Close to the Scalp

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Su-Jin, usually called simply ‘Sue’ by her few friends at school, is of Korean-American descent. Her mother was very strict in her upbringing, especially about three things: her relationships, her grades, and her appearance.
For one thing, perhaps lucky for her, she had no interest in dating to speak of. For another, without being proud of it, Sue could at least justifiably claim that her grades were virtually flawless. So that was that.

However, for her appearance… Su-Jin’s mother was very proud of her daughter’s perfect, silky black hair. Haircuts, other than an annual, motherly-supervised, length-preserving trim, were a unheard of in her house. So imagine the ordeal when the, then 16-year-old girl kindly asked her mother to let her get straight bangs to accentuate her traditionalist look. The mere mention of the subject was an outrageous expression of disobedience and rebellion, as far as her mother was concerned.

It took Sue weeks, even months, of begging, doing more than her fair share of chores, and doing exceptionally well in school –
which was quite difficult, considering she was almost a straight-A student anyway. When her mother finally relented, Sue experienced what felt to her, at the time, the best day of her young life. Of course, that impression didn’t last very long. Despite her mother’s consent, when Sue returned home from the salon, she had to endure an endless tirade about how she had “butchered” her beautiful mane.

Much to Sue’s chagrin, it wouldn’t stop there. After weeks of snide remarks from her mother, the girl made a promise to herself:
For every time her hair came up in any conversation – be it with her relatives, her father, her friends – and be it a compliment or criticism of her hair – she would cut off an inch when she’d finally move out. It was a silly thing to do, of course. A childish reaction, a rejection, of the image her parents projected on to her.

Only after some time did Sue realize what she had let herself in for with her promise. After just a few weeks, counting inches, she had passed the point of her having a short bob. So when she, almost two years later, moved out of the confines of her home and into the university dorm, she had already come to terms with the fact that she would probably have to go bald to keep her word.

After waving her parents goodbye, Sue hurried to her new room. Quietly – politely – she closed the door and stood with her back to it.
She slowly slid down until she was sitting on the floor, hugging her knees. Her room in the dorm was cramped, tiny, compared to the one in her parents’ house. Still, Sue felt as free here as she did under the open sky. She finally had space to breathe, to be herself, and took a moment to sort out her mixed feelings:
On one hand, she felt overjoyed to finally be away from home and her mother’s asphyxiating control. On the other, she was scared shitless thinking about what she had planned for years to do to her hair on this day.

She walked into the bathroom, her toiletry bag clutched anxiously in her hands. She had packed her supplies ahead of time, so everything she needed would be within reach. A sheltered girl like her didn’t own hair clippers, of course, but she did own sharp scissors – they would be her most important tool. The room’s only light bulb reflected dimly in the water-stained mirror.
Before she began, she made sure her trademark twin braids were as tight as they could be. A constant tug on the left and right sides of her head was evidence of this and gave her the confidence she needed. For a moment, she wondered if her hair was already long enough to wear as a belt around her waist. Taking a deep breath, she reminded herself not to allow any second thoughts.

She meticulously combed through her bangs so that they fell nice and straight onto her brow.
Then she placed the scissors at their roots, as close to the scalp as possible. Without further hesitation, she began to cut across her forehead, following the curve of her hairline. Although shocked and bewildered, Sue marveled at the sight of the curtain of hair slowly tumbling before her eyes, like feathers, into the sink.

A few moments later, Sue no longer had bangs. Instead, a dark trim of stubble now lined her oval face. She just stood there looking at her reflection in the mirror as her eyes seemed to get bigger with every passing second. When she finally found the courage to touch it, she almost dropped her scissors to the trimmings in the sink. The raspy sensation under her fingertips was frightening, but somehow exciting at the same time. Sue knew that if she stopped now, she could somehow get away with the damage she had already done. She could wear a headband or something and just pretend.

Then she took a quick look at the three inches of lifeless bangs and knew there was no turning back for her now. She took another deep breath and closed her eyes for a second. When she opened them again, a fire of fierce determination blazed in her ebony eyes.

Continuing, she placed the sharp tips of the scissors on the left side of her middle parting and started to cut along it, in a straight line, back over her head. As she worked her way over her crown, she heard the stereo crunch of the slicing blades. When she finished at the nape of her neck, she could see a fan of severed strands sticking out in all directions. They were still tightly braided, of course, and thus didn’t slide down yet. Sue realigned the scissors, this time slightly to the left of her parting line, and repeated the cutting.

By the third time, her entire left braid was noticeably detached from her head. When she swept the cut hair aside, she could see three neat rows of stubble from the front of her head to the back. They were separated by distinct lines where the scissors had cut closest to her scalp. Where those scissor marks were, she could hardly make out any remnants of hair.

Patiently, she repeated her actions, row after row, taking her time. When she felt the weight of her braid tugging harder and harder on her scalp, she changed her position to hold it up with one hand while she continued shearing with the other.
After what felt like an eternity, the braid finally gave way. The soft thud of over three feet of jet-black tresses landing in the sink snapped Sue out of her thoughts. The sound almost startled her, like a broken spell, so focused had she been. Her eyes were glued to the sight of nearly two decades of growth piled up before her. Lifeless now, cut by her own hand.

The thought shook her to the core, as if she had been in denial and was now finally realizing the horrifying consequences of her actions. She didn’t dare lift her eyes and look at her reflection. If she did, she had to face reality. She took a deep breath and held it, finally releasing it in a long drawn-out sigh as she looked up.

The only hair longer than a quarter inch on the left side of her head were a few wispy strands around her ear. As she slowly turned her head to the right, more and more of her shorn head came into view. She glanced at herself out of the corner of her eye, surveying her handiwork. Most of the stubble was uneven and crudely cut. Sue, who was in that moment perhaps closer to the perfectionist ideal her parents were trying to shape her into, became annoyed by this fact.

She raised the scissors to her head again and snipped away at her fuzzy hair. She pressed the blades to her scalp. They felt cold and unforgiving, just like she herself felt as she obsessively sheared off any remaining tuft. Front to back, back to front. She reduced the hair around her ear to nothing, then the baby hairs at her nape. Sue only stopped her fiverish cutting when every last hair on her left side was no longer than a #1 buzzcut. In most places where she had managed to cut close to the skin, it was shorter. The side of her face, her neck, and her shoulders were covered with black dust and hair clippings. She gently ran her hand through the remaining stubble, too short to even grasp. It felt coarse and prickly, like her father’s cheeks when he hugged her after a long day at work.

Her right braid then caught her attention. Still attached to her head, still untouched by the scissors. A sudden urge overcame Sue, a surge of impatience. She inwardly cursed herself for not investing in some clippers that would get the job done quickly. Instead, she now had to invest as much time on her remaining hair as she had before. Her knuckles were white, her thumb and index finger began to feel numb from clutching the scissors.

She roared in frustration, grabbed her braid with her free hand and yanked at it. Without thinking much, she thrust the scissors into her hair and snipped at it frantically. Like a crazed lumberjack hacking at a tree trunk with an axe, Sue attacked her braid with the scissors. Finally, she felt the braid come loose, felt the tugging of the hair on her scalp stop.

She carelessly dropped the second braid into the sink, almost filling it to the brim with hair. Where her hair had been braided closest to her head, she could see the remnant of it sticking out. The longer strands from the top and side now swung forward and fell into her face, the longest of it reaching to the tip of her nose. With most of her hair gone, Sue’s head felt ten times lighter.
Of course, she wasted no time in cutting what little she had left as short as possible.

After the last snip, Sue pulled her sore fingers from the scissor’s handle. How long had she been working on her ‘makeover’? It seemed like an hour, at least, and by this time she desperately wanted to be done with it. With both hands, she grabbed the trimmings from the sink and shoved them into the bathroom’s pedal trash bin. With each movement, she scattered a mist of clipped hair across the room.

She turned on the water in the sink and held her head in the stream. The cool water felt strange, pelting down on her nearly hairless scalp like heavy rain. Sue straightened up, put both her hands on the crown of her head and rubbed it, back and forth.
The motion sent little droplets flying, as if they were being flicked off from a hard-bristled brush. For a long moment, she stared at the girl in the water-splashed mirror.
Streams of water ran down her forehead and over her cheeks, like tears. And perhaps one or two actual tears were mixing in as well, as she thought about the loss of her glorious mane. It had been all but stolen from her by her mother and her constant nagging.

Sue’s melancholy disappeared as quickly as it had come. She grabbed her shampoo and squeezed some into her hand. She rubbed it into the still damp fuzz on her head until everything was covered in lather. Then she pulled the razor from her bag – the one she used to shave her legs and armpits. She examined the silver blades reflecting the dim light before placing it against her forehead.

With a slow, deliberate motion, she pulled the razor back over her head. Sure, the shampoo was no shaving foam, but it still worked well enough. Sue felt only a slight pinch as she effortlessly scraped the close-cropped stubble from her head. When it reached the back of her head, she lifted the razor. Where it had passed over her scalp, only a strip of pale, bare skin remained. Sue was almost shocked by the efficiency of the blades and continued until she had scraped any vestige of hair from her head.

Bald – she was completely bald now, she realized in shock. Her hands were shaking so badly now that it was almost a miracle she hadn’t cut herself. She dropped the razor into the sink, where a lot of lather and black hair floated in a shallow puddle of water.

Slowly, as if she feared her head would be burning hot or freezing cold, she brought her hands close to it. When she touched it, she almost pulled her hands back. But she resisted the reflex, closed her eyes and enjoyed the experience. Although she was almost as pale and shiny as the mirror in front of her, her smooth scalp was still warm to the touch. Only a dark shadow reminded that she had ever had hair.
The sensation was breathtaking, and if she had no places to be, Sue could imagine standing there for hours, rubbing her bare dome.

But alas, she reminded herself, she had places to be. She opened her eyes, lowered her hands, and took one last look at her reflection.
Her oval face, now no longer obscured by her bangs, strangely looked softer, more feminine, than before. The arch of her eyebrows now emphasized her dark eyes much more strongly. Even her neck, free of the dangling braids, seemed longer and thinner.
Her modest, high-necked dress seemed almost comically prudish in contrast to her striking features and daring ‘hairstyle’.
Maybe it was time to buy some new clothes, she thought.

She gave herself a twirl in front of the mirror and reached for her keys. The hint of a smile came to her lips as she turned to leave.
Well, Su-Jin thought, this year’s Christmas at her parents’ will surely be an interesting experience… .

Author’s Note: As always, thanks for reading my story! It was fun to explore the topic of a “buzzcut” using scissors only, which I find very exciting but rarely get to enjoy.

Please note that this story contains a certain stereotypical portrayal of Asian parents as overly strict and demanding of their children.
This is not meant as a generalization or to offend in any way.

– rightdownthemiddle

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