Tiffany and I wander through the aisles of the art supply store as she fills her basket up with the pens and markers she uses up at an amazing rate. We had originally come for just a few sharpies in what she calls her “signature color” for doing autographs at comic-con, which is now just 5 weeks away, but she of course suddenly remembered a million other things she needed as soon as we walked through the door.
“Do you need anything for comic-con?” Tiff asks me. “Have you decided what you’re doing for it?”
I sigh, I know my answer is going to get the stink eye from her. “Mark’s still trying to talk me into Princess Leia.”
“Of course he is,” she says with the stink eye I knew was coming. “Which movie?”
I just raise an eyebrow, since I know she knows and I don’t want to say it. Tiff snorts.
“He treats you like a trophy, not a partner.”
Tiff knows that I have no interest in cosplaying a mainstream movie character. I always put a lot of time and energy into characters from actual comic books. Comics like the one Tiffany creates.
“He has some valid points.” I don’t know why I feel the need to defend him to Tiff. “He’s right that Leia would be easy and not distract me too much from my thesis.”
“You said that working on craft projects was meditative and helps you work through problems when you’re stuck.”
It’s true. Sometimes I need to work on something other than physics. I need something that occupies enough of my brain that I’m not just stuck in a loop, yet is still mindless enough to be relaxing. Craft projects do that.
“Yeah. It’s not like cosplay is the only crafty thing I could be doing, though.”
After Tiff gets done giving me more stink eye, she asks, “What do you want to do?”
“Well, I still think being Major Grevbok would be cool,” I say.
Major Grevbok is the main character of Tiff’s series, Battle for Gliese. Major Grevbok is mostly human with a few genes from the intelligent extraterrestrials of Gliese spliced in. I’ve actually posed for sketches of Major Grevbok a few times, though I’m not the person Tiff primarily based her on. Tiff’s muse for Grevbok was one of the team captains from her first year on the archery team back when we were freshmen in highschool, Judith, who was a senior our freshman year. Judith went to the Air Force Academy after highschool. She came back to visit several times and cheer on the archery team. I think Tiff had kind of a crush on her. I wasn’t on the archery team, so I only sort of knew Judith.
Tiffany feels a bit weird about me cosplaying from her comic book though. She says it’s cheating if it’s a friend cosplaying her characters instead of a fan. She’s sure there will be no fans cosplaying any of her characters, even though this year she was invited to be on a panel and made enough to quit one of her day jobs. I’m sure she’s going to start fussing about it again.
“Ok,” she says instead, surprising me. “Just please don’t tell anyone you know me. I don’t want people thinking I put you up to it.”
“Put me up to it?” I laugh. “You’ve been telling me not to all month. What changed your mind?”
“I just figure that if I don’t think Mark should get to tell you what to be, I shouldn’t either.” Tiff explains with a shrug. Then flicks the end of my long braid. “I guess we need to go wig shopping.”
I smile, and nod. We finish up our shopping and head to a beauty supply store to see about wigs. There is nothing there that is even vaguely going to work. Major Grevbok has very short turquoise hair. The turquoise is her natural color according to Tiff, it came from the spliced in Gliesevian genes. I figured I might need to modify a wig slightly, like get a blond one and dye it, but nothing is working at all.
“Nothing’s even close to as short in the back as it should be.” I say mostly to Tiff, but the sales lady is right there too.
“There are limits to how short the back can be and still completely cover your hair.” The sales lady informs us.
We end up walking out with no wig. I have a moment of thinking about how easy it would be to be Leia with my very long light brown hair, then dismiss it. I don’t really want easy, I want to do a character that excites me, I want Grevbok. I leave Tiff to meet Mark for dinner at his favorite trattoria.
“Over here Jeanna,” Mark calls to me from the table he’s already sitting at. He launches into conversation as soon as I sit. “Why isn’t your hair loose?”
“I just wanted it not getting all tangled while I was running around with Tiff today. I’ll let it down later.” I say in a small voice suddenly feeling very self conscious.
“So, what were you doing with Tiffany today?”
“We were just running errands,” I say as I glance over my menu, though I’ll probably get my usual. “She needed some pens so we hit the art supply store. Then we went to the beauty supply store to look at wigs.”
“You spend way too much of your time running Tiffany’s errands, she’s not much of a friend. She takes advantage of you. What does Tiffany need a wig for?”
“Oh, it was for me not her.” I explain. “I finally convinced Tiff I really do want to cosplay Major Grevbok.”
“I thought you were going to dress up as Leia? You need a wig for Major Gre… what’s-his-name?”
Of course Mark needs to ask. He pays pretty much no attention at all to Tiff’s work, even though I have all her comics at my apartment. It’s not even like he needs to read them, Grevbok is on most of the covers. He’s been there when Tiff comes over and sketches. There’s no reason he shouldn’t know what Grevbok looks like. But of course he doesn’t.
“I told you I didn’t want to do Leia.” I deal with the first question then move on to the second. “Grevbok is the character with the short turquoise hair on the cover of Tiff’s comics. Not that we found a wig that was even vaguely close to what I need. I’m going to have to do something else to achieve Grevbok’s hair.”
I’m thinking about possibilities now. It’s probably going to involve a bald cap, a half wig for the top and getting Tiff to glue or draw on the really short hair in back. How was that going to work?
“The one on the cover of the ones on the coffee table?” Mark asks and I simply nod.
“Why would you want to dress up as a guy?”
“Grevbok is a woman.”
“She doesn’t look like a woman, suppose I should have expected that from Tiffany.”
“She’s a woman, she kicks butt, and I’m going to make the ultimate costume and be her at comic-con.”
“Please don’t. That’s going to be awful. She wears so much body armour you can’t see anything. You have a decent body, you should show it off.”
I simply roll my eyes at him, I don’t really want to get into a fight right now.
“And don’t you dare cut your hair, just because you can’t find the right wig.” He continues.
I glare at him and say in an icy voice. “I hadn’t planned to.”
“Your face is way too masculine to get away with short hair. If you cut it you’ll look like a guy.” Then he snorts under his breath, “I bet Tiffany would love that.”
As I poke at my food while Mark talks on and on about the latest game he’s playing online, I start thinking about what Mark said about not cutting my hair. Cutting it hadn’t really been on my list of solutions, even though it is the obvious simple solution. I never would have thought that cutting my hair that I’ve had long my whole life was worth it for one event. Now that Mark’s told me not to, I can’t get it out of my mind.
I know though, that it’s just his tone that has gotten under my skin, and that if I were to cut it it would be out of pure spite. Spite is a poor reason to do something, so I force it out of my mind.
It’s just three days till comic-con and Mark is on his way over to netflix and chill. I have most of my Major Grevbok costume ready. I can’t wait to show Mark the finished body armour when he gets here. I hear him coming up the back stairs to my attic apartment, so I open the door.
I start talking after I kiss him on the cheek, “I’m so glad you’re here, I can’t wait to show youâ€¦”
“Not now, I’ve had a bad day,” He interrupts.
“Is something up at work?” I ask.
“The new girl is getting all the praise for cheating.” He grumps. “Nobody cares that I was trying to solve the problem the correct way.”
“What do you mean by ‘cheating?'” I ask, though I’m not sure I want to know. We’ve had similar discussions before. Pretty much anytime one of his female coworkers fixes anything he can’t he feels it’s because they cheated.
“She used a workaround to bypass the bug in the program instead of properly rewriting the section of code. Then everyone was all ‘Ooh, thank God the reports for Mr-big-man-CEO won’t be delayed.’ They didn’t care at all that the bug was still in the code.”
I know I should just let him grumble, but I can’t help myself from asking. “Is the bug going to cause problems down the line?”
“You sound just like everyone in the office ‘Don’t worry about it Mark, we never need to use this program again.’ and ‘Who cares how she did it, as long as it works.’ You never support me.” Mark walks off to the kitchen to get a beer and sulk.
The thing is, how does one be supportive of whining when someone is just wrong. I know I need to just fake it. When he comes back out he notices the body armour pieces spread out with the paint drying. He frowns as he takes another swig of beer.
“Is that what you’re planning to wear to comic-con?” He takes another swig then continues before I answer. “There is nothing even remotely sexy about any of that. There’s going to be no cleavage at all. Doesn’t that character ever wear anything cute?”
“Why do you even care? You just stand around with your friends talking games the whole time.”
“And I want to show off my cute girlfriend to them. Don’t you like that I think you’re cute enough to show off. Not all guys would think so. How dopey does the wig look?”
“I haven’t found one yet.” I growl back, feeling pretty pissed off.
“Remember what I said, don’t you dare cut your hair.” Mark barks, then under his breath, “I’m sick of Tiffany and that damned hairdresser of hers always trying to make you into what they want. She took off way too much at that ‘trim’ last week. I’m your boyfriend, I’m the one that has to look at you.”
That was it. I’m done for the night. We were going to watch “Barbarella” but now I have no desire toÂ indulge him in scantily clad mid-century space heroins.
“You need to go.” I say in a tone so icey it even scares me.
“Fine, I’m tired anyway.” Mark grumbles, then bends over and forces a kiss on me even though I’m leaning away from it. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
I’m so angry, I’m seeing red for a few minutes. I take a few deep breathes to calm myself and sit down at the table I had been crafting at. The scissor I was using to make my costume are sitting right in front of me. I’m not even really thinking when I pick them up and walk into the bathroom.
I stand in front of the mirror and stare at my angry face framed by the long straight light brown hair that hangs loose about me. I pick up a lock and bring the scissors up to it. My hands are shaking like mad when my brain finally kicks in.
Spite is a bad reason to do this. This is damn close to literally cutting off your nose to spite your face. You will find a wig tomorrow. Think about how you will feel explaining it to Sarah. Put down the scissors.
I calm myself and do put down the scissors next to the sink. I change into my pajamas and binge watch the Aliens series. I doze off on the couch in front of the TV shortly after Ripley buzzes her hair on the prison planet. I’ve seen the whole series a dozen times anyway, so I know how it ends.
I wake up to the lamest apology text ever from Mark. *Sorry I got angry about your costume last night. Just try to look at least a bit sexy. I suppose it won’t be too bad when you take off the wig before we go to dinner so the guys can see your real hair.*
I mutter “Fuck you” under my breath and decide to not bother answering the text.
I have no classes to teach today, so I had planned to visit more stores that might carry wigs. I’ve already been to any that count as even vaguely local and had been planning to start hitting the ones that are harder to get to today out of desperation. It’s going to involve multiple bus transfers for each stop.
I head to the bathroom to shower and whatnot, and run across the scissors still sitting on the side of the sink. I look in the mirror and sigh. Hacking my hair off last night would have been spite and a bad idea. Having a real plan today is different. It’s a practical solution to a problem. It saves me from running all over the city. Grevbok is a total badass, having her hair will be fun. Sarah’s been saying I should do something fun with my hair for ages. What Mark thinks about it is secondary.
I head out to the phone and dial. “Hello, yes… I need to make an appointment with Sarah… Today if at all possibleâ€¦ I need a cut and colorâ€¦ I don’t know if it’s a single process or double, I’ve never done it beforeâ€¦ One o’clock, yeah I can make itâ€¦ Jeanna… Thank you.” I hang up and get ready.
An hour later, I’m knocking on Tiffany’s door. She answers in the t-shirt and yoga pants she wears when she’s working on her comic.
“I need you to come with me for moral support.” I blurt out before I even say hello. “Oh, and can I borrow a copy of that sketch you have of Grevbok with all those angles you use as reference.”
“What do you need moral support and sketches for?” She asks.
“I’m getting my hair cut and colored.”
“Oh Jean,” Tiff says as her brow furrows. “I’ll help you with the wig hunt.”
“I’ve been looking everywhere, I’ve been considering just cutting it since we couldn’t find one the first place we went.”
“It’s not worth doing something so drastic for a con. I bet we câ€¦”
“Mark said ‘Don’t you dare cut your hair’ to me.” I interrupt before she can talk me out of it. I guess spite still is a bit of a factor.
Tiff stands there silently for several moments as her face cycles through a million different emotions. She finally settles on determined. I’m not surprised Tiff approves of spite.
“Sit on the couch or grab a drink while I change into blue jeans and I’ll get the sketch and go with you.” Tiff says walking into her apartment. “I assume you made an appointment with Sarah.”
It doesn’t take Tiff long to get into real clothes and for us to get to the salon. By a quarter to one, we’re sitting in the waiting area while I nervously play with a lock of my loose hair.
“You’re sure you want to do this?” Tiff asks as she looks at me. “Ya’know, you could just tell Mark to fuck off and break up with him.”
“I’m not breaking up with Mark,” I say. “I’m just not letting him tell me I can’t use the simplest solution to my problem.”
The way Tiff looks at me suggests she doesn’t really believe me, but I really mean it. I think I mean it. OK, there’s a decent chance Mark’s going to dump me over this. Oh god, maybe I should listen to Tiff and not do this.
“Hi Jeanna,” Sarah says smiling as she approaches. “The appointment book said you scheduled a cut and color. I thought Linda must have written the name wrong because you were just in for your usual trim last week.”
“Hi,” I answer back standing so Sarah can wrap her arm around me in a familiar hug. “Yeah, surprise. I really am here for a cut and color.” I reach for Tiff’s sketch and hold it out to Sarah. “I need this.”
“Uhm, ok. Tiffany is the only client I’ve had bring in drawings before.” Sarah slips on the reading glasses that hang from a beaded chain around her neck and looks at the sketch. “This is one of Tiffany’s, isn’t it?” Tiff and I simultaneously nod. “This is really drastic. What makes you suddenly want to do this?”
Sarah’s last question has a tone of concern to it that makes me even more nervous. I think she might say no and send me off home. I’m not sure whether it would be a relief or a disappointment.
“It’s for comic-con.” My voice sounds nervous as hell. “You don’t think it will look good? Am I going to look like a guy?”
“Nah, it will look great.” Sarah reassures. “This sketch is a really good likeness of you, so you’ll look just like it.”
It’s true that Grevbok looks like me. Even though Judith was the main inspiration for the character, I’m the one who poses for Tiff half the time, the rest of the time it’s her faceless wooden mini manakin.
Sarah continues, “I was just worried you’d broken up with Mark or something and that this was an impulsive decision you’d regret. I’ve known you a long time, and this seems a bit out of character for you.”
“I’m not breaking up with Mark,” I state possibly a bit too emphatically. “I really want to go all out this year for comic-con. I’ve been thinking about getting the cut for a few weeks, I just hadn’t gotten up the nerve for it last week yet.”
I look over to Tiff to make sure she isn’t about to say anything about Mark telling me not to do it. I suspect Tiff is hoping that Mark will break up with me over the haircut. I’m hoping he won’t, that he’ll prove that he isn’t just interested in me as a trophy. I need him to prove it. I need proof that the “Don’t you dare cut your hair” was just something he blurted out, and that he doesn’t really think he has the right to control me. I think Tiff knows what I hope, she just doesn’t believe he’ll stay like I do.
“Ok honey. A fun new style for an event you’ve been looking forward to makes sense. You always get a bit wild every year before comic-con. I’m a bit surprised you didn’t at least mention it last week. Especially since I said ‘we should try to break you out of your shell a little.'” Sarah says, sounding like she is satisfied I haven’t lost my mind, though I’m not sure I haven’t. “I’m gonna have to bleach it to get this color. You ok with that?”
I nod, even though my brain is suddenly panicking as I think through the chemistry. “Sure, whatever.”
“You realize it will take over a year to grow this out?” Sarah warns. “It’s going to go through a bunch of really awkward stages too. It won’t be like like growing back the three inches I took off a couple of years ago. It’s going to be even harder than growing out the bangs were.”
“I know.” I actually hadn’t really thought about it till she said it.
“You seem so nervous, honey are you sure about this?” Sarah’s looking me straight in the eye as she asks. “Don’t get me wrong, I think it’ll be adorable on you, and definitely bring out some more of that personality you hide too much, I just don’t want you to be unhappy.”
I think about what she just said for a second. I’m definitely nervous, heck I’m down right terrified, but I don’t think I’m going to be unhappy if I really can look like Grevbok. I’m just scared that I won’t look like her, and I’m worried about what Mark will think.
“If you think it will work it’s what I want.” I try to sound as not scared as possible.
“Tiffany, in the back here, is that supposed to be a fade?”
Tiff’s style is kind of a cross between classic comic book, and watercolor painting. There is no distinctly drawn line to end the hair in the back the way there is in most comics. Tiff used a blender, that looks like a colorless marker and smells strongly of solvent, so the turquoise gradually gives way to the flesh tone.
“I guess,” Tiff shrugs. “It’s supposed to be really short in the back. I didn’t really think too much about how it works on a real person, I just made it so it looked good on paper.”
“I have an arrangement with the barbershop next door. I’ll ask Jim over to do a fade then.” Sarah explains. “Since we’re doing color, you should change out of your shirt and put on a smock.”
“Smock?” I’m unsure how that works. This is new to me, Sarah normally just throws a cape over me before she trims off the inch and tries to convince me layers would make it look fuller and give it more movement. I’ve been declining the layers.
“Come on,” Tiff says as she takes my hand. “I’ll show you.”
We go off to the side where there is what seems to be a cross between a large walk in closet and a dressing room. Along one wall are cubbies with coat hooks. Against the opposite wall is a shelf with piles of neatly folded clean black smocks and a hamper full of dirty ones under the shelf. There are also full length white robes and flipflops; I’m assuming those are for people getting things like pedicures and leg-waxes.
“You only need to take off your shirt.” Tiff tells me as she grabs a smock off the pile for me. I’ve seen her go off and come out in one of these smocks before when i’ve tagged along with her getting her hair cut and colored. She’s much more adventurous with her hair than I am, though neither of us has ever had really short hair before. Shortest I’ve ever had it was up to my shoulders, though I had awkward bangs all through childhood. Tiff has had hers slightly above shoulder length a couple of times, and plenty of different colors. It’s currently what she refers to as opal.
I slip into the smock, pulling my long hair up and out of it. It’s almost like a really short robe. Though not as low and loose, once it’s tied shut I’m well covered. I look at myself in the mirror and realize it’s going to be the last time I pull my hair free from a top for a really long time.
It’s a few moments before I remember to breathe.
We go back out into the shop and Sarah walks me to her station up near the front. The counter in front of the mirror has her usual assortment of styling stuff and family snapshots. In the middle of it all is Tiff’s drawing propped up for her to look at.
“I called Jim,” Sarah starts as she gestures for me to sit. “He’ll be over later when we’re ready for him.” She continues as she throws the cape over me, its normal billowing sound fills my ears like never before. “I’m going to take off the length first.”
The cape feels different as she tightens it around my neck than it does when I’m wearing a t-shirt. There is less clothing between it and me than I normally have. The fabric and tightness is more noticeable.
Things start off the way they usually do before I get my hair trimmed. Sarah gently works the tangles out of my long straight hair as it hangs behind the chair. She sections off the bottom of my hair along the back of my head from ear to ear and twists all the hair above my ears up, holding it in place with a clip. It’s sectioned maybe just a bit higher than usual. She combs the loose hair a bit more, smoothing it out.
Normally she would now start snipping it across the bottom, but she doesn’t. Instead of picking up scissors she picks up a small elastic. She sectioned off a third of the back and put the elastic around it in a very skinny ponytail. I feel the comb section off the hair again and soon Sarah has made it into 2 more tiny ponytails.
Sarah releases the hair on top, to drape around me. I look like myself again, but only for a moment.
Sarah is combing it again and has it parted straight down the middle all the way to the back section in less than a minute. She then uses the comb to divide the left half into quarters which are swiftly made into even looser ponytails. She does the same to the right half and it’s done.
All my hair is bound in seven tiny ponytails. I look ridiculous, I hate that this is going to be what my hair looks like the last time I get to see it long.
“Mary, come give me a hand with this, please.” Sarah calls across the shop.
Sarah doesn’t wait for Mary, and picks up one of the tiny ponytails and starts braiding it. When Mary arrives, she gets to work on the other side of me.
I’m going to have seven braids. Seven braids that are about to be cut off. I’ve read this story before, and it didn’t end well for anyone involved. I try not to think about it too much.
I look at myself as they braid. I already miss my hair hanging around me, and it hasn’t even actually been cut yet. It’s just in a bunch of little braids. I really miss how I looked just a few minutes ago in the dressing room mirror.
Come to think of it, I like braiding my hair myself. Obviously not like this, but in nice styles. I love doing elaborate updos. And there’s how I wear it each summer at the renaissance faire. This is not going to be even vaguely historically accurate. I’ve been so happy with my hair ever since we grew out the horrible bangs.
This is a very very bad idea, I should put a stop to it. I need to speak up before they waste anymore time putting in braids I’m about to undo as I run out of this salon. This is as bad an idea as almost hacking my hair off myself last night was, but at least last night I could back out of it alone in private, this is going to be embarrassing. I’ve been embarrassed in front of Tiff and Sarah before, but never Mary. Then again, I care more about what Sarah thinks. I’m having trouble finding my voice.
“Do you know what you want to do with the braids?” I furrow my brows in confusion as Sarah asks the question. “Have you thought about where you might want to donate the hair to?”
My mouth is completely dry.
“How about donating it to Pantene beautiful lengths in honor of my mother.” Tiff say just as Mary puts an elastic on the end of the last braid.
I nod with a halfhearted smile. I hope Tiff thinks the reason the smile is halfhearted is because I’m suddenly missing her mom, who was warmer and more caring to me than my own mother. I hope she doesn’t see that I was thinking of not going through with it and that she’s just foiled my escape plan. Â Not that it was much of a plan.
I swallow down my doubts and fears, and remain silent as Sarah picks up her scissors. Sarah is talking to Tiff, but all I can hear is my blood swishing through my veins as my heart pounds. Mary hands me a ziplock bag, says something to me I don’t hear, then walks off to go back to whatever it was she was doing.
I watch in the mirror as the scissors come up beside my head. The polished steel blades open. The first braid is placed between the blades just above the elastic. The light glints along the edge of the blade as it starts to close.
A sound finally breaks through the swishing of blood. Schrinch, schrinch, schrinch, snap. I sigh.
The braid is dangling from Sarah’s hand. She drops it into the bag I’m holding. There it is, inside the clear plastic, not attached to me anymore. Too late to put it back.
I look away from the bag and up at the mirror. The severed ends hang messily about my left ear. Oh god, what is Mark going to say when he sees what a wreck my hair is.
The scissors are heading for the next braid. Schrinch, schrinch, schrinch, snap. I look down at the bag and watch as the second braid joins the first. The braids are so long they fold back and forth in the bag a few times, I could tie them around my head.
I don’t see the scissors go around the third braid because I’m distracted by looking at the hair in the bag. The schrinch, schrinch, schrinch, snap takes me by surprise. I watch the third and fourth braid dropped in the bag.
The sudden cold of metal against my neck makes my breath catch, right before the fifth braid is cut. She doesn’t bother to drop the fifth braid into the bag before I feel the scissors move on to the sixth and seventh. The cold blades sliding across my neck. Then she drops the final three braids into the bag together. All but a few inches of my hair is now in a bag on my lap.
“There you go, doesn’t that feel light and free,” Sarah says enthusiastically while she ruffles what’s left of my hair.
Those aren’t the words I’d use. Bare comes to mind as I look at myself in the mirror. Grevbok is supposed to be a badass, I see nothing of that in the mirror. I see a scared girl with hacked off hair. I knew I couldn’t pull off badass, I just don’t have it in me. Mark was right I shouldn’t have done this.
Whatever weight I might have shed with the hair, I’ve gained back in the form of a heavy heart.
A noncommittal squeak is all that I can make.
“Still a bit nervous?” Sarah asks, and I nod. She gives me a quick reassuring squeeze. “I need to go get the bleach mixed, and we’ll get started on the color.”
Sarah walks off leaving me staring at the mirror. I give the bag of my hair a squeeze and wish it was still on my head.
“That is so freaky, having all your hair in a bag.” Tiff is standing next to the chair, I guess she came over while I was distracted. “How does it feel having short hair?”
“Weird,” I answer, then hold up the bag of not quite all my hair to her. “Here can you take care of this so I can have my hands free.”
Tiff takes the bag and examines it. While she’s looking at it, I reach up to feel what’s left of my hair. My fingers go right through the thick but short strands. I had half expected it to feel like running my finger though Mark’s hair, but the texture’s wrong and Mark’s is thinning. It feels more like my old highschool boyfriend John’s hair. I frown at the mirror.
“Worried about what Mark’s going to say?”
“Nah, not at all.” I neither want to admit it nor lie, so I’ve decided to go with facetious. “I’m sure he’s going to adore it.”
Tiff rolls her eyes at me just as Sarah is getting back with a bowl of strong smelling something. Sarah is stirring it while wearing gloves. The idea that she is about to put something on my head that she is worried about getting on her hands is extra scary. Tiff ruffles my hair playfully before walking back to her seat and putting the bag of my hair in her ginormous purse.
Sarah places the bowl of smelly goop in front of me on the counter, and adjusts the cape over me so the spots where it had pulled up while I had my hands out lay smooth once again. She combs my hair back away from my face, it takes much less time than combing my hair had when it was long.
She seems to have me ready because she reaches over me and grabs what looks like a paint brush out of the goop. Why do I keep thinking of it as goop? I know what it is, it is bleach, and it terrifies me.
She starts painting it onto my hair. Don’t think about the chemistry. Don’t think about the chemistry. I can’t help it, I know the chemistry, nothing can make me unknow it. Hydrogen peroxide, just one hydrogen atom instead of two for each oxygen like regular stable water. Not enough hydrogen to balance out the very reactive oxygen. It is oxidizing the pigment molecules of my hair. Breaking apart molecular bonds and stealing hydrogen atoms so the pigment falls apart. It’s also oxidizing the proteins that make up the hair itself. The idea is just that it should break apart the pigment at a faster rate than the protein, so the hair will become light before the protein the hair is made of loses integrity and breaks apart.
I try to reassure myself. Sarah’s a professional she knows what she’s doing. My hair is neutral, no reddish undertone that would take longer to bleach. The color will be light enough way before the molecules that form my hair oxidize in significant number. BUT WHAT IF IT DOESN’T!!! My head is fully covered in the goop and Sarah’s setting a timer. I can feel the exothermic reaction. My breathing is shallow.
“I know the smell takes a bit of getting used to.” Sarah’s comment feels like the understatement of the century. “Just try to relax. If you want Tiffany can sit in the next chair over so you can chat.”
“Great!” Tiff says as she bounds over enthusiastically. I’m grateful for the distraction as she shows me what she’s been doing in her sketch book while she was waiting. We chat about how my costume is coming and everything, and I manage to not fall apart. Sarah finally takes me to the sink to wash out the bleach.
Having the bleach washed out is such a relief. I hardly care that I am now sitting with my head covered in turquoise goop and bits of it are folded into foil with blue goop instead, and the fact that most of my hair is in a plastic bag inside Tiff’s purse, at least I know my hair isn’t in danger of coming apart at a molecular level anymore. Oh God, most of my hair is in Tiff’s purse, and the rest of it is about to be turquoise with blue streaks, it’s not going to look like my hair at all anymore. I take a deep breath and try to pay attention to Tiff entertaining me.
Sarah finally washes out the dye, and I’m back looking at the mirror. Sarah pulls off the towel, and rubs my head vigorously. The deep turquoise strands stick out from my head as a messy short halo.
With my hair still wet it’s hard to judge the color, I just trust it will match Grevbok’s when I’m dry.
I want to touch it and make sure it’s still solid, but I’m scared. An irrational part of my brain is convinced that if I touch it it will shatter. It didn’t break off on the towel, that should mean it’s fine. The strong evidence that my hair is fine isn’t quite convincing me. When Sarah turns to get something off the counter, I gather my courage and reach up to feel it. It feels like hair, short wet hair sure, but hair. I’m very relieved.
Sarah has stepped behind me and starts combing it. She sections the top off into few sections. It takes several clips to keep it up out of her way. The loose hair doesn’t even reach my shoulders. I expect her to start snipping at it with scissors, but instead she picks up the clippers I’ve only ever seen anyone in the salon use on guys while I was waiting. When she turns them on and they spring to life, my heart starts racing. Is she really going to use those on me?
I feel her hand on the back of my head pushing down ever so slightly, then the clippers are indeed running up my neck and into my hair. I feel hair landing on my back.
I knew it was going to be really short in the back, that was one of the reasons none of the wigs were working. The reality of clippers going through my hair is something I’m not prepared for though.
Sarah finishes the first path bringing the clippers all the way up to where she has sectioned it off. She brings the clippers back down and makes another pass. I need to fidget. I wish I had something in my hands to distract me, my knitting or crochet would be perfect. I just twist my hands together under the cape. On the third pass some of the hair falls far enough forward on my shoulder to slide down into my lap. The turquoise tufts slide back and forth as my hands move. The sound is so loud as the clippers brush against the back of my ears.
Sarah finally turns off the clippers and puts them back in the charger. While she was at the counter putting down the clippers and getting her scissors I straighten my head and look at the mirror. There isn’t much to see, but the back of my head feels weird. I feel no hair at all on my neck.
Sarah lets down one of the sections in the back and starts combing hair from it out away from my head and snipping a few inches off the ends. She starts at the back, so at first there is little to see. As she finishes each section she lets down another. I briefly feel the weight of each section hit my head as it’s released, but then when she releases the hair she has cut the weight is gone.
As she works towards the front, I can see how it’s going. I watch as she snips away and inches of my now bright hair falls to my shoulders and the floor. I am gradually beginning to look more and more like Grevbok. I’m torn between being really happy that Sarah is matching Grevbok so closely, both because it will make for one awesome cosplay and because it is looking better, and wishing that she’d left it a bit longish so that Mark won’t be as upset about it when he sees it.
As the cut starts shaping up, hair keeps hitting my shoulders. I can see the color better now, the hair has been drying a bit as Sarah works. It’s mostly a vibrant shade of turquoise, but it also has deep blue streaks in it, Sarah’s interpretation of the blue lines in Tiff’s drawing. The brilliant color of the cut locks in my lap and on my shoulders stand out again the black of the cape. There’s a lot of it in my lap, and Sarah is still cutting away with earnest.
I watch in the mirror as the hair that had been hanging about halfway down my left ear is cut off so that it doesn’t touch it at all. Mark is not going to be happy about that, he already complains about how my ears stick out when I wear my hair back in a ponytail or something. He’s always telling me to wear it down. I wonder how he’s going to handle the fact that now I couldn’t pull it into a ponytail if my life depended on it. Yeah, I would be wearing my hair down like he wants, but it’s not going to cover my ears.
“I suppose it’s too late to ask you to leave enough around my ears to hide how badly they stick out?” I ask with an ironic chuckle.
Sarah frowns at me. “Jeanna your ears don’t stick out. You have perfectly normal well proportioned ears and they will look fine.” Then she bends down close to me. “You know if I thought your ears would stick out I would have said so, I’ve always been honest with you.”
This is true. Sarah never pretended the too short too blunt bangs I had when Tiff started bringing me here at 14 years old were anything but awful. She’d just softened them as much as she could and taught me as many tricks as she could to keep them out of my eyes while they grew out, so my mom wouldn’t make a fuss over the hair being in my eyes. I had saved up for 3 months to pay for it. Mom said that I could start making my own decisions about my hair if I paid for it out of my own money, and I kept it out of my eyes.
Two months after that when I was reluctantly back to the too short bangs again, since mom didn’t feel I was doing well enough at keeping it out of my eyes, and Tiff asked her mom for the money to go get it fixed again, because I hadn’t saved enough babysitting money to pay for it myself again yet and took me back to Sarah, Sarah hadn’t pretended it was ok. She just asked me about how to get in touch with the school guidance counselor as she did her best to fix it again.
A couple of months after that when Tiff took me straight here, not having bothered to stop at her house to ask for money, with my bangs extra short and the rest of my hair suddenly around my shoulders, Sarah didn’t shy away from using the words “hack job” in front of me as she spoke on the phone to my mother informing mom that if it looked like anyone other than Sarah herself had done anything to my hair next time she saw me it wouldn’t just be the school counselor involved.
When I was 17 and came in asking her to “just cut it all off,” she refused because when she asked why I just stood there quietly holding back tears. She just made me promise I would go talk to Tiff, well not just, first she tried to convince me to go to the school guidance counselor before settling for a promise to go talk to Tiff.
Then there was the time before the interview for the fellowship, she was very frank about saying that looking a bit more mature would be a really good idea. She convinced me to let her take off an extra 3 inches and give it a bit more shape. Then was amused as I insisted I wanted to grow back the 3 inches, but kept to my usual trim schedule, she just took off only the barest dusting for a few visits.
Sarah never pretended she didn’t think my current style was boring. Well, that the style I had till a couple of hours ago was boring. She wasn’t mean or belittling about it or anything, just honest and full of suggestions about how we could take things up a notch. Suggestions I’ve been turning down because boring felt safer.
Yeah, I know Sarah will be honest. And now a tear is rolling down my cheek at all the stirred up memories. I’m also feeling a bit guilty that I hid Mark telling me not to get the cut from her.
“I’m just a little nervous about what Mark is going to think.” I swallow, “He told me not to get a haircut.”
Sarah frowns even more. “Are you ever scared of Mark honey?”
“No, of course not.” I try to laugh it off as I try to figure out where that question came from.
Sarah purses her lips together. I’ve come to realize over the years, that it’s the face she makes when she’s tempted to start playing social worker, but she feels she is not actually qualified to. She lets out a sigh, and I can see the expression change as she lets go of the urge. She puts her hands around my face.
“Look at you, turning yourself into a superhero.” She smiles at me. “Be that superhero and be confident, strong and brave, OK. Promise me that.”
“I promise.” The words don’t sound nearly as confident as it seems like they should. I smile back.
Sarah pats my cheek and stands up. Without missing a beat, she is combing and snipping again. This time as I watch in the mirror the turquoise tufts falling to my shoulders I know that this was a good idea. Sarah wouldn’t have let me do it if it wasn’t.
Sarah lets down the last section in the front so it flops into my face. She combs and snips at it, not taking off much length. The front bit will be in my eyes if I don’t style it carefully. I smile at how much I know that will bother my mother.
“Jim’s here,” Sarah tells me as she combs the front back and puts a clip in it to keep it off my face.
I’m suddenly very scared again. Heck, I feel a bit like that 14 year old again. I reach up and gently grab Sarah’s arm to keep her from going. She bends forward to listen to me.
“Nobody else but you and my mom has ever cut my hair.” It comes out as a whisper.
“It’s going to be fine, Jim just does things like the bit in the back a lot more than I do. He’s very good at it.” She pats me comfortingly. “I’m here and Tiffany is here, ok.”
Sarah straightens, grabs the sketch from the counter and turns towards a man I suddenly realize I recognize. “Jim the barber” is the same Jim as “Jim my husband.” He’s the one in the family photos surrounding the mirror. The Jim whom she chats about going on trips with and having date nights with. He’s the one she tells the story about bringing home just three tiny fish after driving 50 miles to spend hours at a secluded lake.
As they discuss the details of the drawing and how to interpret it, they lean close and just seem so comfortable. It makes me think about how I don’t feel comfortable like that around Mark. I hope it will come with time.
I smile shyly and try not to look panicked when Jim is formally introduced to me. He has brought his own tools with him and is laying them out on the counter and plugging in his clipper that look much more industrial than Sarah’s sleek battery powered clippers.
“This is dry enough.” Jim says to Sarah as he runs his hand over the back of my head. “You took it to a number 6 back here, right?”
Jim spins the chair around so that I’m facing Tiff instead of the mirror. The rational part of my mind figures it’s so the cord from the clippers doesn’t get caught up in the chair. The irrational part of my brain is trying to convince me it’s for some diabolical purpose, even though it makes absolutely no sense. Even if I was facing the mirror I still wouldn’t be able to see anything since he is working on the back and has my head tilted so all I can actually see is my lap draped in the black cape with a dusting of turquoise hair.
Jim’s clippers are a lot louder than Sarah’s when he turns them on. I feel the comb against my head as the sound of them comes closer. Then I feel the vibrating teeth against my neck. Jim pushes them slowly up into my hair and then they change tone as they glide up the comb rattling against its teeth with a schoop sound.
I feel the dusting of hair falling against my ears and neck. A slight amount even drifts down to the front of the cape to add to what’s in my lap.
The buzzing and schooping go on for several minutes, till the clippers are finally turned off. I think it’s done so I start to lift my head, but almost immediately I feel fingers guiding it back down. In the brief moment my head was up, I notice Tiff has gone wide eyed.
“Hang on,” Jim says. “Just a few more minutes. Hold still.”
I feel a thick gel being spread along my neck and just slightly up onto my head. Then Jim’s strong fingers are stretching the skin. A moment later, something is scraping the gel away. The sensation is suddenly familiar, it’s just like when I shave my legs. That was unexpected, by me at least, I guess Sarah and Jim knew it was coming.
When it’s over, my neck is being wiped off with a nice warm wet towel, as I’m turned back around to face the mirror. Jim starts gathering up his tools as I catch an occasional peek in the mirror. He gives Sarah a quick peck on the cheek and a “I’ll see’ya tonight” as he leaves.
“There you go,” Sarah’s back rubbing my shoulders. “That wasn’t too bad was it?”
“I didn’t know your husband worked at the barbershop next door.” I smile. “I must have passed it a hundred times without making the connection.”
We continue to chat as she finishes snipping away at the hair that still hangs into my eyes. Little bits of it drifting down in front of my face. Soon she’s done though and working styling product through my hair before reaching for the hair dryer.
The dryer blows too loudly for us to talk as the round brush pulls the hair up and off my face and out of my eyes. I watch in the mirror as I start to really look like Major Grevbok. It’s not just the hair, I can see how much more relaxed and confident I look right now.
After adding the thickest coating of hairspray Sarah’s ever used on me, she is holding up the mirror for me to see the shockingly short back. I see why she called it a “fade.” The hair pretty much fades away to nothingness at the bottom. No line where it ends or anything. Then she takes off the cape.
“It’s exactly how I drew it.” The awe in Tiff’s voice is clear. “The blue streaks fall exactly where I drew the contour lines. The back captures the way I blended the colors perfectly. It’s amazing.”
Both Sarah and I smile at Tiff’s reverie.
“How am I going to put my t-shirt back on without messing it up?”
“Very carefully,” Sarah says with a chuckle. “Do you think you can style it yourself, or should I schedule you for a blow out each morning of comic-con?”
“I’ll try it myself tomorrow and if it goes badly I’ll call to make the appointments.” I say as I get up and rub my hand over my terrifyingly smooth neck and up to the prickles that start to emerge where I used to have thick hair.
“So, after comic-con, are you going to keep it for a while, or are you just going to grow it out right away?”
There is a good question. If I’d been asked when I decided to do this this morning, I would have said “grow it out” without the least bit of hesitation. Now, as I look in the mirror, I’m not so sure. I like looking at myself and feeling like I can do almost anything. I like not seeing a shy girl who just tries to blend into the background.
I wonder what my thesis advisor is going to think when he sees me next week. Never mind the undergraduates I teach, they are going to go insane. This is going to seem so crazy and impulsive. I suddenly think just letting it grow out right away might make it look even more crazy and impulsive than keeping it. Like I regretted it, which I don’t.
“We’ll see how I feel when it’s time for a trim.” I say not ready to commit one way or the other.
“If you’re keeping it, that’s going to be a lot sooner than usual.” Sarah says rubbing my back.
It’s not long before I’ve changed back into my own shirt, promised to bring pictures from comic-con to show Sarah next time we see her, and settled everything in the salon. Tiff and I grab a late lunch and head back to our respective apartments, her to get ready for the watercolor class she teaches at the community continuing education school in the evening, me to work on my thesis while I wait for Mark.
As I sit looking at my laptop screen, I get very little work done. My mind keeps slipping to what Mark is going to say when he sees me and what I’ve done to my hair. I decide to work on the mobius scarf I’m knitting instead and put on some cartoons. It barely works either. Finally I hear Mark’s footsteps coming up the stairs then his key in the lock.
I try not to look too anxious as Mark opens the door. I’m not sure how I’m expecting him to react, but I can feel my heart beating a million times a minute and the familiar cold clammy feeling I used to get when I thought mom would be angry. Mark walks in and stares at me.
“I told you not to cut your hair.” Though the volume he says it at is only slightly raised, the way he is striding towards me as he says it chills me. I suddenly know why Sarah asked if I was ever scared of Mark.
45 minutes later my ceiling is being alternately lit in red and blue and I feel like a complete idiot. Mark is standing out on the lawn with a policeman who looks unimpressed with Mark’s excuses. My downstairs neighbor who called 911 is standing on his porch smoking.
“Are you sure you don’t want to press charges?” The policewoman standing in my apartment asks.
The patch on her shirt says her name is Reyes. The first time she’d asked she seemed pretty neutral about it, after Mark yelled that I looked like a “fucking lesbian” she had asked again a few times sounding less neutral.
“He didn’t really hurt me,” I say as I rub the spot on my arm where five bruises are beginning to develop, four small ones on one side, one larger one on the other. My shoulder hurts a bit too where it slammed against the wall, but nothing an ice pack won’t fix. “I’ll just go stay at my friends house till I get the locks changed.”
The next morning’s apology text is epic, I ignore it as I make my way from Tiff’s guestroom to her kitchen.
I’m standing near the entrance to the conference room where the panel Tiff is going to be on is scheduled to start in 15 minutes.
“Whow. Major Grevbok.”
I look up to see where the statement came from, he’s wearing Interplanetary Alliance Militia armour and helmet. It’s Corporal Klargue! Well more accurately a guy cosplaying Klargue. Klargue is one of Tiff’s other characters from Battle for Gliese.
“Wow, your costume’s perfect! You did the hair and everything. I’d ask if I could get a picture together, but it’s already standing room only in there, I got lost trying to find this room.” Then a quizzical look crosses his face. “Are you here to see the panel? Why haven’t you gone in yet?”
“I’m waiting for someone,” I say trying to be vague since Tiff doesn’t want people knowing I’m with her, but I want to wish her luck before it starts. “I have a couple of reserved seats, so I can wait.”
“Well, nice meeting you, I should head in while there is still standing room available.”
“Wait, um I have two seats reserved, but I’m going to be alone, so if you wantâ€¦”
“I thought you were waiting for someone?” He asked confused.
“It’s complicated, but the seat’s available if you want it.” I smile at him. “I’m Jeanna by-the-way.”
“Peter Klein,” he says. “By-the-way is an interesting last name, is it Swedish?”
It’s the corniest joke, but he’s told it so earnestly that I laugh genuinely anyway. Then we start to get to know each other.
Peter and I are so focused on making out on Tiff’s couch I don’t hear her come in. It’s the giggling behind her that makes me look up at the door. Tiff’s standing there holding a six pack and behind her is a woman with take out bags.
“Major Grevbok is never ever going to hook up with Corporal Klargue.” Tiff states. “How am I supposed to get this image out of my head when I’m drawing?”
“You said you were going out on a date.” I point out, as I make sure the plain black long sleeved t-shirt which was the foundation layer of my costume is pulled down all the way.
“So did you.” Tiff accuses back, as she and her date carefully walk around the bulkier parts of Peter’s and my costumes which are scattered on the floor. Then she scowls at the dining room table where there is still half a pizza sitting in its box and an almost empty bottle of wine.
“Glad to see you’ve moved on.” Tiff’s date suddenly says to me. “I guess I’m not going to be called out to your apartment again, I was worried when you wouldn’t press charges.”
I stare at her for a moment before recognition sets in. Pull the curly brown hair hanging loose about her shoulder into a very tight bun, and make her figure boxy under a uniform shirt and kevlar vest. She’s Reyes the policewoman from just a few nights ago. Tiff and Peter both look mildly confused.
“Especially when you looked so unsure after he said ‘the only reason any guy would ever sleep with you was because of the Princess Leia hair you cut off.’ You looked like you believed him.” Reyes went on as she sat down.
“When did you have long hair?” Peter asks. “How long was it?”
“Last week.” I admit, thinking about how Peter is about to tell me I’m an idiot for cutting it. “It was just a past my waist.”
“And you cut it all off for comic-con?” The tone of Peter’s voice giving away his near disbelief.
I nod and look down waiting to hear the barrage of insults I’m expecting. Tiffany has picked up a framed photo of us at the beach last year from the side table and handed it to Peter. Peter looks at it and lets out a low whistle.
“That’s hardcore.” I’m shocked and relieved at how impressed Peter sounds. “I just figured you had short hair anyway and just added the color. I should have realized that cut matches too perfectly to be coincidence.”
Peter pushes back his own slightly shaggy, not quite the right shade of forest green hair, as he continues. “That’s so brave. I just used a can of spray in color on mine, and called it good enough. I was totally chicken when my brother said I should let him run the clippers over mine and take it a couple of inches shorter than I usually keep it. That was mostly about not trusting my brother.”
Then Peter suddenly chuckles nervously. I think it has occurred to him that his confession doesn’t exactly make him look very macho.
After a quick chuckle at Peter’s embarrassment, I say to Reyes, “It shook my confidence when Mark said those things, but Tiffany reminded me how great it looked when I got here.”
“Guys like that usually push the women they’re with to break ties with close friends and supportive family members, so the women feel like the guy is the only person they can turn to and depend on.” Reyes explains.
I smile to myself realizing two things, how close I had come to being trapped like that, and that this haircut is what saved me from it. Mark was working on cutting me off from Tiff, and chipping away at my self esteem. Another year together, and I would probably have been so broken down that I would take him back afterwards. It was the haircut that let me see what he was really like, before he had broken me down too far.
“So, is there any chance you’ll take him back?” Reyes asks.
“Don’t worry,” I say with a new level of confidence in my voice. “Never happening.”