“Eeuu. Poor girl!” Raven whispered to me. “Do you suppose she has cancer?” The shopping mall was fairly crowded, but it was easy to see who Raven was talking about. Her gaze rested on a slender young woman, about our age, coming out of a music store. She was dressed in jeans and a designer top, dangly earrings, and a smooth, shaved head.
“Maybe she just likes having a shaved head. Haven’t you seen a bald chick before? The look is good on her.” I said, smiling as I remembered what it was like to draw glances and stares in crowds. Raven just grimaced. Soon our thoughts were back to shopping for Spring term —why we came to the city in the first place. Our college, pretentiously called Midstate University, is in a smaller town, with shopping opportunities limited to WalMart and some small pricey boutiques. Believe me, we’re not fashionistas or shopaholics, just a couple of college kids getting a wardrobe upgrade.
I didn’t think much about the encounter, except to revisit some of my old memories, on the drive along mountain roads to get back to Midstate U. (sometimes snarkily called Mistake U.). When we got within cell range, Raven and I had called ahead to Cluny Ruiz, who shares our apartment just off-campus. We had arranged to meet for supper at Pueblo Martinez, our favorite enchilada and burrito spot. Once there, we were just chattering along, when Raven brought up the shaved girl. “Lilly here actually thought the poor thing looked good, Cluny. Can you imagine?” There are no white girls with shaved heads on our campus, and not very many with “in-your-face” hairstyles. There are a couple of African-American women with closely-cropped haircuts, who I think look fantastic.
“I guess that it would depend upon the shape of your head,” Cluny said. “I’d never do it, I like my hair too much.” (She has every right to. She has beautiful long, black Hispanic tresses. Raven, in spite of her name, has caramel-colored wavy hair. Mine was light brown with sun streaks, with just a little wave. When it’s not in a ponytail, it hangs a few inches below my shoulders.) “But,” Cluny continued, “if a girl likes going around without hair, it’s no problem to me.” I just smiled at that point. But it got me thinking. Maybe it would be fun to stir the pot a little.
So who am I, this pot-stirrer? I’m Lilly McLean, a sophomore biology student, with dreams of being a research scientist, or possibly going into a medical field. Midstate U. isn’t the premier educational institution in our state, but it has a solid program for those of us who aren’t the scions of CEOs, lawyers, and doctors. I’m on scholarship, and am more focused on my studies than a lot of students—okay, I’m a geek, nerd, whatever. I grew up in a county seat town, where my dad’s a preacher. Yep. In addition to being a science geek, I’m a P.K., the dreaded Preacher’s Kid. But don’t get the wrong impression. Dad’s not a narrow-minded moralistic pulpit-pounder. He’s a caring and loving pastor, with an open heart and mind. He doesn’t believe that science and religion should be in conflict. And yes, I grew up spoiled by the church ladies. Mom’s a kindergarten teacher, so she has lots of patience, which is a good thing. I’ve a grown brother and sister, too, and twin nieces, but they’re not part of this story, except to show that I’m the baby of the family, the youngest child, the free spirit. I’m not a leader on campus, not a “popular” girl, but most of the time I just blend in, doing my thing. I’m always on the Dean’s List, but nobody pays attention. As I munched my Burrito La Paz, my thoughts go back to two times in my life when I didn’t blend in, and I smile at the memory and daydream a little. But I don’t mention my radical ideas to my roomies. Not yet.
At the end of Winter Term, I catch a ride home for a long weekend. Mom fixes her firehouse chili, I overload the washing machine, and I find time to call some old friends from high school. Also, I scan some old photos and a film clip into my laptop. I want to show my roommates bigger pictures than my cell phone allows. The pictures will tell a story about me, and set the stage for something I’ve wanted to do, off and on, for the last four years. Or maybe more.
It’s the afternoon before I leave to go back to campus, and Mom comes in the room. “Uh, Mom, I have something I need to tell you.” I see an almost imperceptible twitch of her lip. “Don’t worry, I’m not pregnant, in trouble or anything. It’s just that I’m getting tired of my hair.”
She exhaled and smiled. “It’s a bit late, but I can call around and see if a salon can take you, maybe that nice place where you got hair done for your sister’s wedding.”
“Uh, that’s not what I was thinking about. I’m not getting tired of my hairstyle. I’m getting tired of my hair. I’m taking some pictures back to show my buds what I looked like after my two shaves, and, I, uh, strongly suspect that by the time we see each other again, I won’t have any hair. I just wanted to prepare you.”
Mom shook her head a little, and had on her sad but patient look that she gives to hyperactive kindergartners. “Somehow I’m not surprised. The other times you did this , I was afraid that you’d regret it, and have second thoughts, and be really miserable. But that didn’t happen. I suspected that neither time you got your head shaved that it was pure self-sacrifice on your part. I’ve wondered if you liked it so much that you’d want to do it again.”
“You’re right, Mom. It’s always been at the back of my mind, and sometimes the front. The only thing that I regretted about the first two times was that I listened to everyone else and let my hair grow back right away. This time, I’m going to keep it shaved, at least for a month, probably longer, maybe a lot longer. I won’t grow it out until I’m ready, when I decide I’m bored with it, or whatever. Whenever I look at my old pictures, or when I see another woman with a shaved head, I think that’s the real me– that’s who I want to be. “ I told about my sighting of the bald chick at the mall. “So, are you okay with that?
She chuckled. “I won’t disown you this time.” Then she looked more serious. “Lilly, you know that we will always love you, support you, and stand by you. I don’t really understand why you are so fascinated with being bald. I love your hair, and I’ll miss it. But I won’t love you any less for cutting it all off. I’ll still be proud of my daughter, even if she is a baldy.” We hugged and tears dripped down our cheeks and noses.
The subject came up again at supper, since I had to give Dad warning, too. I wasn’t too nervous, because we’d always been close, and he always stood up for me. He listened gravely, and said, “I’ll miss your pretty hair, but it’s your hair and it’ll always grow back. You’ll catch a lot of uh, guff, from people who won’t bother to understand your motives, and they’ll assume all kinds of bad things about you. A lot of people are prejudiced that way. But you are your own person, and that’s the way we raised you. When I think of all the kids your age who are in trouble with drugs, or unplanned pregnancies, or who abuse alcohol, or smoke, then cutting your hair off seems pretty harmless by comparison. Go ahead, if that’s what you really want. ”
I was a bit surprised the next morning when Mom set me down on her vanity bench. “If you’re going to get rid of this lovely hair for a long time, you have to give me one last chance to enjoy it.” With that she started tugging and braiding from my left temple back. It was a bittersweet time. I sat there and we talked about all sorts of things, just like when she had brushed out or braided my hair when I was a little girl. Looking at our reflection in the vanity mirror, I saw a few tears trickle down her cheek. “Are you okay, Mom?” I asked.
She dabbed the tears and made a weak smile. “Sure, Lil. I was just broad-jumping to conclusions. Silly things.”
“Like what?” I asked, turning my neck around to see her face directly.
“Like, what if you like being bald so much you stay that way, and I never see your pretty hair again? Oh, I know it sounds silly, but the fear is there.” I could read it in her eyes.
“Come on, Mom. You have to admit that’s a pretty weak hypothesis. Maybe in a month or two I’ll be tired of it and I’ll have a nice crew cut like Dad had in his old college pictures. Even if I keep the look through college, I know that I’ll have to look more conventional when it comes time to get a job.”
“You’re right, Lil,” she said. “I trust you and I love you unconditionally. You’ll make the right choices, even though they aren’t always the choices I would make.” She began to use her nervous energy to take out the little girl braids and make a more elaborate piece of hairdressing art.
That’s how I went back to college with a lovely French braid. On the drive back, I toyed with the short pigtail at the end of the row of braids, and remembered my two previous adventures in baldness.
The First Time
The first picture I showed Cluny and Raven was of two grinning nine-year-old girls; one was obviously a younger version of me. The other was of an impish redhead, with long thick waves of hair cascading down past her shoulders. “This is Bridgette,” I said. “She was my BFF before they started using the term. We were always together, usually giggling at the other, and sometimes getting into trouble in class.”
“I can tell you two must have been quite a pair,” Raven said. “And you were both so cute you could probably get away with everything.”
I said, “A few months after the picture was taken, Bridge lost her energy. They thought that it was Mono at first, but it turned out to be Lymphoma—cancer in her lymph glands.” Cluny crossed herself and looked sad. Raven frowned and asked what became of her. I answered. “She got too weak and tired to go to school,” I continued, “and she was in and out of the hospital a lot. A lot of kids at school or in the neighborhood were frightened of her illness, and they didn’t go to see her. But she was my best friend, and so I helped her keep up with school work, and we still could bring each other down into giggles, with the silliest things you could imagine. Of course, she had chemo. At first her head looked weird, with tufts of hair sticking to her scalp, and finally she lost even the tufts, her eyebrows and lashes, everything. She would go around talking in a space alien voice, jabbering nonsense, and I would pretend to translate for her.” I clicked the laptop to show bald Bridgette and hairy me, foreheads together, giggling, of course. “But look what happens just two weeks later.” Click again. New picture, same girls, same pose. But this time, they’re both bald.
“OMG!” shouted Raven. “Is that you? What happened?”
“Bridgette had been cool about the whole thing, courageous cancer girl, and all that, but one day she was feeling down. I asked her what was wrong. She mumbled a bit, but finally said she felt stupid, being the only girl in town with no hair. She always wore scarves or caps or whatever out in public, but it just made her feel bad. I told her the truth. From my POV, she looked very cool, and still very pretty. I meant it, too. On my way home, I decided to show her that I meant it. I got Mom’s sewing scissors, went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, gulped a lot, grabbed a handful of hair at my temple with my left hand, and squeezed the scissors with my right. Chop! I laid the hair down, and there was this gap, less than an inch long, right here. I bit my lip a little more, cut a chunk above my left eyebrow, and there was no turning back. It was a pretty rough job, with tufts every which length. I purposely cut some patches right in front down to my scalp, so Mom wouldn’t have any alternative but to cut it all off.”
“My mother would have killed me deader than dead if I had done that,” Raven muttered. “Not that I would ever, ever, ever do that!”
“I know that you wouldn’t, Raven. I’m just trying to explain how and why I did. Anyhow, my Dad just groaned and rolled his eyes, and although Mother had known a few kindergartners to play beauty shop with their mom’s scissors, she was definitely not happy with me. ‘You don’t know what you’re doing!’ she said. ‘I know exactly what I’m doing,’ I said back, ‘I want a haircut just like Bridgette’s so she doesn’t have to feel alone anymore.’ They gave in, and Dad drove me down to the Elm Street Barber Shop. Glenn, he was Dad’s barber and a member of our church, got me up in that big old barber chair with red leather padding. He pumped the chair up and put a tissue around my neck and a big old robe all over me. An older customer said ‘Son, that’s a pretty bad haircut, but old Glenn will fix you up.’ Neither my dad or I corrected him on my gender. I was excited and scared, because I didn’t know what it would be like. But Glenn soon solved that. The clippers switched on, no guard, and he plowed them back across my right temple. To tell you the truth, it felt good! I grinned. ‘Unrepentant little thing, isn’t she,’ Dad joked with Glenn. It didn’t take but a few minutes to get it all buzzed off.”
“What then,” Cluny asked.
“Dad had told Glenn about why I did it. Glenn asked me if I wanted it to be shorter, to be more like Bridgette’s. I nodded my head. He told me to sit very still, and rubbed white soapy stuff, shaving cream, all over my scalp. He took a razor, and slowly started scraping off the cream and stubble. It didn’t exactly hurt, but it was more uncomfortable than when we shave our legs because there’s more hair up there. But when I was done, I was almost as smooth as my friend.”
“Did she like it?” asked Raven. “Did she appreciate it?”
“She was shocked at first, but I told her, not untruthfully, that I liked her new hairstyle and wanted to copy it. That’s when they took the picture,” I said, pointing back to the laptop. “I swore that I would keep it shaved until her hair started growing back.”
“Oh no! How long were you bald?” Cluny wondered.
“Not that long,” I said. It turned out that her folks had already decided to move to Memphis and get her treated at St. Jude’s. She told me that I didn’t have to keep my vow, since without her I would be the only bald girl in our town. Other kids in school gave me a bit of a hard time, so I gave in and started growing a new crop of hair.”
“I hate to ask, but I will anyway,” said Raven. “I feel so bad for your friend. What happened to Bridgette?”
“She survived the cancer,” I said, “But her folks got jobs in Memphis and stayed there, so I only saw her a few times after that. We still are friends, though. We talk on the phone or text pretty often. She’s at some fancy elite women’s college out east, but she’s still the same old Bridgette, and we can still get each other laughing hysterically.”
Raven said, “If I shaved my head for someone else and they moved to Memphis, I’d be ticked. Was it tough being the only bald girl in town? Or is that the style up there where you come from?”
“I was the only one, as far as I know,” I said. “Some of the kids gave me a hard time, kids being what they are, but I didn’t let them bug me. I just laughed and joked back at them.”
We talked more that evening, but eventually I had to switch my computer over to working on a spreadsheet of a statistical analysis, but I did make the picture of those two little bald girls, forehead to forehead, giggling like fools, my wallpaper.
The Second Time
A few days later, Cluny noticed my screensaver and asked, “Did you have any other pictures of you like that?”
“We have some at home, but I didn’t download them,” I replied. But I do have a few shots of the second time I got my head shaved.”
“You shaved your ahead another time?” she asked in a surprised roar. Raven had come in, and checked to see what the commotion was about. I brought up my photo files and found the one I was looking for. I was fifteen, and in a row of people wearing green smocks, advertising a charity that uses head shaving to earn money for childhood cancer. There I was, grinning like a fool while a lady with green fingernails mowed a strip of white up through my bangs and along my part line across to the back of my crown. I clicked to the next picture, and the whole top of my head was shaved. “My mom thinks I look like my uncle Ralph in this one. He was sort of a hippie type with shoulder-length hair, but bald on top.” The final picture showed me still grinning, curtseying as I climbed off the stool, my hair nothing but stubble. “When they announced the fund-raiser, I talked mom and dad into letting me get involved, in honor of Bridgette, of course. By that time, Bridgette had hair down to the middle of her back and was a track star down in Memphis. Of course, it was only partly because I wanted to raise money. I just thought it would be fun to experience the hair cutting, and to have the no-hair look again.” I clicked again. The picture showed a bunch of us having a good time in a booth at a pizza joint. I wasn’t the only bald chick in this picture either. “This time, I wasn’t alone. Two other girls and a dozen or so boys and even a lady teacher all joined in the fun. Since more people knew why we had done it, they didn’t give us too much hassle. I even had a tee shirt made up; that said “Bald Girls Have More Fun.’”
By this time, Cluny had joined the conversation. I showed a few shots of my hair growing back, first a shadow, then a crew cut, then a short pixie. “Now guess what?” I asked.
“Don’t say that you want to shave your head again,” Raven moaned.
“Okay, I won’t say I want to,” I replied. “I’ll say that I’m going to. My twentieth birthday is coming up next month, and I am going to get my head shaved that day, so that when we party in the evening, my head will be as smooth as the day I was born. Smoother, actually. I did have some wispy little hairs on my head as a newborn. And I’d really like it if your birthday present to me was just to help me get bald. “
“But why?” Raven asked. “The first time was in solidarity with your friend with cancer. The second time was to raise money for charity. All very noble, but what cause are you supporting this time?”
“’The Bald Girls Need Love Too’ cause,” I said. “Actually, I liked being shaved so much the first two times, I just want to do it for fun this time. I want to do it just because I want to do it, for my own sake.”
“Weird idea of fun, “Raven mumbled. “But if that’s what you want, sure, we’ll help.” Cluny nodded her assent.
“Thanks. And this time, I’m going to keep it shaved, at least for a month, maybe into the indefinite future,” I said. “I want to live as a person without hair long enough to really experience what it’s like being that goofy bald chick instead of the straight-arrow P.K. honor student. I plan to stay shaved until I decide that I don’t want to any longer.”
Raven rolled her eyes and grimaced. “I shouldn’t have taken you to the city for shopping. If I hadn’t you’d have never seen that shaved woman and got this crazy idea.”
“Not entirely true,” I answered. “I’d thought about doing it ever since I started college. So I would have shaved it sometime, anyway.”
“Upward and onward,” Cluny grinned. “Or upward and baldward. Maybe I’ll do a story about it for the student paper.”
The Third Time
I lay on my bed smiling as I woke up on my twentieth birthday. This is it. The big day. I’ll begin the third decade of my life by cutting off all my hair. How long will I stay bald? A month? Two? Six? A year? The whole decade? I’m excited but still afraid. I want to look the way that I want to look. But I’ve sort of made a career out of blending into the wallpaper. I won’t be able to do that anymore. Will I like the extra attention, or hate it? But the attention isn’t the important thing, one way or the other. I want to be who I want to be, and today that will happen. Some people will judge me and some that I think are my friends may ignore me. But I’m not doing it for what anyone else things of me. For some crazy reason, it would probably take years of going to a shrink to figure it out, I want to dispense myself of my hair, and not reach for a comb, hairbrush, scrunchie, shampoo, conditioner, or barrette, for a long, long time. When I got shaved before, I looked in the mirror and really liked myself—not for doing something noble and brave, but just for how I looked. Others may have their own opinion, but I like the way I look when I’m bald more than when I have hair. Will I get tired of it after a few months, like I’ve gotten tired of every hairdo I’ve tried? Somehow, I don’t think so.
As I thought all that and sat up in bed, I moved my hand to rub my eyes. Then I noticed my bright pink acrylic nails. Yesterday, I had received an early birthday present from my honorary sorority of female science majors. After I had told them of my birthday plans at their meeting last week, they collected some bucks to give me a makeover. They said it was so I could make a statement about being a feminine-looking bald girl. Although I keep my real nails in decent shape and like to keep some color on them—usually light and bright—I had only had acrylics a few times in my life, and not for very long. I had to admit as I spread my fingers that they really looked nice. Stepping out of the bed, I surveyed the mint green on my toes, complete with daisies on each big toe. The girls had also given me hoop earrings to replace my smaller earrings. Well, no one would mistake me for a boy in drag now.
So I get up, wait for Cluny to be done in the shower, then I take my turn. As I rub the shampoo into my locks, I hear her say, “Happy birthday, Lilly.”
“Thanks,” I call back, rinsing suds out of my eye.
“Shtill pladdig to go thoo wid it?” she asked while brushing her teeth.
“Yesh,” I mimicked. “This will be my last shampoo for who knows how long. By my party time tonight, I’ll be a chrome dome.”
I heard her rinsing and spitting. “One good thing. It’ll give me more bathroom time.” I tossed a handful of shampoo suds over the shower curtain rod in her general direction. She had left the bathroom when I finished my shower. I brushed the tangles out of my hair, looking into the steamy mirror. I pulled a pair of nail scissors from the drawer under the sink and took a few snips from my hair—not very noticeable, but a symbolic beginning. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and dressed in jeans and a MidState tee shirt.
Over instant oatmeal and strawberries, Raven and Cluny wished me happy birthday, and Raven asked, “Sure you want the present you asked for?”
“Sure,” I grinned. “I know what I’m getting but not when and where. Just sometime before the party.”
“Si,” Cluny grinned. “But it will happen at different times during the day. That gives you a really long window.” Then she held up a small video cam. “And I will tape the whole thing and make it a production number. Then you can enjoy the tape, or be embarrassed by it, for the rest of your life.” She pressed the on button and spoke more loudly. “Cluny Ruiz here, at MidState University, where one brave but eccentric student, Lilly McLean, is receiving the birthday present that she wanted.” Dramatic pause. “A shaved, smooth head. During the day, we will meet her at various places on the campus, and work on giving her just that wish. First, right here in our apartment, Raven James will do Step One.”
Raven got up, drew a pair of kitchen shears from the junk drawer, walked across the room, and started sawing through my pony. Soon she tossed it on my lap. “Happy birthday,” she said, waving my unattached ponytail in front of the camera. “I’ll put it in a plastic bag so you have something to remember your hair by next winter when the snow’s piling up on your scalp. If you last that long before you come to your senses.”
Three hours later, as my 11:00 biochemistry class ended, Cluny and Raven walked into the classroom. Cluny called out as Raven operated the camera, “May I have your attention? It’s Lilly McLean’s twentieth birthday today!” A few people applauded and a few called out birthday greetings. Cluny lifted the pair of kitchen shears that had amputated my pony at breakfast. “Lilly’s getting the haircut that she wants for her birthday. And to start it out, you’re each invited to come and start the process. Channel your inner barber, okay?” Robin, the girl who sits next to me in class, timidly took the scissors, looked at me questioningly. I smiled and nodded. She took a tiny snip from a fringe that hung down from my temple. Marty grinned, and cut off a bigger piece, leaving a hole above my right ear. Several students left without doing anything other than shaking their heads, or grinning, or frowning. But seven more took ragged snips. I couldn’t see the results right away, until on my way to lunch at the campus center I stopped at the bathroom. In the mirror, I saw a girl with really jagged, tufty hair. Looking in the mirror, I remembered the haircut I had given myself when I was nine. Obviously, at lunch, I got a lot of strange looks.
Archaeology II met at 1:00. At the end, Raven and Cluny guided me to a bench. A basketball player with a shaved head, I think his name’s Monroe, walked up, smiling, with a pair of battery operated clippers. It’s going to be all over earlier than I thought, I said to myself. Cluny, camera operating, intoned that this was stage three. Monroe looked at me questioningly, to be sure it was okay. I smiled and nodded. My bangs go diagonally across my forehead, from left to right. He lifted them up, and flipped the switch. They gnawed my hair for an inch or two, but then went back to the front. A few moments later, my bangs were history, and I looked like a choppy-haired Queen Elizabeth I with a really tall forehead. I looked at my reflection and my face was a perfect oval now, with a bristly shade where my bangs used to be.
It got better. Or worse. I got strange looks, laughs, and looks of concern as I went about my campus business. An assistant dean of women grilled me intently, because she was afraid that I was being hazed by a sorority or something. When I explained that this was what I wanted, she just rolled her eyes and walked on. I found a quiet corner in the student union and tried to keep up on my classwork.
After my 3:00 physics class, they met me again, and this time, Monroe buzzed back across the top of my head. I had assumed that he would finish the job right then and there, as the clippers slowly plowed, front to back, beginning above my left temple and moving toward my right. Then he stopped. I looked in the camera again, and asked, “Does this look like the world’s worst mullet, or am I afflicted with male pattern baldness?” The rest of my crew answered “Yes.”
At 4, I had a check-in seminar with two other students and my major professor and advisor, Dr. Wilkes. He’s a wonderful teacher, and I hope next year to be one of his undergrad T.A.’s. He also has male pattern baldness. “Miss McClain,” he told me when I entered the room. “You are an excellent student, you earn your grades, so you don’t have to imitate my hairstyle to brown-nose your way to an A. Or…” he glared, “are you mocking me?” I must have looked terrified. Then I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Cluny was filming. They had set this all up. “They say imitation is the best form of flattery,” he said, smiling. May I?” Cluny was handing him the clippers, this time with a blue plastic guard. “This is what I use, a number 3 guard. With the camera going, he started buzzing up from the back of my head and along each sides, giving me a reasonable imitation of his haircut. Now I did look like a boy in drag. “Do you think that people will think we’re twins?” Dr. Wilkes deadpanned, as Cluny videoed us together.
It was embarrassing, but hilarious. It’s a good thing that I’ve never taken myself too seriously, because Dr. Wilkes and his wife, Monroe, Cluny, and Raven and I all went out to supper at Pueblo Martinez. There I was, in a party dress and heels at my roommates’ insistence, with my lovely nails, lip color, eye makeup, hoop earrings, and a look-alike haircut with Dr. Wilkes. There were a lot of looks, amused, judging, and pitying, and some comments that I chose to ignore. One guy with hair longer than mine had been at the start of the day, came over with Margarita breath, and said, “Dude? Are you a dude? You really are a dude aren’t you?” with a puzzled face. I broke down in giggles. “Hmm. Guess not.” He wandered off. For a birthday cake, my sopapilla had a candle shaped like the number two. They lit it and I blew it out, secretly wishing that when (and if) the time came when I decided to grow my hair back, it would be my decision, and not from peer pressure. Cards were exchanged, and Dr. and Mrs. Wilkes left to go home.
That was not a hairstyle that I would want to keep for very long. I was glad when we stopped at a barber shop. Cluny intoned into the camera. “Now, the last part of our present to the lovely young Miss McLean, who currently resembles a middle-aged dude in drag. This barbershop usually closes at six, but Mr. Irvine has come back to finish the work.” We walked past the old-fashioned barber pole and into a neat little shop with three huge leather seats.
“Now which of you ladies is it that wanted the headshave?” Mr. Irvine asked in mock innocence. He had a buzz cut similar to mine, except that he had hair on top of his head. Raven stepped backward with a look of near panic on her face. Cluny doubled over in laughter. I strode forward and climbed into the chair.
The barber wrapped a tissue around my neck and threw a black cape over my party girl outfit. “Ready for me to get this straightened out?” he asked.
“More than ready. Cut away.” The clippers came to life, and began massaging the back of my head. Stroke by stroke, the crew cut on the back and sides of my head fell away. Mr. Irvine rubbed my scalp for rough places, worked over them again and again. Then he did like Glenn did on my second head shave. He covered my scalp with hot shaving cream, then he started scraping. I just kept grinning like a fool. He rinsed my head, rubbed over it again for any possible rough spots, and put some kind of alcohol-based fragrant lotion on my denuded scalp. It was nearly nine PM. The whole hair cut had begun thirteen hours before.
In the car, I kept feeling my smooth scalp. I wanted to feel somewhere else, too, but that could come later, in private. When I got out of the car and entered the room full of my friends for the final stages of my birthday party, I heard cheers, applause, and laughter, and a few wise-ass comments. Hands kept reaching out to touch my scalp. We had a real birthday cake this time, and we partied and danced into the night. There were presents, of course, including a lot of scarves and caps, one green fright wig, and Monroe gave be a new set of electric clippers. He told me that he had thrown away the plastic guards, saying that I wouldn’t need them, because crewcuts were for wusses. I’d never had a better birthday.
Something else started that day—a romance. Monroe asked me out. After sharing family stories, etc., he admitted to me that he had never noticed me much before, but now he found me downright beautiful. The girl of his dreams that he had waited for through the years, shared hairstyles with him—shaved smooth daily. We’re a striking interracial couple, he fourteen inches taller than my 5 foot 3. More important, we have a lot of the same values, enjoy the same things, and we’ve each become the other’s lover and best friend.
By the next Fall, we were engaged, with plans to marry and then go on to grad school after graduation. He loves my family, and I love his. His family owns a prospering small business, and that economic cushion will allow me to follow my love of science in grad school. Monroe wants to be a basketball coach, but he can always fall back on the family business.
In one of our long and lazy talks sitting on a boulder at a park overlooking the mountain valley, he hemmed and hawed, and said, “Lilly, I just wanted you to know that you don’t have to keep your head shaved just because I like it that way. Now that I’ve gotten to know you, I’d love you no matter how long your hair might be.”
I frowned. “Are you getting tired of my bald look? Would you rather me grow my hair back?”
“No, no, no!” he insisted. “I’d love you no matter what. If it’s what you want, I’d love for you to keep this look the rest of your life.”
“It’s what I want,” I said. “This is me, and this is who I want to be. Forever. And with you. The baldsie twins!” we laughed.
“Incredible. That’s what I want too. Thank you so much for being the crazy bald white chick who loves me,” he said, and we kissed. “Oh, by the way,” he said casually. “Remember my Aunt Gladys?” I nodded. “She does laser hair removal at her shop. Not sure she’s done head hair before, but if you wanted to go for the completely smooth look…Just something to think about.” An image crept across my mind of the two of us, side by side, holding hands while Aunt Gladys zapped our follicles. And I didn’t shudder. I didn’t say no. It was definitely something that I—that we—would think about.
“Love forever, bald forever,” I said, grinning. “Oh, dear.” I stopped smiling. “My poor mom. She worried when I told her that I was going to shave my head this last time, that I would decide to keep it bald. And when she met you, I think she realized that she might never put my hair up in braids again.” I smiled again. “But she loves us both. She’ll deal with it. She can braid our children’s hair. And you know what they say—third time’s a charm!”