When Watching Isn’t Enough
Sue Parker walked with her friend until she had to turn off onto her street. All the way down Alexander Avenue, Sue wondered if anyone might notice the marked difference in her hair. Sue had always known that her hair was fine, but she never realized just how thin her hair was until the barber had removed more than half of it doing a severe undercut.
Sue felt up the back of her head, knowing that to anyone close, the shaved skin was clearly visible through her hair. How on earth was she going to explain this to her mother? Fortunately, everyone she passed was far enough away not to notice her drastically thinner hair. That was until Jenny Marks came walking down her drive, heading in Sue’s direction.
If she crossed the street, Jenny would wonder why. They only lived four doors apart, and had been best friends until they’d had a huge falling out in seventh grade. It was all over a boy, a boy that neither of them had the least bit of interest in anymore. Sue often regretted that Jenny still held that grudge.
“Susie Parker? What did you, ohh…, you got an undercut.” Jenny remarked, knowingly. Jenny, unlike Sue, was proud of her chestnut locks, which fell well past her shoulders in thick curling waves. “Let’s see.” Without permission from Sue, jenny reached out and lifted Sue’s hair away from her head, examining the freshly shaved scalp beneath. “Woof. Man, you’re bald as an onion under there, aren’t you?”
Sue felt her face heat, probably turning all shades of red. “Yeah, I decided to have it done this afternoon. It’ll grow in fast enough.” Sue explained, knowing full well that she had no intention of letting it grow in at all.
“Girl, you aren’t gonna have anything noticeable under there for at least a month.” Jenny prodded, viciously. “What were you thinking? Your hair’s so thin now that everyone’s going to want to check that shit out.” Jenny laughed as she continued down the street.
Of course, Sue knew that Jenny was right, regardless of how vindictive she was. She would definitely be a target at school and trying to hide her silky scalp was probably a mistake. She knew she had to go big or go home.
As she walked up her driveway, she had hoped that her mother’s car might be missing, and that she would be granted a temporary reprieve. Unfortunately, it sat in its usual spot.
“Mom, I’m home,” Sue called out, knowing that if she didn’t her mother would search her out anyway. Might as well get it over with.
“Hi, Honey. I’ve got a roast cooking on the…” Her mother stopped mid-sentence as she got her first good look at her daughter. “Susan Parker! What on earth?” She reached out and tousled Sue’s hair, revealing the shaved skin that dominated most of her head. “Oh, my God!”
“Mom, it’s not that bad. I can still wear it down.” Sue tried to reason.
“Jesus, whoever did this to you, well…, they… Susan, half your head shaved bald!” Her mother realized as she lifted Sue’s hair to get a better look. “Was this that damned Bob Hammond? Damn him anyway. Did he shave you with a razor or something?”
“Listen, Mom. Don’t blame Bob. This was my idea, one hundred percent.” Sue said, tersely.
“Well, there’s no fixing this, is there.” Her mother exclaimed, a statement rather than a question.
Sue shook her head, in essence agreeing with her mother. Deep inside though, Sue knew that there was one fix that was even more tantalizing than the undercut. If her mother was pissed now, she couldn’t imagine how freaked she’d be with that fix.
Of course, when her brothers saw her, they couldn’t get over it. Jim was cool, he always was, but Mark was almost cruel with his ribbing. “Jeez, Sue. You might as well have shaved it all off, yeah? Man, I can see right through your hair.”
Leave it to her twin brother. “Thanks, Captain Obvious!” Sue bit back, lifting her hair so that the full extent of the undercut was completely exposed. “I like this, so back off.”
“Man, bob skinned you good, didn’t he?” Mark pointed out, reaching out to touch the sensitive skin, but Sue shied away in time to prevent it.
Sue knew that she might as well get used to it. Everyone and their brother were going to be touching her baldness. “Go ahead, if you must.” Sue leaned down allowing her twin to feel the extent of the shaving.
“Smooth as a baby’s bottom, right?” Mark giggled.
“To be honest, Mark, I really like the feel of it,” Sue admitted, painfully.
“What’s not to like, sis?” He sat back, getting a better look. “You should, like, braid it or something.”
Sue thought about her brother’s suggestion, dismissing it at first. After a moment though, it was the perfect way to go big. “Thanks, Mark. That’s actually a great idea.”
“You want me to do it for you?” He asked, tentatively.
“How would you know how to braid hair?” Sue asked, curiously.
“Marcy likes me to play with her hair. I’m pretty good at it.” Mark admitted.
Mark had been dating Marcy for over a year, and even though their mother disapproved of him being in such a serious relationship, she couldn’t very well break them up.
“Can you do a bunch of small braids, like cornrows?” Sue asked, hopefully.
“Ha, my specialty.” Mark laughed. “Let me at it, then.”
An hour later, Sue sat staring at herself in the mirror. Her hair was so thin and fine that the cornrows laid almost flat against her head, dancing over the smoothly shaved nape and sides like so much confetti.
“Definitely cool, Sis. At least way cooler than trying to hide it under what’s left of your hair.” Mark tied in the last of jade beads that weighted down the braids at the ends.
It actually looked really good. Sue swung her head back and forth, allowing the braids to dance about, wincing as the beads managed to snap her in the mouth. She had allowed Mark to trim a good six inches off her hair in exchange for doing the braids. It was still just off her shoulders, even with the finely woven tendrils worked into her platinum locks.
“Nobody’s going to know who the hell you are,” Mark said, in jest.
Sue had to admit that she did look like an entirely different person, and knew that kids that didn’t know her really well, might walk right past her in school. “Thanks, Mark.”
“Not a problem.” Mark held up the six-inch pony that he had secured with a rubber band, twirling it between his fingers. “For posterity. I’ll keep it in a safe place so I can torture you with it years from now.”
“You would.” Sue said, smiling.
Finally alone in her room, Sue looked at herself again in the mirror, admiring the fine job her brother had done. As much as they battled, he was a decent brother. Her mother called them to supper after that, and she knew she would not approve of the braids.
“Well, I suppose you think you’re going to school like that?” Her mother remarked, annoyed.
“That’s the plan, Mom. It’s better than trying to hide it.” Sue said.
Her mother certainly couldn’t argue with that logic. She knew how mean kids could be, and it was a better solution than trying to hide. “Fine, but I just don’t understand why you would such a thing to your beautiful hair.”
The boys just looked at each other, as if they knew something that their mother had failed to understand. “You know, Mom,” Jimmy finally started, “You’ve been dragging Sue to the barbers’ for years. I think it’s amazing she’s lasted this long before climbing into the chair.”
“And, it’s not like she shaved it all off.” Mark chimed in.
Sue appreciated her brothers standing up for her, but she was perfectly capable of justifying her actions all by herself. “Do you think all those Saturdays I sat there completely oblivious to what was happening around me? It kind of sunk in, Mom.”
“So, you’re saying it’s my fault.” Her mother accused. “All this time since your father left, I’ve been busting my tail trying to raise you kids. What else was I supposed to do with you, Susan?”
“It’s not anyone’s fault, Mom. It just happened.” Sue protested. “It’s only hair, for crying out loud.”
Her mother took a deep breath, calming herself visibly. “You’re right. It’s only hair.” She threw her hands up and laughed.
The next day came, and Sue knew that school was going to be a much more challenging trial than any argument with her mother. She met Bridget at the end of her street as they waited for the school bus.
“The braids are awesome, Soup!” She twiddled a few of them with her finger. “You didn’t do that yourself, right?”
“No, believe it or not, Mark braided it for me,” Sue said, with a smile.
“So, you decided not to try and hide your scalp after all.” Jenny chirped from the other side of the bus stop. “Wise move.” Sue just ignored her, knowing she had made the right choice.
“Mark? Wait, the arch-enemy braided your hair?” Bridget gaped.
“He’s not that bad, Gidge. It was actually his idea. All it cost me was six inches.” Sue admitted.
“Six inches of…your hair?” Bridget wondered.
“Hey, what difference does it make now, really?” Sue shrugged.
School was everything Sue thought it was going to be, from the minute she walked through the doors, until she slammed her locker at the end of the day. Twenty people must have felt her head, ‘because they just had to feel it’. If she didn’t know all of them, she would have felt violated. Most of her friends, like Bridget, loved the look, thinking that she was brave for doing something so drastic to what had arguably been the most beautiful head of hair in school.
Most of the boys were shocked, and a few were really disappointed, including Paul Winters. Sue and Paul were starting to get close that year, after Sue had crushed on him for at least the whole previous summer. It was a disappointment that he was so shocked by what she had done. Sue thought what they had was more than the superficial. It was only when she overheard him saying that he wasn’t planning on hanging out with her anymore, that she really began to feel down.
“So, you and Paul broke up?” Bridget asked, delicately, on the bus ride home.
“We didn’t break up, because we weren’t going out.” Sue corrected.
“Sorry, I thought…”
“Can we please stop talking about Paul, Gidge?” Sue grumbled, sadly.
In fact, Sue was under the impression that she and Paul were going out. He hadn’t given her jewelry or anything, but the numerous make-out sessions were evidence enough of the way he felt about her. At least, how she thought he felt about her.
It was almost the end of the school year, but the time Sue’s hair had grown in enough that she felt comfortable removing the braids. Her friends had warned her that she might not like her hair for a few days afterward, after having been in for nearly two months.
Looking at herself one last time, she lifted the braids, seeing the short but not clippered looking hair beneath. At least it laid down against her head. Slowly, she began to remove the beads, unraveling the hair above it. Shock was probably not an adequate word to describe what she saw by the end of it.
Even after washing and conditioning it twice, her hair still looked like lamb’s wool. The braids had been so tight and small, and her hair so fine, that it had seemingly been permanently kinked into the frizzy corkscrew disaster.
Jimmy stepped into her room, hearing his sister crying. “It’s not that bad, Sue. It’ll probably straighten out after a while.”
“There’s no way I can go to school like this, Jimmy.” Sue sobbed. “What am I going to do?”
“Well, you could always cut it off. I mean, it’s what you’ve wanted to do all along, anyway, right?” Jimmy suggested. “Listen, Mark and me, we’re heading up to Bob’s in a few. Why don’t you come with us?”
Sue thought about it for a minute, eyeing her brother for any other witty suggestions. “Fine.” That was all she said, as she grabbed her purse and headed down the stairs with him.
Mark was all apologies on the way to the barbershop, feeling somewhat responsible for the damage to his sister’s hair. Sue had known that keeping the braids in for so long was risky. She didn’t blame him.
“Mark, forget it. It was my decision to leave them in for so long.” Sue assured him.
The shop was fairly crowded when they got there, being a Saturday afternoon. Sue had managed to stuff all the damaged hair into a wool hat, so that the walk up there would be less traumatic. The fact that it was nearly ninety degrees, made that more than a little uncomfortable. They each took a number from the rack at the front of the shop, something that did not escape Bob’s keen eye.
“What’s going on under the hat, Sus…, Soup?” He corrected himself, as he clipped away at a young boy’s head.
Figuring that she was going to be taking it off soon anyway, Sue removed the hat, allowing the frizzy mop to escape and billow outwards. There were a few verbal comments that Sue heard, and even a few snickers from the boys near the front of the shop. How humiliating, she thought.
Sue sat and stared at the number she had grabbed, wishing that it was a little lower, and that there weren’t so many ahead of her. At least she would go before her brothers. Then the thought occurred to her. They would be watching whatever she had done. The last time, it had been just her and Bob. Now there was a shop full of people as well as her brothers.
Finally, after nearly an hour, her number was called. Bob was so disappointed that one of the other two barbers had called her number, that he bartered with him to finish the cut he was doing. Sue was certain that money was involved.
Right on cue, Bob spun his chair. “Your next, young lady.”
Sue rolled her eyes, looking back at her brothers who mimicked her expression to the T. Bob spun the chair around so she was facing the mirror and began fastening the cape around her neck.
“So, braids, I’m thinking.” Bob commented as he examined the wool-like texture of the hair. “Since I did this?” He ran his finger along the shorter hair beneath.
Sue just nodded. Bob tried his best to get a comb through it but after breaking the second one in two, he gave up.
“So, what are we doing here?” He asked, exasperated.
“Just cut it off. All of it.” Sue said, bravely
“Cut it off, like the same length as underneath?” Bob asked.
“No, all of it. Just like the last time.” Sue said, suddenly not feeling down at all. In fact, the idea of having ALL her hair shaved off was suddenly exciting to her.
“Shave it. Shave your entire head?” Bob asked, just to be clear.
“Go to town, Bob. It’s what you’ve wanted to do since I was little, right?” Both her brothers giggled with that comment.
Bob, on the other hand, was a little embarrassed by the insinuation. “One bald head, coming right up.” He finally said, so that the entire gaggle of onlookers could hear.
Sue watched, as amazed as her audience as her platinum frizz began to peel away from her head. It was something more akin to a sheep shearing than a haircut, the hair clinging to itself even after the blades had severed it from her head. Only after the last row of longer hair was buzzed, did the entire bundle of fleece fall unceremoniously to the floor.
Sue couldn’t help but giggle over the reaction of the men and boys watching from the chairs opposite as her hair came away, leaving nothing behind. The sides and the back were child’s play in comparison, and Bob made quick work of those, until, finally, Sue was shorn.
Sue looked over to her brothers by way of the mirror, both giving her two thumbs up. She reached out from under the cape and felt the sandpaper finish, only now it was all over.
“We’re not done yet, young lady.” Bob managed, as he loosened the cape at the back and folded it down inside her shirt collar. The warm lather being spread over her scalp caused Sue to close her eyes. She was anticipating the tug of the razor as it would work, in short, sure strokes.
Today, she would be bald. Not some compromise to appease her mother or her friends. No today was for her, and her alone. However unfortunate the events leading up to that moment might have been, they just didn’t matter.
So, when Bob finally shook out the cape and she, at last, was able to run her hands over her entire head, she seriously had to work to restrain herself. She wanted to scream in the worst way; not a scream of regret or horror, a scream of triumph and redemption. Susan Parker was bald at last.