his friends were drinking beer under their own umbrella.
Drinking beer with friends could either mean he was trying to pretend the whole thing was no big deal and forget it, or they were getting drunk enough that assault would start seeming like a good idea. I sighed, and fished a can of soda out of our own cooler. I noticed there were still the same amounts of beers in the cooler as there had been when I had headed into the ocean. I looked more closely at the can next to Mel, it was soda.
“I thought you wanted me to drive home so that you could relax and have a few beers.” I mentioned.
“I changed my mind.” Mel simply stated without explanation. “If you want a beer, I’ll drive.”
I looked down at the cans surrounded by half melted ice. I knew Mel had changed her mind because she felt a need to stay sharp. She wasn’t going to relax, she wasn’t going to relax because of the creep down the beach. The creep whose attention I had inadvertently caught.
I grabbed a beer, I knew Mel wasn’t going to change her mind, so there was no point trying to convince her. Maybe a beer or two would numb away a bit of the guilt I was feeling. The guilt I knew I shouldn’t be feeling, I had done nothing wrong, all I had done was walk in a public place while minding my own business.
“Mandy,” Mel’s voice said softly as she gently shook my shoulder. “Wake up, most of the families with kids are packing up, so it’s a good time for us to get going too.”
I’d dozed off on a towel stretched out over the warm sand. I lifted my head up and looked around. Moms and dads all over the beach were telling kids to gather up their toys while shoving wet sandy towels in bags and folding up umbrellas. One mom ran after a naked toddler yelling his name.
“Yeah, looks like it is.” I said as I sat up. “My bathing suit is dry enough to ride home in, so I don’t need to change. How about yours?”
“I’m good, let’s just collect our stuff.”
We arrived in the parking lot, just about at the sametime as a family just a few cars away. We were shoving our umbrella into the trunk when the creep approached with a couple of friends.
“What’s the hurry.” He asked, blocking Mel from the driver’s side door, his friends flanked us on the passenger side. “It’s early. You could stay, and enjoy a few beers with us. We have plenty.”
“We have to get up early for work tomorrow,” Mel lied and tried to walk past him, but he shifted till he was leaning against the door, completely blocking it.
“Why rush off,” the creep taunted. “Afraid you’ll lose your girlfriend if she sees a real dick instead of the strap on you wear dyke bitch.”
“Actually,” I said loudly to him, “I wear the strap on, want me to try it on you? Do you like getting pegged?”
I came up to stand next to Mel, hoping they’d just leave since we were outnumbered. I knew I wasn’t really intimidating, but I hoped I was loud enough to make them realize they couldn’t just get away with quietly harassing us.
“Honey, get the kids in the car.” The dad from the family a couple of cars down said to the mom before he walked over to our car. “Buddy, I think the ladies would like to leave.”
“Ok, ok.” The creep said, holding up his hands and backing away.
I watched as the creeps friends slunk away with him. I looked at Mel, her face a combination of relief and annoyance, she turned to the dad.
“Thank you.” She said briefly to the dad as she monitored the creep and his friends walk back across the sand.
“We can stay for a few minutes to make sure you have a chance to drive all the way out of the parking lot before they come back so they can’t follow you.” The dad offered.
“That’s incredibly nice of you.” I let the dad know. “We really appreciate it. We’ll get going so we aren’t holding you up.”
Mel impatiently changed radio stations again as a song that she didn’t quite love came on. It was something she did when she was unhappy. We were stuck in traffic we usually avoided by leaving late after rush hour was over. And I knew Mel was still annoyed that she’d needed help back at the beach. Mel turned off the radio having lost patience with it.
“Would you think I was cute with short hair?” I asked Mel as I contemplated my reflection in the vanity mirror on the back of the sunvisor.
“What are you doing?” Mel asked me with a slight grumble.
“I just wanted an opinion.” I claimed defensively. “I was just thinking about it.”
“I know what you’re doing.” Mel warned me. “First, what happened wasn’t your fault, so you aren’t responsible for trying to stop it. Second, cutting your hair off isn’t going to magically make creeps less creepy.”
“So you don’t think I would be cute with short hair?”
“Mandy,” Mel growled, “you KNOW that’s not what I said. Of course you’d be adorable with short hair, but that is completely beside the point.”
“I just thought it migh be nice to look a bit more gay.” I said, “I don’t need to cater to the male gaze. I thought maybe I should aim more for pleasing the female gaze.”
“This particular female is pretty pleased with what I gaze upon already,” Mel assured me. “You don’t have to change. One bad trip to the beach isn’t a reason to change yourself. You’re letting the creeps have too much power.”
“You keep your hair short to look gay.” I pointed out.
“That’s completely different.” Mel was flustered. “And I don’t have this haircut just to look gay, I like it. And you will notice I still have to deal with creeps.”
“Creeps I keep attracting.”
“Are you saying I’m not pretty enough to attract my own creeps?”
“You’re gorgeous,” I assured Mel, “but you’re also much better than I am at being intimidating. When you tell a guy trying to pick you up to go away, they do.”
“So work on being more intimidating.” Mel suggested. “Not on being less attractive.”
“I’ve been trying to be more intimidating since I was a teenager.” I admitted as I looked up at my reflection again, the long dark hair full of salt hanging softly around my face in genuine beachy waves. “Being less attractive sounds easier. And I’m only talking about less attractive to guys, lots of lesbians love girls with short hair, hopefully including you. I don’t want you getting beaten up defending me.”
“Mandy, I can take care of myself. You don’t have to worry.” Mel said gently. “You are just going to regret it if you cut your hair.”
“Mmm,” I semi conceded, even though I was still thinking about it.
It was a week after our beach day that I had finally gathered up the courage and called and made the appointment. I looked down at the text again, as I sat in the waiting area of the salon.
**Mel, listen I don’t want you to be shocked when I get home, so I figured you deserve a warning. I’ve decided to do it. I’ll see you tonight. <3 **. I took a deep breath and hit send.
**You’ve decided to do what?**
I should have realized that I was being too cryptic without context. I started typing. **I’m at Riverside Salon. I’m going to get something less geared to the male gaze.**
**Fuck Mandy we talked about this. We decided you would just regret it.**
**I thought more about it, and decided to do it. This will make things easier.**
**I’ll be there in 30 minutes. WAIT!**
**I can’t, I have an appointment.**
“Hi Amanda?” The chipper shampoo girl asked. “Come on back and I’ll get you washed.”
I sat nervously in the shampoo chair as the friendly girl wrapped the towel around my neck, tucking it into my collar. I clutched at the purse in my lap a little too tightly. I probably should have put it down next to the chair when I got here, but I was too wound up to think clearly. If I’d felt like I could have asked Mel to come along, I would have handed it to her to mind.
“You have lovely hair,” the friendly shampoo girl complimented me as she lifted my hair into the sink while guiding me back to recline in the chair.
“Thanks” I said simply to be polite, while wondering why the hell people always say that in salons. I mean what is the point, the hair that is being complimented is about to be changed.
There are two possibilities when one goes to a salon. Either you don’t think your hair is great, so you’re there to improve it, in which case complimenting it is just telling the customer they are wrong. Or if one was just happy with their hair, they are giving it up for some reason or another.
Ok, I suppose sometimes, alright often, women are just coming in for a minor trim, and being told their hair is lovely might feel like a reassurance that if everyone agreed their hair was lovely, that it was unlikely a scissor-happy stylist was going to take too much of it. But maybe they could wait to hear why the client was there, so they weren’t complimenting hair that was about to be all cut off.
I closed my eyes as the warm water hit my scalp. I tried to just enjoy the sensation of my long hair being gently cleansed one last time.
“Hi Amanda,” Zoe greeted me as I sat in her sleek styling chair.
“Hi Zoe,” I returned the greeting as I had the dozens of other times I’d sat down in this exact same chair over the years with my long damp hair wrapped in a towel on top of my head with another draped over my shoulder, everything was the same as usual, except for the giant angry flock of butterflies in my stomach.
I watched much more intensely than usual as she gently shook out the light sage green cape with the salon’s logo printed on the front of it in white. The whole salon was bright and cheerful, and it felt like such a contrast to my mood. Normally the light feminine aesthetic was a great match for the sweet pretty look I wanted my hair to enhance.
I usually wore soft makeup, and wore form fitting pastels. I hadn’t put on makeup in days, and had taken to wearing darker baggier clothing. People kept saying I looked tired.
Zoe swung the cape over me, the billowing fabric draping over the dark band t-shirt I’d borrowed from Mel. I bent my head forward as Zoe fastened the cape against the back of my neck. I breathed deep, gathering my courage and determination for the question I knew would be coming in just a moment.
“So, what are we doing with this?” Zoe asked what she did every single time as she began to unwrap the towel that held my wet hair up. “Do you still want to grow out the curtain bangs, or do you think you want them back?”
I had gotten the curtain bangs at the beginning of winter, and had liked them at first. I had especially loved the way they’d stuck out of my winter hat and curled around the brim. When the weather started to turn warm, I realized I would hate not being able to tuck my hair behind my ears to keep it off my face when it got really hot, so I’d told Zoe I wanted to grow out the bangs when I got my hair trimmed in spring, but said I thought I might miss them in a few months. The first day it got up into the 90s in June, June-Mandy was very grateful for the forethought of April-Mandy, when I was able to tuck my hair back off my face. Of course, when I’d said to Zoe I might miss them in a few months, I meant when the winter hat came back out, not in the middle of summer.
Of course, if I could manage to gather my courage and spit out what I was planning to say, the subject of curtain bangs was going to be completely moot for a very long time. I swallowed, the movement emphasizing the presure of the cape’s collar against my throat. I breathed in.
“I was thinking I wanted something more gay,” I said trying to sound confident as Zoe began to detangle the long wet locks.
Zoe just looked confused, “huh?”
“I want to look more gay.” I said more firmly.
“That’s kind of offensive to gay men.” Zoe stated, suddenly looking at me a bit differently, the comb pausing. “Gay men don’t want to look like women. Well, except drag queens, but…”
“That’s not what I meant,” I sighed. “I meant I want to look more stereotype lesbian.”
“Why do you want to look like a lesbian?” Zoe still seemed confused
“Because I’m a lesbian.” I pointed out in a isn’t-this-obvious tone.
“You’re a lesbian?” Zoe said, not hiding her surprise. “I had no idea.”
“That’s what I mean.” I groaned. “It’s not like I’m in the closet, but when I say things like my girlfriend people just assume I mean a friend who’s a girl, not the person I exclusively have sex with.”
“So you want to look more gay?” Zoe finally grasped the concept. “Do you have pictures?”
“Yeah” I said as I pulled out my phone.
I’d planned to show Zoe pictures. The statement about wanting to look more gay was about preparing Zoe to just accept and not question the photos. I could imagine a straight stylist interpreting “more gay” to mean anything from choppier layers to rainbow mohawk, so I had always planned to narrow down to a more specific style.
“I was thinking sort of like this in the front.” I held the first picture up for Zoe to see as she absentmindedly ran the comb through my doomed hair, then I swiped to the next one. “But more like this in the back.”
I lowered the phone still showing the soft crop with a tapered back on the screen to my lap.
“So, you want this all off?” Zoe confirmed nervously giving the long hair that hung down my back a quick shake, then lifted a lock at the top of my head up and pinched it just a couple of inches from my head. “Like to here?”
“I kinda thought it was a bit shorter in the picture,” I said, as I looked down and swiped back to the first one.
“It is,” Zoe confirmed, but then added, “I was just thinking, we can always take more off, but this was a good place to start.”
“Oh, I guess.” I agreed a bit sadly, nervous I wasn’t going to get what I had gathered the courage to ask for.
“If you are really sure, we can just start at the inch and half.” Zoe offered, obviously sensing the disappointment in my voice, and moved her fingers a bit lower on the lock she held up.
“I’m really sure.” I told her.
Zoe looked down at the still not fully untangled mass in her hand, and just dropped it. It had obviously occurred to her, that the ends of it didn’t actually need to be completely smoothed out. She walked over to the counter, and opened the drawer under it. She took out a longer thicker pair of shear than I’d ever seen her use before. She spun the styling chair, so my back was closer to her as she stood next to the counter, leaving me facing sideways to the mirror.
I swallowed the lump in my throat, as I looked at the mirror out of the corner of my eye. I broke out in a cold sweat as I watched Zoe gather the long hair she’d tended and cared for for years into a loose ponytail in her hand. She raised the large silver shears up to the bundle of tresses. I held my breath.
My heart was pounding as the scissors’ blades surrounded the bundle of my hair. It was somewhat similar to the way my heart had pounded when Zoe had cut the curtain bangs into my long hair, but added to it was a sick feeling in my stomach.
Zoe began to close the scissors.
Shhrunch, srrrunch, shnip.
Zoe dropped the wet bundle of locks to the floor where they landed with a soft plop.
My wet hair hung loosely just above my shoulders. I swallowed again, as Zoe put the long shears on her counter, and started combing my much shorter hair again. It was obviously an easier task with so much less of it to deal with.
I sat trying to not be sad as I watched Zoe divide up what was left of my hair into a series of wedges, triangles and trapezoids. That was something she usually did, but I usually had a lot more hair when she did, and except for rare moments like adding the curtain bangs, usually I was only going to be losing an inch or so. Now as she made the sections, it was in preparation of losing all but a couple of inches. I was going to only be left with what I usually got trimmed.
Zoe finished clipping all the sections into miniature buns, leaving only a thin curtain hanging over the back of my neck. I watched her pick up her usual scissors leaving the oversized shears on the counter.
Normally Zoe combed down that and then just snipped of the very bottom of it to remove split ends. Instead she combed the already much shorter hair up. I listened to the rhythmic snipping of the scissors as I felt the weight of the wet severed locks landing on my neck and shoulders.
A lump formed in my throat as I thought about the long pretty hair I pulled up into jaunty ponytails, I thought about the fun Heidi braids I’d done for the music festival Mel had taken me to for my birthday. I thought about the way Mel had run her fingers through the loose locks as we kissed good night at the end of our first date.
Fuck, what had I done? I should have listened to Mel.
I suddenly wished I’d given Mel enough time to get here and stop me before I’d shown Zoe the pictures.
“This is going to be really nice and cool having all this off your neck for the summer.” Zoe informed me in a cheerful tone, as her own long blonde hair swung behind her back covering her neck.
“Hmmm.” I acknowledged and stared at the severed lock of hair draped over my shoulder in the mirror.
Zoe kept snipping away at the hair behind my head where I couldn’t see. I assumed it was on its way to looking like the picture I had shown her; very short, tapered down to little more than stubble at the sharp hairline. The only hint of femininity there had been to the cut in the photo I had shown Zoe was that the sharp line shaved at the point where the head met the neck was rounded off at the corners.
Zoe took out one of the clips holding the hair behind my ear up. The little bun untwisted as Zoe ran the comb through it. the locks that hung just above my shoulders, were split again, some combed back towards the hair Zoe had already cut short, some combed forward then clipped out of the way. Zoe combed what felt like a bit of the already cut hair up into her hand with the shoulder length locks, and clamped them between her fingers. She used the tip of her closed scissor to breifly lift the longish strands and looked under them.
The lock fell away from my head, landing on my inadequate bicep. Zoe undid the clip, and combed more hair back. She repeated the process of combing it into her fingers and checking under it.
It landed on top of the previous lock, knocking them both down to rest on my delicate forearm.
I looked up at the mirror, and watched Zoe once again combing hair into her fingers. Though I could see more as she worked on the side of my head behind my ear, I still couldn’t really see what the short hair looked like. Even if I could have, I’m sure it wouldn’t have given me much sense of how I was going to look yet. I watched as the lock fell, this time landing just in front of my too delicate shoulder and slide down to my lap.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Mel come in and look around. She was dressed for work, a nice top that wasn’t either exactly a man’s button down or a blouse but something in between, the style of a button down, but tailored for curves. A simple well tailored blazer over it. Her bobbed hair neatly arranged to hide the undercut. She wore a little simple almost gender neutral jewelry; a couple of bracelets made from round semi-precious stone beads, stud earrings, a leather cord with a silver ankh. Her face just clean with no makeup.
“That’s Mel, my girlfriend.” I told Zoe, who paused with the scissors hovering over the lock she’d been about to cut.
“Wait,” Zoe looked a little confused as she looked over at Mel, “so the Mel you mentioned dating then moving in with isn’t a guy?”
“No,” I said. “Definitely not a guy. Mel is short for Mellisa.”
“Let’s invite her over.” Zoe offered cheerfully, then before I got to respond, lifted her hand to wave and called out. “Mel, come on over!”
Mel started approaching, as Zoe recombed the lock she’d been about to cut, but simply dropped it when Mel arrived and bent down to get a kiss in.
“Mel, this is Zoe.” I introduced her when Mel finished the kiss
“Nice to meet you.” Mel said like she didn’t really mean it looking at Zoe with annoyance.
“Mandy’s mentioned you a lot.” Zoe said leaving out the part about Zoe thinking Mel was a man.
“She’s mentioned you too.” Mel said in a slightly accusatory way. “That you’ve been her stylist for years. I would have expected you to know her better.”
Zoe looked a little nervous when she heard Mel’s tone, I’m pretty sure I looked annoyed with Mel.
“What did you ask for?” Mel asked me, sounding frustrated.
“This.” I said showing her the pictures with the little crop.
Mel just sighed very deeply, and rubbed her face. Then she started turning the styling chair, looking at what Zoe had cut. Then looked down at the floor in a calcutaling manner.
“How much have you cut?” She asked Zoe. “It’s hard to tell with it all pinned up. Is it just the bit here along her nape and behind her ear? It looks like more than that on the floor.”
“I uh…” Zoe looked nervously back and forth between Mel and I. “I took the length up to just above her shoulders already.”
“So the best you could do to salvage it at this point would be an undercut lob?” Mel said unhappily like that was the only option, a terrible only option.
“Or she could finish the haircut I asked for.” I pointed out impatiently.
“Mandy, really?” Mel’s tone had turned to exasperation. “Zoe, what did she tell you was the reason she was doing this?”
“She said she wanted to look more gay.” Zoe sounded guilty.
“Which is TRUE.” I interjected. “Stop acting like I’m incapable of making my own decisions.”
“She’s just been upset about something that happened last time we went to the beach.” Mel told Zoe. “Do you really think this is what she wanted? Did you notice she’s wearing dark baggy clothing and no makeup?”
Zoe looked back and forth between me and Mel again, looking confused, and worried, and guilty all at the same time. She almost looked like she was about to burst into tears, which was dumb. If anyone should look like they are about to burst into tears it should be me, I was the one who had just lost a whole bunch of hair. Instead I was mad at Mel for making Zoe feel bad and looked angry.
“Mandy If you want, I can try to preserve length at this point.” Zoe offered. “I cut just make this part into an undercut and trim the rest about an inch above your shoulders, like Mel suggested?”
“I want it short.” I insisted.
“I promise she’ll still be cute with short hair.” Zoe told Mel.
“I know she’ll be cute.” Mel admitted and stroked my cheek looking into my eyes with concern. “I just don’t think she’ll be happy.”
“Mandy?” Poor Zoe had never signed up to be a couples counselor.
“It’s my hair.” I pointed out. “I get to decide what to do with it even if I regret it later. I’ve been thinking about this all week, I know what I want.”
“Are you really sure Mandy?” Zoe asked.
“You trusted that I seemed sure before Mel showed up?” I reminded her.
“Mel do you want to go wait upfront?”
“Can I stay if I promise I won’t interfere?” Mel sounded sad.
“That’s up to Mandy.” Zoe said firmly.
“I’d like you to stay if you will just be supportive.” I said, feeling like I needed some support.
“I’ll be supportive.” Mel promised, making Zoe smile.
“Ok,” Zoe said, and fussed with the cape a little, brushing the lock of hair that had draped on my shoulder to the floor. “There’s a stool you can pull out and sit on under the counter, Mel. Remind me what you wanted, Mandy.”
“Kind of like this in the front.” I held up the first picture, then swiped to the second one. “But more like this in the back.”
Zoe nodded after a very quick glance at the pictures. I’m not sure If she actually felt a need to see the pictures again, or just wanted me to confirm that I still wanted what I originally asked for. Once Mel was sitting on the stool, she reached her hand up under the cape to hold mine.
“Thank you.” I smiled at Mel as Zoe combed the long lock of hair she kept getting distracted from cutting into her fingers once again.
I tightened my grip on Mel’s hand. Mel furrowed her brow.
“It’s just nerves.” I lied to Mel and Zoe, hoping I could convince myself.
Zoe finished off the section, and then switched to the other side of my head, making it match. I watched as Zoe work forward section by section.
When she let down the last section and my grown out curtain bangs plopped on to my face, instead of matching the length to what she’d cut earlier like she had before, she started snipping it off across my forehead. maybe a half an inch above my eyebrows. Then she combed my new very short bangs up and began matching the length on top to them. Working her way back, blending the length into sections she cut earlier.
Zoe, put down the scissors, and took her trimmer from the charging stand. It had sat there near the mirror for all the years I’d been coming to Zoe, but I’d never seen her touch it before. She flicked the switch, turning them on. They hummed softly.
Zoe gently pushed my head down, and I felt the blades of the trimmer stroking up my neck. Then I felt her combing up along the back of my.
Zoe ran the trimmer over the comb, and I felt hair sprinkle down on my neck. It reminded me of watching Mel run clippers up her undercut every sunday morning.
I would lay in our bed, looking through the open door into the bathroom. Mel would stand with her back to the mirror above the sink, her bobbed hair all held up in an elastic. She would hold a smaller hand mirror in one hand, and the clipper in the other. The sprinkle of hair looked like pepper as it fell. Then she’d turn and carefully did the bits around her ears while facing the mirror. Sometimes when she was done, she’d just leave it like that, especially if she was in a rush and had sunday morning plans that week. Other times she’d take the little guard off the end of the clippers and use the bare blades to carve a line around the bottom and reduce the hair below it from velvet to stubble.
Every 8 weeks or so, she went to a barbershop on Saturday and they did it instead when they also trimmed an inch off the bottom of her bob, so she’d skip doing it herself that week.
One time, as she was just starting with the clippers after I had watched her put her bob up on top of her head, she suddenly exclaimed “Damn it!”
“What happened?” I sat up in the bed and asked. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine,” she grumbled. “I just forgot the guard. Hope you can live with a half bald girlfriend for a week or two.”
“I really can’t.” I teased her as she stood there looking at the hand mirror making the funniest face of self-disgust I couldn’t help but chuckle at. “You’re going to have to get a hotel room till it grows back.”
“You had better stop laughing,” Mel mock threatened me, “or I’m gonna make you half bald too. I have clippers and I’m not afraid to use them.”
“You wouldn’t dare.” I challenged her with a smile.
“Yeah, I suppose you’d beat me up.” She chuckled briefly, then tilted her head back and forth again, contemplating the strip of stubble she’d shaved up the back. “I suppose I just need to get it over with and do the whole thing. It’s not like I can put the hair back on.”
Mel sighed and just started running the bare clippers up the back of her head. She skipped buzzing the undercut for a couple of weeks while it grew back from the prickly stubble to her normal velvety length.
“Mine’s going to be velvety in the back like yours now.” I pointed out deliberately smiling to Mel hoping it would make her enthusiastic enough she’d be less concerned. “Won’t that be cool.”
“Yeah babe,” Mel forced a smile, “that’ll be nice.”
“I love to pet the back of my boyfriend’s head,” Zoe commented.
Mel gave my hand an extra squeeze of reassurance. “You’re looking so pretty.”
I smiled at Mel even though the sound of the humming trimmer going over the comb was completely nerve wracking. Especially since she kept going higher and higher up the back of my head. I felt her combing the already short hair arond my ear, then the fine blade of the trimmer was carving a line behind it. I watched in the mirror as she started shaping with the trimmer above my ear, then just the top of my side burn right in front of my ear. She left the bottom of my sideburn unshaped, and went over to my other ear.
I let out a sigh of relief, and hoped Mel and Zoe wouldn’t notice. Zoe was far from done though, she picked up her shears again, pushed my head gently down so I was looking at the wet remnants of my face framing layer in my lap, and went back to snipping. I felt the sharp tips gently poking all along the hairline she’d already carved out with the trimmer.
Mel must have had a quizzical look on her face, because Zoe explained to her, “I’m softening the line. It’s more feminine.”
“Good,” Mel said and squeezed my hand again.
Zoe kept snipping away, working over all the areas she’d previously used the trimmer on. All around the back, then up and over my ears. When she got to my sideburns, she didn’t stop like she had with the trimmer. She started cutting the hair just in front of my ears into soft little points.
When it became obvious Zoe was going to start working on the front and needed to face me directly, Mel released my hand. I bit my bottom lip as Zoe slowly turned the chair towards her. She kept working up my side burn. Combing the short hair from the side of my head forward, then snipping it along my face, the pointy blades cold against my skin. Zoe worked all the way across my bangs, taking them even shorter. She then went to the back again, and worked up the other side, making my pointy little sideburns the same brief length
When Zoe finished, I thought she might be ready to start blow drying, but insted she started just combing up the back of my head and snipping at it. the snipping just kept going, the just barely damp hair that fell to my neck felt like little more than a dusting.
I watched as Zoe finally started blow drying, I was used to her pulling my long hair up and twirling it around a big round brush when she blow dried it. This time, all she did was ruffle and shape it with her fingers.
“Is that all I need to do to style this?” I asked Zoe, trying to sound enthusiastic.
“Most of the time yup, this is all you do.” Zoe also sounded like she was trying to be as enthusiastic as possible. “So fast and easy.”
“See Mel,” I said, trying to convince her of the wisdom of this haircut, “Think how much time this will save us when I’m not fussing with braids and stuff.”
“Sure babe.” Mel said, the doubt showing even though I knew she was trying to hide it, Mel just did not have a poker face at all. “Hopefully you won’t get bored.”
“It’s got some style options,” Zoe added defensively. “You can do things like slick it back, though I know how much you hate the smell of product. That might bug you less now though, since your hair is just totally out of your face so you don’t have to smell it. I’ll skip the product for now, but if you feel like it, you can give it a try later.”
“Oh, that would be great if I can put stuff in it without having to smell it.” I smiled. “I hadn’t thought of that at all. If I had thought of that I’d have probably done this sooner.”
“Yeah short hair can be great.” Zoe claimed as she turned off the hair dryer and picked up the texturizing shears. “Everyone should try it at least once.”
“Really Zoe?” Mel accused. “Have you ever had short hair?”
“I got a short haircut back when I was in beauty school.” Zoe defended herself as she ran the comb through my hair, like she was trying to decide what to do with the shears she’d picked up. “It was an interesting experience.”
“Short like Mandy’s?” Mel pressed.
“Bit more like a bob,” Zoe admitted.
“So, how long did you keep it short?” Mel asked, not letting up.
“Oh, I don’t remember.” Zoe seemed flustered.
“How many times did you get it recut, before wanting to grow it out?”
It was really obvious that Mel was still upset that Zoe hadn’t tried to talk me out of getting my hair cut short. I was getting annoyed with Mel. Sure, most of the time I liked that Mel got protective of me, but Zoe was trying to make me feel good about a decision she obviously didn’t think was a terrible one.
“That’s the great thing about hair,” I jumped back into the conversation before Mel dragged a tearful confession about hating having short hair from Zoe, “you can try things for a little while, see if you like it, and then try something else.”
“Yeah,” Zoe looked relieved I’d rejoined the conversation. “We can try this for a bit just like we tried the curtain bangs for a little while.”
“How long is it…”Mel began.
“You promised to just be supportive.” I interrupted to remind her. “Besides at this point it’s too late to convince us to not do this.”
“I’m sorry.” Mel apologized to me, then looked up at Zoe, “Are you done?”
“I just want to get a little more movement on top here, and blend out the lines in the back.” Zoe said.
Zoe, then began to use the texturizing shear as she’d planned. It was strange feeling the blade inserted right into my hair, the metal cold against my scalp. Zoe closed the toothy blades with a chomp.
It felt almost random as Zoe worked by feel and instinct. combing and ruffling the hair after each chomp of the blades, and spending a lot of time staring at the reflection of the top of my head in the mirror. When she was happy with the top, she started combing up the back, and chomping the texturizing combs against the comb.
Mel looked impatient as Zoe ruffled my hair, combed it back and forth, tilted my head to various angles, and used a variety of tools to take miniscule bits of hair off here and there. Even though the exact techniques were different from when she would finish my long hair, the basic process was the same, Zoe would perfect tiny flaws I would never have actually noticed, and as a result, my hair would just fall into place every time I washed it whether or not I styled it in a particular way.
I looked at my reflection as Zoe fussed, knowing that we were past the point of major changes. I needed to get used to what I was seeing. In many ways I liked it, but it was still rather startling. I felt reasonably cute in a rather androgynous way, but I didn’t really feel like girly me. It occured to me that I looked more like the type of woman I usually was attracted to than the kind of woman I wanted to be.
When Zoe took the cape off me, carefully making sure the hair collected on it fell to the floor instead of on to me, the reveal of the shirt I’d borrowed from Mel, a woman I found attractive, just upped the whole feeling that I looked like the kind of woman I had always dated. I figured that was what I’d been aiming for, I looked more gay. Hopefully in a way that screamed loud and clear to men that it wasn’t their attention I wanted.
“Is it good?” Zoe asked nervously as she showed me the back.
“It’s even better than what I asked for.” I assured her, because it really was, she’d made little adjustments to make it a bit softer and more feminine, which made me more comfortable even though I had been specifically trying for something harder and more masculine. “It looks great, Zoe. Mel?”
“You look adorable.” Mel assured me, with a slightly crooked smile.
I ran my hands up into it, feeling the velvety back so similar to Mel’s undercut on the bottom. As I ran my fingers through the tangle free cropped top, it just felt comfortable and easy. It fell back towards the left side away from the part with barely any coaxing.
“I love how comfortable it is.” I said smiling. “I almost don’t care how it looks.”
“It looks good though.” Mel insisted.
As I got up, I looked down at the piles of my hair that I would have to step carefully to miss. I noticed some of it was under the pointy toe of Zoe’s flat. I felt a little choked up looking down at what had been my pretty hair.
I looked away, up at Zoe. She still looked nervous. I went in for our usual hug.
“Thank you.” I said softly into her ear.
“You really like it?” She whispered the question to me so I could answer honestly without getting Mel involved.
“I do.” I assured her giving back a little pat.
I turned to head up front to the receptionist. Mel started getting up too, but I put my hand on her shoulder to stop her.
I bent down, and hissed a whisper into Mel’s ear, “Apologize to Zoe for being rude.”
As I walked away, before Mel could get a word in I heard Zoe say “It’s ok. I know you were just worried about Mandy’s feelings.”
As we walked out of the salon, Mel pulled me to her. Holding me tightly, protectively, her arm over my shoulders. The gesture felt both familiar and unfamiliar. I was used to feeling a slight tug on my long hair, and feeling hair between the fabric of her blazer, which was a slightly scratchy linen, and my neck. I don’t think I ever would have said the tug on the hair was pleasant before, but now that it wasn’t there it felt like it was missing. I was undecided about how much the scratchy linen bothered me, but the comfort from the weight of her arm definitely was enough to make up for it.
“Come on, I’ll take you out to dinner.” She offered like she thought I needed comforting.
I didn’t want to need comforting. I wanted to be happy with my new haircut. I nuzzled more tightly against Mel though, because I really did need a little comforting.
When we got to my favorite restaurant, we were informed there was a 30 minute wait. They gave us a pager/coaster and suggested we go hang out at the sports bar across the street. It was a place we were semi-regulars at. Since we were walking distance from home, we both got to order a beer, and Mel and I were happily watching the baseball game and talking about it.
I relaxed knowing that I wasn’t going to be attracting attention tonight. Mel and I could just drink our beers without guys hitting on me every 5 seconds. Mel wouldn’t have to risk getting hurt defending me.
When the 7th inning stretch started, Mel drained her beer, leaned over and said. “I just need to go use the lady’s room, I’ll be right back babe.”
It had been only a minute or so since Mel had gotten up when he slid onto her barstool.
“Hi there.” He said.
I sighed. “Sorry my friend was sitting there.”
“I saw her.” He admitted casually as though it didn’t matter. “I’m sure she won’t mind.”
“She was enjoying the game with me, it’s about to start again.” I said hoping he’d take the hint and leave. “She’ll be back any minute.”
“She could go meet my friend over there,” he nodded towards a guy across the bar. “Let us have a little time to get to know each other.”
I just wrinkled my brow at him, confused. I was wearing no makeup, baggy clothing, and of course my hair was boy short. I didn’t think I looked even vaguely like I had come here to meet guys.
“I’ve seen you guys here before.” He mentioned, I felt like he should have realized we were a couple in that case. “When did you cut your hair?”
“Today.” I grumbled and noticed Mel was walking towards us.
“It’s cute,” he informed me as though I wanted his approval. “Most guys don’t like short hair, but I think you look good.”
I just sighed as Mel tapped on his shoulder, and said “I’m pretty sure MY girlfriend doesn’t care that much about your opinion, but I’ll take it as a compliment on my good taste. Now let me have my seat back.”
When the guy had slunk away and Mel was back on her bar stool, I leaned in resting my newly shorn head on her shoulder and said, “thank you.”
“It was no big deal babe.” Mel said in a soothing voice, and bent down to give me a little kiss on the side of my head. “You ok?”
“I’m fine.” I said even though I wasn’t really. “No ‘I told you so’?”
“I told you you would be cute, and you are completely adorable.”
“That wasn’t what I meant.” I muttered.
“I don’t want to be right about the rest of it.” Mel sighed. “I want you to be happy with your haircut even if guys still try to pick you up. You look pretty.”
I nodded and tried to convince myself to be happy, it was cool and comfortable, and fun and easy. I watched as the nineth inning finished quickly, the fresh pitcher retiring the side quickly with the home team ahead. Mel cheered happily with the rest of the bar, right as the pager started buzzing.
“Let’s go get dinner babe.” Mel said, downing her second beer.
“Ok,” I smiled at Mel.
I glanced over at the guy Mel had told to get out of her seat, he glared at us looking pissed. I abandoned what was left of my beer, and decided I’d stick to soft drinks at dinner, so I would be sharp and able to pay attention on the walk home later.
I tried to smile as we got up, and headed back across the street.