I took a deep breath and looked up at the sign above the door of the shop we were standing in front of. “Sally’s Salon.” How the hell did I get here? Ok, that wasn’t really a mystery, either how or why.
How was easy. I came in Jill’s car. She was all smiles and encouragement as she drove me here. Swearing up and down that I was going to look great and be so happy. I’d sat there silently cursing myself for having made promises while I was too upset and panicky to think clearly for most of the drive.
The reason why I came was a little more complicated. I thought back to last Sunday.
“Amy, are you ready to go?” Jill yelled towards the bedroom from the couch where she’d been checking stuff on her phone. From her impatient tone, I suspected she’d run out of emails to read and scrolled through her entire facebook feed twice.
“Almost.” I shouted back.
I pushed a few last bobby pins into the enormous “messy” bun on the top of my head. It’s way more work than its name implies, at least with my hair. Getting that perfect balance between disheveled enough to look casual versus uptight or very formal, but not so disheveled that the messy bun just looks like an actual mess is delicate balance like walking a tightrope. Especially when you factored in that it was going to have to last all day long.
Longevity of the style was not helped by the fact that I had what was by most measures a ton of hair. It was long, dark brown, just slightly curly, and very thick. There just was tons and tons of the chocolate cascade, which reached an inch or two below the waistband of my pants unless they were really low cut pants. I patted the bun carefully to make sure it seemed secure and headed to the living room.
“Is that what you’re wearing?” Jill asked as I entered the room, in a tone that suggested that yes would be the wrong answer.
I looked down at my tan shorts and white oversized blouse with its sleeves rolled up. I looked at her blue jeans and t-shirt. We seemed to both be at about the same level of casualness, so I couldn’t figure out what she might be objecting to.
“Yes.” I stated. “WHY?”
“It’s just that we’re going to be walking around, and there might be long grass and stuff there. I thought a little protection on your legs would be a good idea.”
“I’ll wear sunscreen, it’ll be fine.” I said as I grabbed my cross body purse and keys, then headed towards the door.
“I was thinking more about ticks.” She said as she held the door open for me. “It’s tick season.”
“It will be fine.”
I stood there, knowing I had to enter the salon, but every fiber of my body objected to moving. I reached up and pulled one of my long soft tendrils of hair forward and let the ends curl about my fingers.
“Come on Amy,” Jill’s voice intruded into my silent thoughts. “It’s a hair salon, not the gates of hell. You promised you would do this.”
I simply turned my face to her, letting my reluctance show, still hoping she would call this off. She was right, I’d promised and I didn’t want to be the kind of person who reneged on a promise, but maybe if she finally saw how I felt, she would just…
“I know you’re nervous, but you made the right decision when you said you wanted to do this.” She said to me as she put her hands on the sides of my face.
The only problem with expecting Jill to call this off because she cared about me and wouldn’t push me into doing something that was going to make me unhappy, was her unshakably firm belief that I was going to be happy with the haircut once I got over being nervous about it. I’d never used the word “want,” that was something Jill’s imagination added.
It was late when we got back to the apartment. The craft and art fair at the park had been fun. The walk along the trail had given us quiet time to just be together. Then there had been the concert, we’d sat on the lawn with just an old fashioned plaid wool picnic blanket between us and the grass. We cuddled together as the local band played.
“Let’s go strip out of these clothes.” Jill said as she headed towards the bedroom.
I was happily surprised that Jill’s mind had gone to sex. I had expected her to want to just give me a quick goodnight kiss and head to her place like she did at the end of most weekends. Maybe she didn’t have to be at work as early as usual, and had forgotten to mention it. Whatever the reason for this sudden willingness to stay, I was delighted. I hung up my keys and purse and happily followed.
In the bedroom, Jill was methodically checking her clothing as she put each piece into the hamper, which hadn’t been what I’d expected to see. I should have expected it, but I hadn’t.
“Be careful when you take yours off, there might be ticks hiding in them,” Jill told me, as she took off her panties. “Can you check me first, then I’ll check you?”
I sighed, so much for sex. I wondered if there was a female equivalent to blue balls. I’d forgotten about how Jill insisted we do this every time we did anything even slightly outdoorsy once the weather warmed up. I followed Jill’s example, maybe not quite as diligently checking as she had, and took off all my clothes.
Jill stood before me, her gloriously athletic body buck naked. She turned and lifted her arms and showed me every inch of herself so I could see there were no nastly little creatures attached to her smooth skin. Her body, feeling amazing under my fingers as she turned slowly.
“Amy, please take this seriously.” Jill said, sounding ever so slightly irritated. “It’s not a sex game. Did I tell you, Debby at work tested positive for lyme.”
I sighed and tried to just focus on the task, even though my fingers ached to touch my lovely girlfriend.
“They like to hide up near the hairline.” Jill mentioned as her hands started ruffling through her short strawberry blond crop.
I watched as the hair lifted up with her hands, revealing scalp before it sprang back down in waves that reminded me of wind going through a wheat field. I got a very good view of every bit of her scalp pretty quickly. I used the excuse of checking behind her ears, to let my own fingers brush through the soft thatch of hair that was somewhere between gold and copper.
“You’re good.” I declared, hoping we would hop into my bed.
Instead of hopping in my bed though, Jill started examining me. I started off being demure as I turned slowly in front of her, but she wasn’t playing along in the slightest. She lifted my arms and firmly directed how I turned.
“We’re early.” I said, trying to sound reasonable. “Maybe we should go grab a coffee?”
“We’re not that early.” Jill replied after a quick glance at her phone. “Come on, you’ll feel better once this is over and done with. Then you’ll see how great it looks and feels, and you can relax and enjoy the rest of the day.”
She took my right hand in her left as she reached out for the door handle with her right hand.
Jill had finished her rather clinical examination of my body, and was guiding me to sit at the edge of the bed. She started looking closely along my hairline. As she was turning my head to the side, and checking behind my ear, I took the opportunity of her being so close to start running my hands over her curved hips.
“Amy, please don’t distract me, I need to get this over with and get going. It’s late and I have a long drive.” Jill complained. “It’s hard enough since you have twenty tons of hair. You could hide the Titanic in this stuff. This would be a lot easier if there was a little less of it.”
It hadn’t been the first time Jill mentioned that this task would be easier if I had less hair. Or the only thing she’d suggested would be faster, simpler, easier, if I just would get rid of some of my twenty tons of hair. Jill obviously saw my hair as more of a nuisance that I endured for the sake of old fashioned ideals of femininity that had been imposed on me, than as a crowning glory I cherished. She’d made it clear that she thought I’d have an easier life without it. She put voice to her beliefs quite often. I’d learned to ignore it.
“Stay the night.” I suggested as I gently kissed her soft belly.
“I can’t. I need clean work clothes, and it’s way too long a drive in the morning.” She abandoned checking along the edges of my hair pulling away from me. “We’ve talked about this a million times.”
She walked over to her drawer and started pulling on fresh clothes. I sat watching gloomily as any last glimmers of hope that we’d be enjoying each others’ bodies faded with the gray sweatpants she pulled on.
“My bed feels empty when you’re not here.” I muttered gloomily, as I put on my terry cloth robe.
“Cheer up,” She said before planting a firm kiss on my forehead. “I’ll be back Wednesday night, since I have Thursday and Friday off. Would you enjoy a little apartment hunting? It’s a little premature, since your lease isn’t up for another 2 months, but we could start looking at apartments halfway between our jobs.”
“That would be nice. If we found something really perfect, I could even manage to pay the last couple of months rent on this while putting in my half on the new place.” I said while thinking out loud. “It would make moving easier too, having a little overlap.”
I walked her to the door, where she left me with a way too passionate kiss. There definitely needed to be a word for the female equivalent of blue balls. Blue ovaries?
Jill held the door open and dragged me inside and up to the reception desk. A perky young lady smiled at us hopefully. Jill gave my hand an encouraging squeeze and waited for me to start talking. I didn’t, I just stood there silently, hoping we’d be sent away.
“Can I help you?” The lady at the desk finally asked.
Jill briefly gave me an expectant look, then gave up. “We have an 11:30 appointment with Liz under the name Amy.”
“Ok.” The lady glanced at her computer screen, then smiled up at us. “It’s going to be a few minutes, can I get you a coffee, tea, or anything while you wait?”
“No thank you,” I muttered as I slunk away towards the waiting area’s couch.
“Jill, I need you to come back!”
-Is something wrong?- Jill asked over the traffic noise that her speakerphone was picking up.
“I think I found a tick.” I was fighting down full on panic, but it was creeping into my voice.
Just the idea of the horrible little parasite being attached to me made me sick to my stomach. The place where I had found it made it so much worse.
-Are you sure?- She sounded really doubtful. -I checked you fairly thoroughly. Going back is going to be a pain in the ass, I’m on the parkway already.-
“I’m pretty sure, it’s where you couldn’t easily check.” I explained fighting to not cry. “I was letting down my hair, and I felt something. It’s right at the nape, about 2 inches into where the hair starts.”
-It’s probably just a pimple or something, did you look in the mirror?-
“It doesn’t feel like a pimple. Please come back.” I begged letting a little bit of the panic into my voice. “I can’t get a good look at it. It’s impossible to hold all this hair out of the way with one hand while holding the hand mirror with the other. You were right about my having enough hair to hide the Titanic. When I try to look, all I can see is hair.”
-Of course it is.- Jill said, I could hear the unspoken I told you so in her tone. -I’m going to be really annoyed if you’re using this as an excuse to drag me back just because you wanted me to spend the night.-
“It’s not an excuse. I really think it’s a tick.” I grasped for ways to express how seriously I thought it was a tick. “You were right about me having too much hair. I need help getting this thing off me. Please come.”
-That would be one of the downsides to having twenty tons of hair.- Jill muttered. -Have you tried to do it yourself?-
“It’s impossible, the way it is on the back of my head covered in all this hair. I’m never going to be able to get it off by myself, I can’t hold all the hair out of the way, hold a mirror and work the tweezers at the same time.”
-So basically, you want me to drive back to your place because you have too much hair?-
“I promise that I’ll cut it all off short if you come back and get the tick off me.” I bargained, and in that moment I really meant it. “I just want it gone, I’m completely grossed out by it. Heck, I promise I’ll cut all the hair off even if I’m wrong and it’s not a tick just as a reward for driving back here.”
-I guess if you’re so convinced it’s really a tick that you’re finally ready to promise to get a decent haircut, it might actually be a tick.- Jill reluctantly conceded. -I’ll turn around at the next exit.-
“You said you wanted a cup of coffee, just before we came in.” Jill pointed out as she sat down next to me. “Sure you don’t still want one?”
I thought of saying ~That’s because I was looking for ways to stall till you finally figure out how badly I don’t want to go through with this, and tell me to forget my promise~ but I just made a little humph sound instead.
“Stomach too nervous?” Jill asked, pausing in case I was going to respond. “I know you’re nervous, but could you try to not look like I dragged you here against your will?”
“You kind of did.” I said softly, looking around to make sure nobody heard, feeling embarrassed by the conversation. Embarrassed by the whole situation.
“Only sort of. This was your idea.” Jill said completely earnestly. “After you promised to get it cut if I came back, you said ‘I just want it gone,’ and ‘I’m completely grossed out by it.’”
I couldn’t help but let out a rewful chuckle as I pinched the bridge of my nose. So that was why she was convinced she was just helping me get over a case of cold feet.
I had meant the tick when I’d talked about it being gross and wanting it gone, not my hair. I didn’t know how to explain it to Jill, so that she would finally figure out that I didn’t really want to go through this, and she would offer to let me out of the bargain. I sure as hell did not want to bring up the subject of ticks in a nice clean indoor hair salon.
Sure, I had been ready to cut off the hair in that moment because it had a tick in it. I was kind of blaming my hair for the tick right then, Jill’s complaining about my hair making it harder to find ticks had kinda rubbed off on me. And the hair was making it so that I was going to have to sit there knowing there was a tick on my head unable to get it off while I waited for Jill to drive back. In that moment, the hair had felt contaminated by the tick.
Yeah briefly it had seemed like something I was completely willing to offer up in a bargain to get the tick off me. I knew Jill thought the hair was a nuisance, and I thought she would consider it worth turning around to get rid of.
Once the tick was off me, and I’d taken a shower, washing my hair twice, the feeling had dissipated quickly. My hair stopped feeling contaminated. I stopped blaming my hair for the tick. Yes, the mass of hair had made things hard to see, but a tick could have been missed on any less than obvious part of my body.
Jill called around her usual lunch time on Wednesday.
-Hey, I was just looking at apartment listings, and thinking about which ones we might want to see tomorrow.- Jill cheerfully explained. -And there are several right in the same neighborhood as the place I get my hair cut. So I was thinking, if you hadn’t already gotten around to getting that haircut you wanted, I could make you an appointment with the lady who does mine in the morning then we can look at apartments in the afternoon, and it would be really convenient.-
I let out a ragged breath. I’d been hoping Jill would forget that I had offered up my hair in exchange for her help Sunday night. I’d needed her that night, not just to remove the tick, but to help calm my frayed nerves afterwards.
It had been a hastily made faustian bargain. I’d offered up what would take years to grow back for one night of help and comfort. I hoped Jill would recognize it for what it was and decline to collect on the poorly thought out trade. If I gently explained. Even though she’d been really late for work Monday morning.
“Yeah, it wasn’t really that I wanted to get a haircut.” I nervously began. “I was just really freaked out by the tick. It’s not like I was eager to run out and get it chopped off. It was kind of an impulsive decision when I promised to get it cut off if you came back. So I haven’t gotten it cut, and was kinda not sure about making it happen.”
-I hear you. You didn’t really think through what you meant when you promised to get it cut short.- Jill said, giving me a very temporary moment of relief before she went on. -You just didn’t want so much hair for ticks to hide in, but hadn’t thought about what you did want instead. We can look at some styles and stuff tonight, so that you can really think about how you want it and not just leave how to interpret ‘short’ up to the stylist. I’ll call my salon and make an appointment.-
“That wasn’t exactly what I was trying to say.” I struggled to make myself clearer without having to actually admit that I wanted out of my side of the deal even though she had fulfilled hers already. I lapsed into silence.
-You can explain what you mean tonight when I get there. I need to get going.- Jill said after a bit. -I only have a few more minutes left on my lunch, and I need to call the salon and a few of these landlords to make tomorrow happen. Bye Amy.”
“I was kind of thinking more about the style I agreed to last night, and having second thoughts.” I decided that maybe I should try one more time telling Jill that I didn’t want to cut my hair short and was hoping she’d accept a much more minor haircut. “Would you think of it as not fulfilling my side of the deal if I just got something a little less extremely short. Just ask her to lighten things up a bit, something more layered.”
“It needs to be short enough to be able to see… but I guess it doesn’t need to be all the way to the skin.”
“Yeah, umm, or…”
“Amy?” A different lady than the receptionist asked as she stood near the end of the couch.
I furrowed my brow at Jill, not really wanting to admit that I was indeed the Amy who was here to get all her hair cut off.
“Hi, Liz.” Jill said with a broad smile. “This is my girlfriend Amy. She’s finally ready to embrace cool, comfortable, and easy to manage hair.”
“Okay,” Liz said with an unpleasant sweetness that reminded me of the way many adults talk down to small children. “Do you want Jill to come back with us, Amy? You seem a little nervous.”
Why did everyone keep interpreting reluctant and unhappy as nervous?
“I don’t really like that one.” I said as I looked at yet another picture Jill showed me. “I’ve always been a long hair person. It’s hard to pretend I like any of these short styles.”
“I’m kind of running out of ideas.” Jill said in a frustrated tone.
Every one that Jill had picked was really short. Some were a little longer on top, but every single one featured a really high neckline.
“You can just pick something I don’t like, and I’ll get it since I promised you I would cut it short if you came back.” I said as miserably as I possibly could hoping that Jill would finally decide to let me out of the deal. “There just isn’t a short style I’m going to like, so just choose one anyway.”
“Oh honey, you sound miserable. I’m not going to pick something you don’t like if I can help it.” Jill said, making me briefly elated that she would finally show me mercy and call off the haircut. “There’s got to be something that will work to make this mop more manageable that you will think is cute. Just give me a second to grab another glass of wine and think a little.”
Jill got up, gave my thick ponytail a little tug and went off to the kitchen. I sighed, it seemed Jill was still determined that I was going to get a haircut.
“Take a seat right here Amy.” Liz was still talking down to me, I think her intention was to be non threatening, but it just came off as cloyingly sweet. “My! Don’t you just have a ton of pretty hair?”
“Twenty tons.” Jill joked, taking the seat next to the styling chair I had been told to sit in. “That’s the problem.”
“It can definitely be a little hard to manage, can’t it.” Liz said towards Jill even as she started fluffing out my hair. “What’s the plan?”
“I know. I have the perfect compromise.” Jill announced enthusiastically as she walked back into the living room with her glass topped off and the bottle in her hand. “An undercut. Take the overall length up a bit, but not really short. It will have a lot of the practicality of a short haircut, but still leave you feeling feminine. Then you’ll just have ten tons of hair, not twenty. You can still pull it back and put it up the way you like to. How does that sound?”
I would have prefered for Jill to say *Just forget about the haircut,* but since that didn’t seem to be happening, I figured this would be the best I could hope for. I was kind of due for a trim, so giving up a few inches wasn’t the end of the world, and having a small triangular section of my nape buzzed to a short fuzz would actually be kind of cool. Heck, when I put it up in a bun, I wouldn’t have to be so deliberate in getting it to look slightly disheveled, it would just automatically not look stuffy because it would be revealing the undercut. I could even get a design done in it if Jill’s stylist did that kind of thing. Yeah, it actually sounded nice, I wouldn’t have thought to go out and get it, but maybe I should have.
“She wants an undercut chin length bob, long enough in the back to hide the undercut while down.” Jill told Liz before I had a chance to get a word in, she’d obviously given up on my talking during my repeated silences in the waiting area. “She’s a little nervous about it, as you can see, so she was thinking about leaving maybe a half inch or something on the undercut instead of shaving it. And was hoping that you could layer the bobbed part for softness.”
“I definitely can add some layering, it will bring out the curls more. Right now it seems more wavy than curly mostly because of all the weight pulling it down. Once the weight is taken off, I’m guessing it will spring up a lot.” Liz said as she continued to play with my hair. “But a half inch all over is an awkward length for the undercut, especially since her hair has a bit of curl. It’s going to just look grown out. It should either be a quarter of an inch or shorter, or if she really wants to keep a bit more on the undercut, I can taper it.”
“I guess taper it, that way you can take it shorter at the nape where it really matters.” Jill decided without consulting me. “She was enthusiastic about shaving it last night, but this morning without wine she’s letting her nerves get the best of her.”
“Well, we can buzz it all the way to the skin next time, if she’s feeling braver.” Then Liz asked. “Are you donating the length?”
“We hadn’t discussed it, but I guess she should.”
“Great, I’ll take care of it.” Liz said looking a bit like the cat that ate the canary, leaving me wondering if my hair was actually going to be donated, or if it was just about to become some very expensive extensions.
“That would be perfect.” I blurted out smiling from ear to ear with relief. “Getting the undercut buzzed will be kind of an adventure, I’ve never had clippers used on me before. Thank you.”
“I’m glad we finally settled on a style you’ll enjoy. You’re going to be so cute with an undercut bob.” Jill bubbled as she sat down and topped off my glass. “When it’s down it will bring attention to that delicate jawline of yours, and when it’s up the shaved half will be so fun. Give the little old ladies something to talk about.”
I suddenly realized I should have asked to see pictures before I agreed to anything, because Jill’s description had just suddenly veered away from my vision extremely dramatically. I chugged my glass of wine down in a most unladylike manner, and held it out to Jill to refill.
“I think I was picturing it a little differently than you were.” I said.
“Well the way I’m picturing it, you are gorgeous.”
“How high does she want the undercut?” Liz asked Jill, having decided I was not really part of the discussion.
“Take it as high as you can without it looking thin when down.”
“Considering how thick this hair is, I can go well above her ears no problem.”
“That will be great, since she really wanted the practicality of short hair.”
“An undercut is a good compromise between the ease of short hair and the look of longer hair.” Liz stated.
“Exactly.” Jill agreed enthusiastically.
Liz seemed to be done fluffing my hair and asking questions. She pulled the mass back into a bundle as best she could, and twisted it into a makeshift bun that she secured to my head with 3 claw clips.
Liz reached for the cape that was draped over the back of the chair Jill sat in, and started shaking out the white nylon fabric. I swallowed the lump in my throat, as Liz swung the cape over my lap. The light weight fabric billowed down, draping over me with just a few wrinkles. Liz started fussing with the cape as she pulled it up my shoulders, smoothing out those wrinkles as she went.
I woke with a pounding headache determined to be really direct with Jill, who seemed to be already showered and sitting on the chair I usually draped my bra over. She was clipping her toenails into the small trash can and didn’t seem to have noticed I was awake.
“I have a headache.” Slipped out before I could get to the point and be direct with Jill. “I don’t want a haircut.”
“Do you have a fever? Does anything else hurt?” Jill asked in a worried tone, looking up from her toes.
“I just drank too much last night.” I said running my hand up through my long hair. “I don’t want a haircut.”
“You’ve got plenty of time to get over your headache before the appointment. The earliest I could get was 11:30.” Jill assured me as she finished her left foot and switched to her right foot. “I’ll go get you an aspirin and something with electrolytes in a sec.”
I lay there, staring at the ceiling and wondered how that had just gone wrong. Why had the focus come out as the headache, making the headache seem like the reason I didn’t want a haircut, and not that I just plain and simply didn’t want a haircut. Was I just that bad at communicating? Was the universe conspiring against me? Was Jill being deliberately obtuse just because she wanted to force me into getting the damned haircut without coming off as the bad guy so she was just going to keep pretending that I wanted to hack off all my beautiful hair even though she damned well knew I didn’t?
I carefully raised my head to look at Jill sitting there, the tip of her tongue out to the side as she focused on her pinky toe. Yeah, Jill was not nearly a good enough actress to pull off that level of deliberately obtuse.
This was my last chance, I could make a fuss. I can get up and leave. It’s not like they’re holding me down. I just continued to sit there, I had promised, I didn’t break promises. Jill had come back, I was getting a short haircut, that was the deal. I felt a tear begin to form in the corner of my eye.
Liz was fastening the cape at my neck, taking way too long with it, readjusting it a few times. She tugged the neck quite tight a few times. I wished she’d just finish and get it over with, was she enjoying dragging this out.
I sat on the edge of the bed in my robe pulling the brush through my long hair, knowing it was going to be the last time. I could easily have been done, but I was going slowly, savoring the feeling. The gentle tug of the brush making its way through the dark sea of soft waves. The silky tresses were so full in the hand I could barely close around them. I didn’t want it to end.
“Just think about how much time it’s going to save you when you don’t have to do that anymore.” Jill said as she returned to the bedroom from brushing her teeth, and went to the drawer for a pair of socks. “I’m always ready before you mostly because fussing over all that hair takes a million years.”
Liz started chatting with Jill about something mundane after she’d released my hair from the claw clips to spill over the cape that had ended up being uncomfortably tight around my neck. I might as well have just been a manakin sitting there for the amount of attention that Liz was paying to how I actually felt about the impending haircut.
Liz combed out my hair, then parted it at my left temple. She took the part all the way to the back of my head, then started a matching part from my right temple. She soon had all the hair from my crown neatly separated from the rest, and she twisted it up and clipped it to the top of my head.
She combed through the loose hair a little more, fanning it out around my shoulders. She made sure it was completely smooth and perfect before she went over to the counter in front of me where a bunch of shears and scissors were lined up. The hair smoothly fanned out covered me like a shawl.
Liz’s fingers hovered over the line of shears, then selected the longest pair from the end. She turned back to me grinning eerily like a Cheshire cat. The light caught on the long silver blade, and it took all my self control to keep sitting there.
She came behind me and lifted the first lock from in front of my left ear, gripped it firmly just a couple of inches from my scalp, and raised the scissors to the space between her hand and my head.
The scissors closed and Liz was holding the amazingly long lock dangling from her hand. She took it over to the empty counter in front of Jill, and stretched it out neatly and carefully.
Jill looked down at the long lock. I expected to see delight, perhaps happiness, or maybe awe, or just simple curiosity on her face, but it wasn’t any of those. The emotion she was showing was hard to pin down exactly, it was shifting and clouded. If I had to guess, it seemed to have at least some element of regret. It faded towards resignation, before she caught me looking at her and deliberately switched to an almost convincing smile.
“Come on Amy, we don’t want to be late. It’s a bit of a drive, not as far as my place, but close.” Jill said as I tried to find one more thing I needed to do before we could go. “I know you’re nervous, but stalling isn’t going to help.”
“I’m not just nervous.” I said, trying one more time to make how I felt clear. “It was really impulsive of me when I promised to get my hair cut short Sunday, and now I regret making the deal. I’m just not the kind of person who backs out of deals, and you already filled your side of the deal and came back, so I am going to get the haircut.”
“It’s just cold feet, Amy.” She insisted while taking my hands. “You made that promise because you knew it was what you should do, but knew you’d be scared and want to back out if it wasn’t a promise. You’ll love it once it’s done.”
Jill let go of my hands and grabbed her keys and backpack on the way out the door. I took a deep breath and followed.
The horrible sound of scissors crunching through my dry hair filled my ears. Then there was the pause as Liz laid out the lock next to the previous one. A couple of foot steps. Then the horrible crunching started again.
I watched in the mirror as my flowing mane was slowly reduced a little at a time to scruff. Liz seemed to care much more about being careful with the hair she was harvesting than what she was leaving on my head. She chatted with Jill, in a friendly manner. The closest thing she did to communicating with me was tilt my head with her hands when she needed to make it easier for her to gather what she wanted to cut.
My head tilted forward, I felt my warm comforting shawl of hair lifted away off my neck, and cold steel brush against me in its place. The crunching began again. When it ended with a snap, and I felt the release of the tension from the back of my head, much of my neck was bare. I looked up as I heard Liz’s feet move away. Jill once again watched Liz spread out the long lock with a tight lipped express, which she controlled as soon as she looked at me.
“Don’t worry Amy.” Jill reached out to me and brushed a tear I had barely noticed from my cheek. “You’re going to be so cute. We’ll both love it. I promise.”
“I know you’re going to love it.” Jill said enthusiastically from the driver’s seat, as I sat silently in the passenger seat.
I watched and listened as the last lock was cut from in front of my right ear, completing my rough undercut. My cheeks had a couple of damp streaks going down them.
“There you go.” Jill said in what I had come to realize was a completely false enthusiastic tone. “I bet that already feels so much lighter. It’s great right?”
“I promise it is going to be a really great haircut on you. It’s just what you need.”
Liz removed the clip that held the still long crown section of hair in a twist to the top of my head. It slid down untwisting as it went. It spilled out over my shoulders, pretty much hiding the messy undercut.
My hair didn’t look quite the same as it had before. I’d had it layered a while back, so the hair from the crown didn’t reach all the way to my waist band. And though it didn’t look obviously thin, it wasn’t nearly as thick and voluminous as it had been before Liz had cut off so much of the hair beneath. It was passably long hair though, looking at the pile on the counter, I really felt like I’d gone far enoughto keep my end of the bargain. I was considering asking to keep it though.
Liz started gathering the long hair into a sort of ponytail in her hand at the base of my neck.
“I was wondering if…” I started in a too small, too squeaky voice.
Liz just continued to ignore me and swiftly raised the scissors to it and started cutting. She obviously didn’t plan to let my trepidation get in the way of her harvesting my full head of hair.
“What is it Amy?” Jill asked too late.
“Nothing.” I said as I watched the final ponytail laid out with the rest of my hair.
Jill frowned, I’m pretty sure she’d figured out I was going to ask to keep the top longer, and had missed the opportunity. I’m not sure how she would have reacted if I’d been able to get the request out in time. Would she have been supportive or tried to talk me into the shorter cut. I would never really know.
“It’s going to make things so much easier.” Jill continued her nearly nonstop monologue about why I really was going to love having my hair cut off. “It will be so easy for me to keep an eye on the back of your head.”
“Why would you want to keep an eye on the back of my head?” I asked exasperatedly, of all the stuff she’d said to convince me, that one was the weirdest.
Jill drove silently for several minutes.
“Let’s go get you shampooed sweetie, ok.” Liz said, as she dusted nothing off my shoulders. “Can you wait here Jill, it’s kind of tight back there.”
“Ok.” Jill answered with the smile that had stopped convincing me of anything. “The hard part is over anyway, huh Amy? Soon you can just start enjoying your new style.”
I gave a little nod as the newly cut ends of my hair brush against my caped shoulders making the faintest scritching sound. Then I followed Liz back towards the sinks. As we passed one of the other ladies who seemed to work at the salon, Liz paused.
“Gail, do me a favor and go put bands on the hair on the counter of the work station next to mine. It’s being donated and I don’t want it getting messed up.” Liz said to her, then when Gail agreed added, “Thanks.”
“Why would you want to be able to keep an eye on the back of my head?” I asked again.
“I guess I’m a little nervous too.” Jill chuckled nervously. “It really will be cute though. And hey, if you don’t really love it, you can grow it back when tick season is over, right?”
Jill was talking with Gail as Liz and I returned with my now short wet hair wrapped in a towel.
“……that long, huh?” Jill said with a wrinkled brow. “There’s variation right?”
“Well sure, some,” Gail answered, as she twisted a rubber band around the cut end of one of my locks. “But even if her hair grows really fast this is years worth. Plus, once hair has been cut, it has to be shed before it can ever get to it’s ultimate full length again. So yeah, quite a few years.”
“Hey,” I said to Jill as I sat back down in Liz’s styling chair.
“Hey.” She turned towards me with the fake smile plastered back onto her face, the wrinkles I saw just moments before gone. She was a better actress than I had realized. “I bet you can’t wait to see it all done. You’re going to be so cute.”
I shrugged and just stared at the mirror as Liz pulled off the towel. Liz started combing through my hair again as she chatted with Jill and Gail about how cute I was supposedly going to be. I just wished they’d all just shut up as I watched Liz twist the hair from my crown up again and secure it once more to the top of my head.
Liz was chuckling about something Gail had said, as she reached over to the counter in front of me and selected a pair of scissors from her line up. She tilted my head down once again, so I was just looking at my lap covered in the white nylon. I felt the comb go down through my hair a couple of times. Then it went back upwards, from the bottom lifting the short locks away from my head.
Sclick, sclick, sclick, sclick, sclick. Plop. Sclick, sclick, plop.
Short brown clippings fell into my lap, as I heard Gail giggle about something. I watched a tear fall and get lost in the small damp pile.
Sclick, sclick, sclick. Plop. Sssclick, sclick, plop.
The pile was growing as the comb scraped up the back of my head, making me think of nails on a chalkboard. They continued their jovial conversation, Jill joining in ignoring my feelings.
I looked up as much as I could with my head tilted down, I could only see Gail’s hands and the lower part of her body. She was leaning up against the counter casually. She held a bundle of my long hair in one hand, and was swishing it back and forth through her other hand. Feeling the soft tresses brush over her fingers, she was obviously enjoying the sensation. It was a stolen intimacy, something that I wouldn’t normally share with a stranger. Only a few people got to run their fingers through my hair, always with my agreement. If it had been still attached to my head, she never would have been so presumptuous.
I felt Liz’s fingers on my head, tilting it to the side and up a little more. Why had I agreed to let Liz run her fingers through my hair? I could have told Jill I wanted to choose where to get my haircut myself. I’d promised to cut my hair, not to let Liz do it, but I guess I hadn’t known that I was going to hate Liz since I’d only just met her.
I could see Jill out of the corner of my eye, chuckling along with Liz and Gail. The sound of the scissor chomping through my wet hair was never quite drowned out by the jovial chit chat though.
I looked back down at my lap, the small pile of hair gradually increasing. I suspected there was a lot more hair behind me from the way I had been feeling hair land on my neck and shoulders. I even saw Liz shake larger clumps of hair from her comb occasionally.
She tilted my head up, so I was looking in the mirror. I watched as the comb slid up behind my ear, lifting the hair up. As soon as my hair was sticking out slightly Liz’s greedy scissors removed it right against the comb. They flicked open and closed so quickly, they were a glinting silver blur. The stolen hair fell discarded to my shoulder and the floor as I watched the comb finally come in front of my ear. The level of shortness being shown clearly. It was shorter than Jill’s.
My heart pounded in my ear, as Liz paused, brushing her fingers through the cropped area. She was talking to Jill as she did so, and tilting my head slightly. My focus went fuzzy as I stared at my reflection in the mirror.
“Amy? Amy?” Jill was asking in a concerned voice. I wondered if it was fake concern, like the fake enthusiasm earlier.
“Huh?” I turned and my eyes regained focus as I looked up at Jill’s worried face. The concern in her eyes looked real.
“Is it ok to go a little shorter?” Jill asked me. “Liz and I both think a little shorter would be better.”
I looked back at the mirror. What did it matter? My long hair was gone, what did a little bit more off really change? Well, I guess I didn’t want it to really look bald.
“I should get back to work.” Gail announced a little uncomfortably into the silence, as she put down the lock she’d been playing with and squeezed between the seat I was in and the one Jill was in as she walked away.
I looked back at the mirror, this time focusing on my face. I looked sad and defeated. I wasn’t actively crying, but the tears from earlier had left slightly visible salty streaks down my cheeks. I wondere if my suddenly raising my face, killing any illusion that I was just a happy but shy participant, was what had made Gail suddenly uncomfortable with the cheerful chatter.
“Just not all the way to the skin, please.” I finally said.
Jill managed to get street parking across the street from the salon. I looked at the place as Jill fished around in the bottom of her purse for change to feed the old fashioned meters that didn’t take cards.
“Why did you come back Sunday night?” I asked.
“I’m not really sure what you’re asking me.” Jill said a little shakily.
“I’m not sure either.”
Liz was silent as she started cutting more off the same area she’d already cut. Nothing but the sound of fast snipping filled my ears. This time, the hair that rained down on my shoulders was too little to add any sound. Though, the scissors did occasionally click against the comb.
My head was kind of sore from the comb going over it so many times, by the time Liz paused and put down the scissors. My eyes followed Liz as she reached for the item that was in a charger in the corner right by the mirror. I wasn’t sure if they counted as clippers or a trimmer since they looked kind of in between. But I knew that in all my visits to salons or the barbershop my dad took me to as a kid to get an inch trimmed off occasionally, I’d never actually had short enough hair for either to be needed.
I swallowed, the tightness of the cape around my neck making it uncomfortable, as I heard the buzzing hum start. Liz tilted my head down, so I was once again looking at the little pile of hair in my lap. She combed down the tiny bit of hair I had left on the back of my head, then I felt the vibrating machine on my neck. It climbed slowly up the back of my head. Higher than I had expected, before Liz flicked it away from my head. I guess they counted as clippers since she wasn’t only using them to trim around the edge.
As Liz worked her way across my nape with pass after pass tiny bits of hair flew about. I sat there enduring the rain of hair, as the humming blades stripped away half of what little length still remained on my nape and around my ears. Little bits of the hair were sticking uncomfortably to my ears, and neck, and face.
When Liz turned off the clippers, I turned my head so I could see in the mirror. The hair around my ears was so short, I could see pale scalp through it. I looked at Jill. She gave me a stiff smile before Liz returned behind me with a smaller higher pitched device, that I figured must be the trimmer.
“Now’d be the time to tell me if you were thinking about a design?” Liz announced, as she stood there comb and trimmer in hand.
I silently shook my head no, I’d been thinking about it the night before, but in the moment I just wanted to get away from Liz as soon as possible. Then I took a deep breath and closed my eyes as I waited for the next segment of this nightmare to commence. Liz began carving a clean line around the bottom of the undercut, then up around my ears. She shaped my side burn, then worst of all, shaped the hairline at my temple. I wondered how weird that was going to look as it grew back.
Liz undid the clips that held the hair on my crown up. The wet locks tumbled down, slapping against the way too close to bare skin on the back of my head. Compared to the undercut, it felt long. Compared to what I had walked in with, though… I looked over at the bundles of long hair on the counter by Jill.
After she’d shoved a handful of quarters into the meter, Jill opened the passenger side door and looked down at me expectantly. I took a deep breath, and swung my legs out the car door and stood there looking at Jill.
“You know it’s not just cold feet.” I stated.
“We can’t put this off, Amy.” Jill stroked the side of my face, brushing her hand back into my hair after. “You need to get this done sooner than later.”
She closed the car door and pulled me across the street.
I felt the points of the scissors on my neck, just before the long hiss as the blades closed, and another inch or so of hair fell. The cold metal creeped around my neck, cutting the wet hair that was pressed against my skin off just a little below my natural hairline. Though, I suspected the undercut had brought my new hairline up quite a bit.
I watched as the scissors came into view and kept slicing along creating a neat line a little below my jaw. The severed hair joined the pile in my lap. I sat there wishing Liz would just hurry up and get it over with as she carefully took little snips making it absolutely perfect. Then she began layering, combing my hair up, and snipping more off, it fell in front of my eyes to my lap.
When Liz started blow drying and styling my hair, the bareness in the back became so much more noticable. The hot air from the dryer blasted against the scalp where there was not enough hair left to insulate it. The bristles of the large round brush Liz was using to straighten the longish hair were almost constantly scraped against my scalp, instead of just occasionally like it would have before.
I was relieved that the torture of styling was over when Liz finally turned off the blowdryer. But then of course there was more snipping. The fussy slow perfecting.
I had always had patience for it on the rare occasions when I got around to having my longhair trimmed, but it felt so different with this haircut that I had not wanted. Ironically, I was sure that it probably made more of a difference on the short style than it ever had for the thick long hair that was going to do its own thing no matter what.
The dry hair sprinkled down as Liz made sure that every hair along the bottom of the cut was not even a millimeter off. She swished my hair back and forth checking how it fell, then raising up little bits here and there to take more off this layer or that layer. She thinned out a lot of it. She even got the trimmer out again and made sure the neckline was exactly how she thought it should be.
“Now isn’t this fun!” Liz announced cheerfully as she held up the hand mirror showing me the back of my head, and demonstrating what she was talking about. “Straightened like this, the undercut is completely hidden in the back, but just give it a flick, and there it is. Also you can get just a peak of it on the side when you tuck your hair behind your ear. Very Flirty”
“Very Flirty indeed.” Jill agreed.
“Now, the very bottom of the undercut will be visible if after you wash your hair, you give it a good scrunch with some product to bring out the curls. Of course the real fun is when you wear it up. Just pull the top up into a little ponytail, and it’s a whole different look.” Liz demonstrated with one of her claw clips, and held the mirror closer so I could see the bottom of the undercut where it faded down to nothing. “And you aren’t going to believe how much cooler you’ll be on a hot day. And it will take so much less time to straighten won’t it.”
“I never actually straightened it when it was long.” I said flatly.
“Well, now that it’s easy, maybe you will.” Liz suggested in a somewhat disappointed tone as she took back her claw clip and put away her mirror.
“Thank you Liz, she looks incredible.” Jill said, getting up and resting a hand on my shoulder.
I raised my hand, and tucked my hair behind my ear, revealing the corner of the undercut. Then I cautiously placed my hand. on the back of my head. It felt like velvet.
“It feels really good.” I offered, because I felt obliged to say something nice.
Liz gave me a slightly confused smile. I think she could tell by now that I hadn’t just been nervous, but had no real desire for the haircut at all. And she didn’t understand why I had come for one.
I waited outside while Jill paid. I stood there, feeling hurt, feeling betrayed.
Jill came out, and came over, with the damned fake smile plastered on her face. She reached over and brushed her hand through the little hair I had left.
“I love that you did this. You look so cute.” She once again tried to put some positive spin on this whole thing. “Just give it a few days, and you’ll absolutely love it once the shock has worn off.”
“Stop pretending.” I said as I pulled away from her and started across the street towards her car. “You know I hate it. You know I’m going to hate it for the 3 or 4 or 5 years it’s going to take to grow back.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know how long it was going to take to grow back till I talked to Gail.”
“You could have asked me.” I spat out as I stood at the car door waiting to be let in. “Just please take me home.”
“We don’t have time to go back to your place before the first apartment viewing.” Jill said too calmly. “Why don’t we go grab a slice and talk about it. Frank’s Pizzeria is just around the corner. It’s very good. We have plenty of time on the meter.”
“I don’t want pizza, I don’t want to look at apartments, I just want you to take me home.”
“Ok, I’ll call the landlords who were going to show us apartments and see if we can reschedule.” Liz said as she finally unlocked the car.
“It’s not that I’m not in the mood for looking at apartments today,” I explained as I pulled the car door open. “I don’t want to look for apartments ANYMORE. The only thing that was ever wrong with my apartment was that it wasn’t close enough to you.”
I slid down into the passenger seat, and slammed the door hard. I leaned back, and ran my hands up over my face into my way too little hair. I closed my eyes, and felt the tear create a cold path down my cheek.
I heard the car door open, then felt the car rock slightly as Jill took her place in the driver seat. She closed her door more gently than I had closed mine. She didn’t say anything, she didn’t start the car, she just sat.
I sat leaning back, my eyes closed, waiting as tears fell along my face. I waited till my eyes were dry. I sighed and rubbed my face. Jill still hadn’t started the car.
“Are we going?” I finally gave up waiting.
“Just give me a minute, I need to compose myself and call the landlords to cancel.”
I sat up and looked over at Jill. She sat stiffly looking straight ahead. Her round cheeks glistened with wetness. I lean back again.
“Why did you come back Sunday night?”
“I still don’t know what you’re asking me.” Jill said, closing her eyes.
“If I hadn’t offered to get my hair cut short would you have come back?”
“Of course I would have.”
“Then why didn’t you agree to come back immediately? Why did I have to dangle that carrot in your face?”
Jill sat silent for a moment before she finally started talking slowly, deliberately, obviously choosing her words carefully. “I agreed to come back as soon as I realized how serious you were. You deciding you wanted to cut your hair, just was a really fast way of letting me know that you were actually serious. You wouldn’t have made it a promise I could collect even if there was no tick, unless you were nearly positive it was a tick.”
“There really was a tick though.” I said, feeling my voice quiver. “I could see why you would have a right to collect your reward if I had dragged you back on a wild goose chase, but there really was a tick.”
“I would have let the haircut go if there hadn’t been ticks.” Jill said, her own voice full of pain. “But since there really were ticks, I need to be able to keep an eye on that spot, and that would have been impossible with all that hair you had. It wasn’t about collecting my reward, it was because you really did need a haircut.”
“That’s such bullshit.” I practically growled. “It was one tick that had only been there for a few hours. It takes like 48 hours or more to get lyme. That’s not happening from a single tick in less than 8 hours. Is it?”
I waited for Jill to respond, but she didn’t, so I tried again, “Jill, was I really going to get lyme from a tick that had been there for just a few hours?”
Jill didn’t answer. I lifted my head up and looked over at her. She was looking away from me, out the window, while biting her thumb nail.
“Jill?” I saw her inhale. “JILL!”
“I didn’t want to panic you.” She said in a small voice. “You were already so upset.”
“It was one tick that had been there a few hours?”
“It was 3 ticks, fully engorged.” Jill finally admitted. “Remember how I accidently pulled out hairs a couple of times while I was checking the rest of your head carefully to make sure it was the only tick? Well, the reason I accidently pulled out the hairs was because I was removing more ticks. I didn’t want to have to tell you that you’d been walking around for god only knows how long with 3 ticks on your head.”
“I must have gotten them on the Tuesday when I was volunteering at the community garden.” I said as the realization struck me. “A branch got stuck in my hair.”
I felt sick to my stomach. I put my hand to the velvety hair that was where the tick, ticks, had been. I suddenly felt contaminated all over again.
“I figured if I told you, you’d have completely freaked out that night and insisted on completely shaving your head right away.” Jill explained her thinking. “Then you’d have regretted it in the morning. And you promised to get a haircut anyway, so I just figured I could keep an eye on it without having to freak you out?”
Jill was so right, if I had known about the 3 engorged ticks then I would have just shaved my head Sunday night. That had been days ago, and it still was freaking me out.
“Do you think Liz can squeeze me in to take the undercut down to the skin right now, before we meet the landlords?”
“Oh, Amy.” Jill let out with a sigh that morphed into a chuckle. “Don’t do it impulsively. Sleep on it, and if you really still want it tomorrow, we’ll see if she can squeeze you in, and I’ll bring you back. I promise.”
Monday morning, Jill called into work and told them she needed to take a personal day. She drove me to the urgent care, and stayed with me. I sat on the paper covered examination table, Jill sat on the chair next to it holding my hand, as we waited for the doctor to come. Time felt weird as we waited. I wasn’t sure if it had actually been a long wait, or if it just felt that way because I was so anxious, but it was a relief when I heard the knock on the door.
“Hi, I’m Dr Miller.” He said in the usual neutral friendly but professional tone. “It says here that you had a few tick bites and are now concerned you may have lyme. Can you give me the timeline of the tick bites, and tell me what makes you think you might have lyme?”
“I found a tick a week ago Sunday.” I began the story. “My girlfriend here removed it and found a couple more.”
“They were fully engorged.” Jill added.
“Yeah, I may have gotten them the Tuesday before, while gardening. Then last night as we were getting ready for bed…”
“I saw a rash where I pulled one of the ticks off from.” Jill finished up for me, giving my hand a reassuring squeeze.
“Ok,” Dr Miller said as he jotted notes down. “I can run blood tests, but it’s really early for lyme to show up on it. The results don’t usually come back positive till you’re really sick. Depending on what the rash looks like, I may want to start treatment right away. The earlier we start the better.
“Where is the rash?” Dr Miller looked at us.
“It’s on the back of her head.” Jill said, giving my hand another squeeze.
“That’s going to make things a little difficult,” Dr Miller frowned. “How do you feel about letting one of our nurses or medical technicians shave a little bit of it? I can’t promise it will look good, but they try to only shave off as much as they have to and no more. I know it’s a really big thing to ask, but I’m uncomfortable writing a prescription without seeing the shape of the whole rash. If you’re not ok with it we can wait for blood work.”
“Actually,” I released Jill’s hand and gathered up my hair. “I already have an undercut.”
“Well that’s convenient.” Dr Miller said with relief as he looked at the back of my head. “Yeah, that’s a really typical bullseye rash. I definitely want to start treatment immediately.”
I let my hair back down as Dr Miller started writing more notes.
“That’s a much better haircut than what you probably would have gotten from one of the medical technicians.” Dr Miller joked. Then he added more seriously, “I’m sure it also made finding the ticks and rash easier. It’s better to catch these things early.”
I reached down, taking Jill’s hand back. I looked into her relieved eyes and mouthed thank you.