How Old Are You?

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“How old are you?”  Ms Parker asked from behind her big antique oak desk, looking at my resume.

“I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to ask me that.”  I said a touch defensively.

“This isn’t part of the interview, Miss Olson.”  She explained.  “I’ve already told you I would like you to come back for a second interview with the full board.  I think you could be a great fit, but there’s one thing I’m concerned about, which I thought I might be able to help you with.  So, do you mind if I’m completely blunt?”

“Ok, I guess.”  It was a little uncomfortable, but I figured it might be helpful.

“You look like a teenager who has dressed up like a librarian for halloween.” She said, being more blunt than I expected.  “I’m sure you were trying to look older when you put your hair up in that bun, but instead of actually helping you look older it just screams that you want to look older.  Same for those thick dark eyeglass frames.  You know who has to try to look older?  People who aren’t old enough.”

“I’m pretty sure my resume makes it clear that I am an adult.”  I said with annoyance.  

She was of course spot on about how I was trying to look older.  I was 33, but still anytime I went out for drinks, I spent several minutes having the bartender or bouncer try to trip me up because they assumed my ID was fake.

“How old do you think I am?”  Ms Parker asked me.

30 to 35 was what popped into my head straight away, but I figured she was trying to make a point, so I looked at her a little more closely.  She was pale with freckles, she wore minimal makeup in subtle warm tones.  She had light red hair, cut into a rather bland layered bob.  There were some crinkles at the corners of her blue eyes, and a little sagging under her chin.  Maybe more like 35 to 40, but I was a bit scared to say it.  What if she was the same age as I was and just a bit tired, I remembered how much older my sister looked when she was staying up half the night with a new baby.

“It’s ok, I can tell you’re uncomfortable guessing.”  She stated.  “I happen to be 52.”

“Oh” I let out.

“You can see, I completely understand.  I looked like a teenager till I was 40.”  She confided.  “I struggled to be taken seriously in numerous situations.  Even when people know your age on a conscious level, they will still tend to perceive you as younger on a subconscious level.  Which is why I am concerned that the board is not going to offer you the position even though you are well suited for it.  I’m also concerned that if they manage to get past their unconscious age bias, that students aren’t going to take you very seriously.”

“It doesn’t seem like there’s much I can do about it, since you say that making a deliberate effort to look older just results in me looking even younger.”  I said.

“There are things you can do that will help.”  She assured me.  “Things that are more subtle than what you have been doing.  For starters, stop using ‘Miss,’ use ‘Ms.’  Or just give them permission to call you Susan, and they will reciprocate.  You’ve been calling me ‘Ms Parker’ this entire interview.  The students call me ‘Ms Parker,’ my fellow faculty members call me ‘Stacy.’”

“Ok.”  I said, “I can do that.”

“You’re wearing drugstore makeup aren’t you?” Ms Parker paused while I nodded.  “Go to a department store and let them show you something higher quality.  Ask them for a subtle natural everyday look.”

“Sure.”

“If your prescription isn’t hard to fill, get glasses that stand out a bit less.  And get them in the narrower slightly less current shape.”

“Yeah, I actually already have an older tortoise shell pair of glasses in the same prescription.”

“Great.”  Ms Parker smiled.  “Get a more comfortable and boring suit.  Something that is well made, but not trendy.  Aim for simple and classic, not fashionable.”

“Ok, I can ask my fiance for help with that.”  I said feeling a lot better about this whole thing as the simple practical advice seemed very easy to accomplish.

“Most of all though, you can’t wear your hair in a big librarian bun on top of your head like that.”  Ms Parker said, surprising me.

“I really think I look younger with my hair down.”  I hedged, having a hard time believing that the very long straight dark blonde hair hanging loose down my back would help.

“Down is not what I was thinking.”  She explained.  “You could wear it up or back in a more subtle style, like a low pony or a less obvious low bun.  There is something that would be even better though.”

“Hmm?”

“Get a haircut.”

“A haircut?”  I asked nervously as my hand went to the loose tendrils on my neck. 

“The right style can make a huge difference.”  She stated flatly.  “I know it shouldn’t matter, but it really does.  Ask the stylist for something more professional, something above the shoulders.”

“I don’t know,”  I said hesitantly.  “I mean, everything else you suggested is temporary.  A haircut is kind of permanent.”

“Trust me, haircuts aren’t permanent, I have to spend money on this” she pointed to her hair, “every 8 weeks.  And if you get the job, you need to look mature and professional every single day you come in.”

“I guess.”  I admitted.

“I know this is the biggest and hardest of my suggestions, but frankly, it’s also the one that will make the most difference.”  Ms Parker insisted.  “A good stylist can take you from teenager dressing up to adult who happens to be healthy and lucky enough to have youthful skin.”

“I’m not sure, but I’ll consider it.”  I finally agreed.

“Good.”  Ms Parker said with finality.

 

—————————————-

 

I was sitting on the couch in my pajamas, watching TV, and petting Felix, when I heard Cath’s key in the door.  

“Hey babe.”  Cath said as she entered our small condo and started taking off her jacket and shoes.  “How did the interview go?”

“Not bad.”  I said, trying to decide how to explain it, as I hit the mute button on the remote.

“What does that mean?”  She asked as she gave me a peck on the cheek and sat down next to me.

“I have a second interview, and Ms Parker thinks I’m a good match, but she also doesn’t think the board will want to hire me, because I look like a teenager.”  I explained.  “She made some suggestions for the second interview, but I don’t know.”

“Still reluctant to spend money on a better suit?”  Cath guessed as she started to fondle a loose lock of my hair.

“I’ll let you take me suit shopping, but… That wasn’t her only suggestion.”  I said, a little gloomily.  “That wasn’t her biggest suggestion.”

“It can’t have been that terrible.”  Cath’s voice had a hint of amusement.

“She said I should get a haircut.”  I informed Cath.  “Above the shoulders.”

“Yeah, that would help,” Cath confirmed in a tone that made it sound like it was something she’d already been thinking, but wanted to avoid.

“It’s not really worth it though is it?”  I asked.  “I mean it’s just one interview and it will take years to grow back.”

“For a single interview, it wouldn’t be.”  Cath said while stroking my hair.  “It isn’t really just for this one interview is it though?  You’ve been to a bunch of interviews since you finished graduate school, and this is your first second interview.  Don’t you think the problem in those other interviews was that you came off as too young?  And part of the reason you decided to go back to graduate school in the first place was because you didn’t feel like you were being taken seriously at your last job.”

“I was taken seriously enough to get hired for my last job.”  I pointed out.

“You told me you started there as an intern, and worked your way up to full time employee,” she reminded me.  “Interns are supposed to be young.”

“It sounds like you think it’s worth it.”  I grumbled.

“I can’t put a value on your hair for you,”  Cath said as she stroked it again.  “I’m just pointing out that getting it cut to look a little more mature wouldn’t just help you out for one interview, but that looking like a teenager affects your life in a countless ways.”

“How much do you value my hair?”

“You mean like how much will I miss getting to play with your long hair, and will I still think you’re pretty?”  Cath asked, then waited while I nodded before continuing.  “It’s fine,  I will still enjoy stroking your hair if it’s short.  I think you will look great.  Most of all though, I value your happiness way more than your hair.   You’ll be happier if you have a fulfilling job where you feel respected than if you settle for whatever you can get.  And just in general, people will take you more seriously.  Bonus for me, I might not get accused of robbing the cradle all the time too, which is really annoying considering that I’m 2 years younger than you.”

“So you think I should get a haircut?”

“I’m just saying there would be some benefits, and that I don’t have any objections.”  She said carefully.  “I’m not going to tell you what to do.  It’s your hair, and your career.  You get to decide if you think giving up one is worth it to gain an advantage in the other.  Plus the other moments in your life when being seen as an adult would be good.”

“I like my hair.”  I was a bit embarrassed by how whiny it came out.

“More than you want the job?”  Cath asked.

“I’ll think about it.”

 

———————————-

 

In the morning, Felix and I were sitting on the bed watching Cath get ready for work.  Neither Felix nor I had anywhere to go or anything to do.  I’m not sure about Felix, but I was feeling kind of jealous and useless.

Cath was blow drying her dark brown hair.  It fell a little below her shoulders and had subtle layers.  I guess it was well cut, because she never spent a lot of time styling it, or used much in the way of styling products, she would just dry it.  When she turned off the dryer, it was already mostly just falling into place.

She then started putting on her makeup.  It struck me that it was what Ms Parker had suggested.  Natural tones from a high end retailer, not drug store stuff.

“Can I borrow your makeup for my next interview?”  I asked her.  “Ms Parker could tell mine was drug store quality and said I should get better stuff.”

“It’s not going to look right on you.”  Cath claimed as she put on her mascara.  “I have a much darker and warmer complexion than you.  I will take you to the place I get mine, and treat you to your own set that will look right on you.”

“I don’t want you to have to spend your money on me.”  I said.

“Oh babe.”  Cath said, sitting down next to me and stroking my hair.  “You need to stop thinking about it like that.  We’re getting married soon, we’ll be combining finances.  Think of it as me investing in both of our future. Ok?”

“I guess,”  I said, still not really feeling right about it though since I wasn’t contributing at the moment.  

“We can go before we go suit shopping.”  Cath said, sounding more enthusiastic than I felt.  “You should get your hair done first though.”

“You really do think I should get a haircut?”

“I really do think a good style will help you look mature and professional.”  Cath clarified.  “It’s up to you if you think getting a haircut is worth it.”

“I guess It’s something to do instead of moping around the house all day.  I think I have a coupon.”  I said, trying not to sound as gloomy as I felt about it.  “It kind of hurts to have to pay someone to hack off a foot of my hair, so the coupon helps.”

“A coupon from the chain salon where you get your split ends trimmed?”  Cath asked, sounding concerned.

“Yeah.  Where else would I have a coupon from?”

“Alright, forget the coupon.”  Cath said, slipping into her control mode.  “The idea is to get you a polished style, not just to make your hair shorter.  You’ll just be sad if your hair is shorter and you still look like a teenager.  I’ll make an appointment with Andy for some time when I’m available.  It might not be today, but we might get lucky.”

“I can’t afford Andy.”  I said, knowing what Cath spent on her hair.

“I can.  It’s an investment in our future right?”  She stated emphatically.  “You get this job and you’ll be making even more than I do.  I’ll call and make an appointment as soon as they are open, and text you.”

“I don’t know.”  I felt my brow wrinkle.  “It’s not even like I want a haircut, it seems silly to splurge on a fancy one.”

“Not really wanting one is just all the more reason to splurge on a good one.”  Cath insisted.  “You’re a little less likely to hate it this way.”

“I suppose.”

 

————————————-

 

Cath had texted around 10:30 to let me know that she’d managed to get me a 3:30 appointment because Andy had a cancellation.  She promised she would skip lunch so she could leave the office early and meet me there.  

At 3:27 I dragged myself into Cath’s salon. She was already sitting waiting while typing on her laptop.  She must have caught the 2:45 bus out of the city.  She smiled at me and nodded me towards the receptionist.

“Hi, I have a 3:30 appointment with Andy.”  I said trying not to let the dread I felt come out in my voice.

“Susan?”  The receptionist asked as she looked at her computer screen.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Have a seat and she’ll be up in just a moment.  Can I get you a tea while you wait?”

“No thanks.”  I said then walked over to Cath.

“You look adorable, babe.”  Cath’s smile beamed at me.

I had tried.  I wasn’t just wearing a nerdy graphic t-shirt, hoody, and blue jeans like I so often did.  I’d put on a real blouse, black with charcoal pinstripes, a burgundy cardigan, and a pair of cream colored corduroy slacks.  I had my tortoise shell glasses instead of the ones with the bold black frames.  I’d just skipped the makeup though.  I had thought of putting my hair up in the librarian bun, but then it occured to me it would just be an extra step to take it down before cutting it.

“Thanks.”  I said nervously.

“Relax.  It won’t be that bad.”  Cath promised me.

I tried to relax as we waited, it felt like ages, but the clock on Cath’s laptop told me it was just 3:31 when Andy came up to the waiting area.  I had somehow always assumed Andy was a guy and Andy was short for Andrew, but before me was a middle aged woman, I guess Andy was short for Andrea or something.

“Hi,”  She said, smiling in a way I’m sure was meant to be friendly, but made me think of a predator.  “So, you must be Susan, Cath’s young bride to be.  You’re younger than I expected.”

Cath, who had started putting her laptop back in its case, sighed deeply next to me.

“Uhm, actually I’m older than Cath.”  I explained.  “That’s what Cath thought you could help me with.”

“Well, let’s go talk.”  Andy said with a slightly wrinkled brow.  “Come this way.”

Cath came back with us, which was both a relief and made me nervous,  because I had a feeling she was going to steer the conversation.  She stood next to me as I sat in the styling chair, staring at my reflection.  

“So what are we doing today?”  Andy asked me as she fluffed my hair forward over my shoulders.

“Ms Parker suggested that I would look more professional with a shorter haircut.”   I explained nervously.  “Above the shoulders.”

“That’s a little vague.”  Andy said, looking at Cath.

“She’s 33 but having a hard time getting taken seriously because she looks like a teenager.  She’s interviewing for a job, and has been asked back for a second round, but it was suggested that it would help if she looked like an adult.  Including a real hairstyle instead of putting it up in a bun.”  Cath stated in her no nonsense way.  “What do you think?”

“Well shorter will help.”  Andy said, gathering my hair back.  “I think brightening the color and taking it to blonde will make it look more polished.”

“I’m already blonde.”  I complained.

“Barely,”  Andy quipped.  “This is dishwater blonde, I’ll take you to a nice bright ash blonde.  It will be much more done looking.”

“Ok.”  Cath said as though it was her choice, maybe because she thought my only objection would be the cost.

“Now in terms of length, I’m thinking we go short. Like a pixie.”  Andy said as Cath nodded.  “Tapered up the back, and then angled down slightly towards the front.   Maybe reaching about mid-ear.”

“Sounds a little like a Karen cut.”  Cath said with a hint of doubt in her voice.

“It’s going to have a touch of that vibe.”  Andy admitted as she bent my hair to rest on my cheek.  “We’re aiming for more mature after all.  But I’ll take it a little shorter so it won’t be exactly that cut, and she’s young enough looking that she can get away with it.  It’s really middle aged women who need to avoid the look.”

“I thought I was just getting it cut to about here.”  I said placing my hand at just above my shoulder.   “Cath your hair is below your shoulders and you look like an adult.”

Cath bit her lip and looked at Andy.

“It’s about finding the right style for you sweetie.”  Andy said to me.  “You have a much rounder face shape than Cath does.   We don’t have to do what I was suggesting, it’s only a suggestion.  I can cut it into a lob and layer it a bit, but I think you’re still going to look like a teenager.”

“Cath?”  I asked with uncertainty.

“I think you should trust Andy.”  Cath said just a little nervously.  “You’re going to be losing so much length anyway, you might as well go all in.  You don’t want to give up a foot of hair and not have it make a difference.”

“I don’t know.”  I frowned at my reflection.

“It will look much more mature.”  Andi assured me.

At that moment, I wanted to just give up on the whole thing and walk out with all my hair.  For the interview, I could just pull it back in a low bun, and that would sort of work.  

I looked up at Cath.  Her laptop case hanging from her shoulder reminding me that she had taken off from work early for this.  She was happily paying for this, because she thought it was worth it.  She was giving up something she was emotionally attached to too, she was the one who was going to have a lot less hair to stroke when we sat on the couch watching TV.

God Cath was supportive.  She‘d been completely encouraging when I was contemplating changing careers and going back to graduate school.  She’d happily taken up the financial slack so that it didn’t majorly affect the life we were building together that I could no longer help pay for.  She’d done it by drastically reducing her contribution to her IRA.

Now, we were on the verge of those financial sacrifices paying off, and she was willing to foot the bill for this makeover because she was convinced it would help me get a job on my new career path.  All I had to do was agree to go along with it.

I knew my hair would grow back, but it was going to take a long time.  I looked up at Cath thinking about how long it would take to grow back.  I suddenly realized it would take just about the same amount of time to grow back as it had taken me to get through graduate school.  Cath had sacrificed that amount of time for me, I could give up my hair that long for our future.

“If you think it’s a good idea Cath.”  I said softly as I shrugged my consent to the plan.  “I guess it’s worth a try.”

“I think you’ll look really professional.”  Cath said, and reached down and stroked her hand over my long hair for the last time, her expression a little mixed.  “I guess I should head back to the waiting area now that it’s settled.”

“You can pull over that stool if you want to stay.”  Andy nodded towards a rolling stool that was just off to the side.  “I’m guessing a hand to hold and someone to talk to while the color processes will help you relax, Susan.”

“It’s up to you Cath.”  I said, because Andy was right, I wanted Cath to stay, but I thought she might need to get work done.

“I’ll stay,”  Cath promised as she placed her laptop and purse on the counter, before getting the stool.  

I took off my glasses and handed them to Cath, she slipped them into her purse.  I could only see about as far as the mirror, which was just a wee bit blurry, the rest of the salon falling out of focus.  The important thing though was that Cath was sitting close enough that I could still see her face.

“Is your hair virgin?”  Andy asked me as she started shaking out a nylon cape.

“WHAT?!”  I felt my ears flush.

Cath had her hand over her mouth and was obviously trying to control her chuckles.

“I just meant,”  Andy clarified with amusement, the cape forgotten and draped over her arm, “have you ever done any chemical processes to it?  Perm?  Color?  Lighteners like Sun-In?”

“I shampoo and condition of course.”  I answered, relieved that it had nothing to do with Cath’s and my sex life.  “Every now and then I’ll use hairspray.”

“Ok, sweetie.”  Andy was obviously trying to stifle chuckles of her own.  “Those don’t count, so your hair is virgin.  So, I don’t have to worry about interaction with the lightener and the hair is worth saving.  I’ll cut most of the length in ponytails for you to donate or something before I start the color.”

I just nodded acknowledgement of what Andy’d said as she went back to shaking out the cape.  Thwap, thwap, thwap.  Andy began draping it over me and fastening it around my neck.  

I knew the cape served a purpose, but I really hated it being put on me.  It was something I had never liked, I looked stupid in it, and even younger than I usually do.  In that moment though, it was even worse, because it was in preparation for a haircut and coloring I didn’t even want.  When I got my split ends trimmed, I only had to endure being in the cape for about 15 minutes and my hair was almost the same when it was over, unless one took a measuring tape to it or examined the ends for healthiness closely, it was unnoticeable.  I had a feeling I was going to be trapped in this cape for a much longer time, and I knew I was going to look dramatically different when it came off.

Andy twisted my long hair and tossed it in front of my shoulder.  I frowned at Cath as Andy started fastening the cape at my neck.  Cath slid her hand under the cape and found my hand, giving it a comforting squeeze as she looked at me with a tight lipped smile.

Andy began to comb out my long hair.  I could still change my mind.  I could ask her to do something less drastic.  I could walk out of here still looking like me.

I looked in the mirror, I looked exactly the same as I had in my highschool yearbook photo.  I looked at Cath and remembered her showing me her highschool yearbook, she’d changed.  She had had to point herself out to me in the picture of the softball team she’d changed so much.  

I kept sitting as Andy divided my hair up into half a dozen little loose ponytails.  Each elastic just an inch or two above my shoulders.  Andy fussed with the elastics for just a moment, making sure they were where she wanted them, slightly higher in the front than the back.  She went to the counter and selected a pair of shears.  Then she was standing behind me.

Cath’s hand tightened its grip on mine.

“You’re ok, sweetie?”  Andy asked, the shears in her hand ready.

I nodded as the hand Cath wasn’t holding tightened into a fist.  Andy raised the shears.  She opened them, and began to close them around the ponytail next to my face about an inch above the rubber band

Shhhhnap

Andy was holding the long thin ponytail dangling in her hand.  The cut ends of my hair brushed along my jaw and chin.  I felt a lump in my throat.  I looked at Cath, she looked like she had a lump in her throat too.

Andy handed the severed ponytail to Cath.  Cath held it in her free hand looking a little sad.  Andy picked up the next ponytail, just behind my ear, and again put the scissors to it, about an inch above the elastic.

Shhhhhnap

I felt the ends of my hair brush my neck.  Andy handed the second ponytail to Cath, who gave my hand an extra squeeze before letting go to take the severed hair from Andy.  I felt the cold metal blade brush the back of my neck.

Shhhhhnap

Andy handed Cath another ponytail.  Shhhhhnap, and another.  Shhhhhnap, shhhhhnap, and two more.

Cath sat petting her collection of ponytails, looking down at them a little forlornly.  Andy began fluffing out my suddenly roughly bobbed hair.  Cath looked up at me giving me another tight lipped smile.  It was obvious that even though Cath had thought this was a good idea, she had mixed feelings about it happening.

“I’m just going to take a little more off before I start the color.”  Andy announced as she put down the shears she’d cut the ponytails off with and picked up a different pair and a comb.  “No point wasting time and chemicals on hair that’s going anyway.”

Andy came back behind me and combed up hair from the back of my head.  She clamped the hair between her fingers and started snipping off everything above those fingers in small chunks.  

Hissnip, hissnip, hissnip.

The dry loose strands of hair rained down around me.  Andy combed up more from the top of my head and snipped quickly, obviously just aiming to reduce the bulk, and not yet working on the finished length.  

It was already considerably shorter than what I would have asked for if I had taken my coupon and gone where I usually went.  Hair from the side of my head was drifting down to my shoulder.  Already so short and more just kept coming off.  Hair was sliding down into my lap.  Already so short and we’d just begun.  Hair flying off in front of my face.

“I’m going to go mix up the lightener.”  Andy announced, finally putting down the scissors and comb.  “It will take a little while, so try to just relax.”

As soon as Andy had walked off, I shook the cut locks from the cape onto the floor, so that I could reach out from under the cape and run my hands through my abbreviated hair.  It was pretty much cut into a slightly messy very layered bob.

“Relaxing sounds about as doable right now as turning into a cat so that I don’t need a job.”  I said to Cath.  “I already regret this.”

“I know it doesn’t look like much right now, but this is just an in-between stage.” She said in a way I could tell was supposed to be reassuring, but felt like she wasn’t completely convinced of herself.  “It will be better when it’s finished.”

“Really?”  I asked.  “You know it’s going to be even shorter when it’s finished.”

“You’re still a beautiful woman.”  Cath assured me and leaned forward and stroked down the short hair till her hand reached my neck, where she started massaging the tense muscles.  “You’ll enjoy not being treated like a teenager all the time.  And everyone says short hair is easy to care for, so that will be nice.”

“Thanks for being here.”  I said.

Cath stroked down my head again, and then took my hand.  I tried to smile, even though I knew she could tell it was half hearted.  I looked at myself in the mirror some more, as I just held Cath’s soft hand.

“Cath,”  I began the hardest question I’d ever had to ask.  “Do I look like my mom now?”

“Babe,” Cath chuckled, “you’ve always looked like your mom.  You’ll look less like your mom once the color is done.”

I gave Cath a dirty look right as Andy arrived with a cart full of what I guessed was all things hair coloring.  Andy started applying the lightner.  It turned out to be an extremely long complicated process.  First she painted the lightner on certain sections of my hair that she folded into foil, then set a timer.  I figured when the timer went off she would just wash it and I’d be done, but that was just the beginning.  There was opening up foils and checking progress, applying more lightener to other areas, multiple washes, and something about toner.  I had never spent that long in a salon before.

I was finally sitting back in front of the mirror, looking at my towel wrapped head.  Mostly feeling relieved that this was almost over, even if the next step was not one I was looking forward to.

“So, what do you think.”  Andy asked enthusiastically as she pulled off the towel, revealing my hair that looked pretty much like a wet version of what it had when she’d finished cutting off most of the length.

“I suppose it’s a little lighter.”  I said tentatively.

“I know it’s a little hard to see while it’s still wet, but it lifted about 3 levels.”  Andy said as though I was supposed to understand what she’d just said and been impressed.

“Ok,” I said, trying to inject a little fake enthusiasm into it, but really just wanting the conversation to be over.  “I’ll wait till I see it dry.”

“Well, let’s get to the cut.”  Andy casually mentioned, making me suddenly want to go back to talking about the barely noticeable color that had taken forever and Cath was probably going to pay a small fortune for.

Andy began combing through my hair, and dividing it up into sections.  

Cath gave me another tight lipped smile.  In Cath’s lap was a paper bag that someone had given her while Andy worked on my color to put the little collection of ponytails in.  They’d told her about how to find websites to print out forms for donating the hair.  Something about the way Cath was being really possessive about the bundles made me suspect she’d be hiding them in the bottom of a drawer though.  It was obvious Cath was really going to miss playing with my long hair.  Damned this had better actually work.  

Andy had finished clipping my hair up into sections, and I felt her fingers gently pressing my head.  She was tilting my head down, so I was looking at my lap instead of Cath with her clearly mixed feelings.  She’d left some of the hair right at my nape loose, and was combing a sliver of it up.  I felt her finger pressing tightly into my scalp as the sliver of hair was held taut.  Then it began.

Shnip, schnip, shhhnip, snip.

I felt bits of wet hair landing on my neck.  I didn’t have enough information to know how short she was cutting it exactly, but considering how short it already was, it was impossible for it to be a length I would be happy with.  

Andy combed more hair into her fingers.  They once again were pressed tight against my scalp as the hair was held taut.  I had a feeling that she wouldn’t need to press her fingers in while also pulling the hair so much if it wasn’t being cut very short.

Shnip, shnip, shnip, shnip.

I just closed my eyes and listened as the snipping went on and on.  It wasn’t like I could do anything about the situation, we’d long since passed the point of my walking out with even vaguely long hair.  If I didn’t let Andy finish this, I would just need to go to another hairstylist to get my half done haircut fixed anyway.  So I sat there as Andy cut all the hair in the section.

Andy wasn’t done yet though, she started combing the very short feeling hair down against my neck and nipped at the hairline with the tips of her pointy scissors.  She then laid the blades flat against my skin and started shearing off what little was left of the wispy tendrils that I had reached for when Ms Parker had first suggested a haircut.

I felt Andy release the next section up, wet hair landing heavily against the freshly shorn nape.  Her fingers weren’t quite as tightly pressed against my scalp as she snipped away.  

As Andy worked upward, I gradually raised my head and opened my eyes.  I began to be able to see what was being dropped behind the chair.  It was a lot, more than what I would see on the floor after getting my split ends trimmed.  Cath still looked a bit nervous and torn about the whole thing.

Andy cut the hair around my ear very short, at first leaving it completely exposed, but then she let the hair that she’d sectioned onto the top of my head down, it covered them again.  As she cut the hair on my crown, she left enough that it hung over the very tops of my ears.

Andy was working her way towards the front, and changing up how she was doing things.  She’d taken to slicing the hair as it lay, more than combing it into her fingers.  At the very front, she sliced through the hair as it lay against my face, the cold steel blades caressing my cheek.

I sighed with relief, when Andy finally put down the comb and scissors and returned with a big round brush and hairdryer instead.  Having my short hair blow dried felt very different from having my long hair blow dried did though.  Before the hot air would be up by my head briefly, then move away.  This time, it was just up at my head the whole time, giving me no break from the discomfort of it.

My hair no longer damp, I had to admit, it was several shades lighter.  Andy had taken me from blonde to BLONDE!!

When Andy hung up the hairdryer, I was curious if she was just going to declare me done, use a trimmer and declare me done, or if I was going to have to endure several more minutes in the chair.  The rather old fashioned unisex salon my mom took me to as a child would have declared me done.  The chain salon I had been going to since I went back to graduate school and felt broke would have run a trimmer over my neck and then declared me done.  But for a while when I’d been a working woman with disposable cash, I had like Cath gone to higher end salons like this one, and they always spent a good amount of time touching up the haircut after the blow dry.

Andy picked up comb and scissors, and came behind me yet again.  She tilted my head down, and began combing up through the very short hair at the nape of my neck.  She cut the hair directly against the comb, the metal clicking against the plastic as she went.

Shhh-click, shhh-click, snip, click.

I sat there, my head bent down the comb and scissors going up and down, as the air around me was filled with a cloud of bright hair snippets.  I got a quick break to look up when Andy reached for the trimmer, but soon was looking down at my hair filled lap again as Andy shaved away everything below the artificial hairline she’d created.

When Andy had finished with the back, I sat watching as she sliced more hair off the top, making sure the hair that fell into my face bent so that it wanted to go to the side instead of into my eyes.

At the end of it, Cath held out my glasses for me as Andy removed the cape.  I put them on, finally truly able to appreciate what had been done to me.

I looked so different.  Andy held a mirror up for me to look at the back of my head.  It was tapered down to less than a fraction of an inch at the bottom.  I put my hand up to the hair just above my neck, it was too short to cover my fingers.  it was longer on top though.  Long enough at the front that I could sort of tuck it behind my ear, though it fell forward as soon as I moved my head.  When I did tuck it behind my ear, the shorter hair around my ear was revealed.  It was just a bit like an undercut right at the front.

I did look more like an adult I had to admit, even if I felt a bit less like me.  And less like my mom than I had with the rough bob that was somewhat reminiscent of my mom’s dark bobbed hair.

“It looks good.”  I admitted, because it did.  “It’s going to take a bit of getting used to though.”

“Of course it will, Susan.”  Andy said in a very understanding tone.  “Change is hard, and people rarely really want to look 10 years older.  You’ll soon see though that looking your age has advantages.  Good luck with the interview.”

Both Cath and I thanked Andy then headed up front for Cath to pay for the transformation neither of us had really wanted, but had simply agreed was necessary.

 

—————————————-

 

“Ms Olson?”  Ms Parker looked startled as I stood up from the seat I had been waiting in outside her office, but it soon turned into a smile.  “I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“I hope that’s not a bad thing.”

“In this case it’s an excellent thing.”  She assured me.  “You look so much more your age and very professional.  I hadn’t expected you to take my advice quite so far, but that haircut is very sophisticated on you.  That was quite the sacrifice just for this interview.”

“Well, as my fiance pointed out when I talked to her, it wasn’t really just for one interview.”  I explained as we walked towards the conference room we would be seeing the board in.  “She was also rather sick of getting accused of robbing the cradle, so she encouraged me to go all in.”

“I’m very glad you did.”  Ms Parker said.  “I took a risk and didn’t ask any of the other applicants in for a second interview and was rather nervous the board was going to be upset that I was pushing for someone they saw as too young.  They still occasionally say things about how I will have more perspective in a couple of more decades, then I remind them I will be in retirement by then.” 

“I’m flattered.”  Was all I could think to say as we approached the door to the conference room.

A man with gray hair probably in his late 50s or early 60s, wearing a well tailored sports jacket and polo shirt, approached from the other direction.  The outfit screaming; I have enough money to buy expensive clothing but enough authority to show up in something comfortable.

“Ah, let me introduce you to Ms Olson,”  Ms Parker said to the man then turned to me and said, “This is William Peirce, he’s our longest serving board member.”

“It’s nice to meet you.”  I said, then added with a smile.  “Please, call me Susan.”

“Bill” he said in a friendly tone, holding his hand out for me to shake.

 

—————————————-

 

“So, was the haircut worth it?”  Cath asked, looking at me across the table.

We were at one one of my favorite restaurants, an upscale Italian place with a pretty good wine cellar, celebrating my new job.  I was finally feeling a bit more relaxed about money even though I hadn’t actually seen a paycheck yet.

“I have to admit, people have been treating me a little differently.”  I said as I raised my hand to my bare neck, then joked.  “My neck is a bit chilly though.  What do you think, is not having my hair to play with when we cuddle driving you crazy?”

I watched Cath blush a little.  My guess about her hiding the bag of ponytails in the bottom of a drawer instead of sending them off to a charity had been correct, though neither of us mentioned it.

“The short hair feels nice too,”  Cath assured me.  “at the very bottom near your neck it’s down right velvety.  I only miss braiding it a little.”

Right then the waiter came.  

I ordered the fettuccini pomodoro, garden salad with a raspberry vinaigrette, and a bottle of pinot noir.  I was just reaching to pull my driver’s license from my purse, when I realized the waiter was just taking Cath’s order for mushroom ravioli instead of asking me for ID.

“Life is a little easier now that I look my age.”  I said to Cath with a smile as the waiter walked away.

2 responses to “How Old Are You?

  1. I’ve enjoyed this story a few times now and feel bad that I’ve taken this long to make the effort of logging in on a computer (I typically use my phone) and commenting.

    I loved that Susan was conflicted on the idea of cutting her hair, but did it because of her love and trust in Cath. And I love a good happy ending. Thanks for all of the writing you do!

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