March 2, 2010

The Unkindest Cut

 January 11, 1995
Dear Chuck,

You don’t know me. I only know your name is Chuck because that’s what your stepdaughter called you. It’s not the name I would have chosen. I would have named you jerk, or asshole, or even bastard. You see, I was at The Hair Force today, seated in the salon chair next to the one holding the little girl you left on her own while you did who knows what. She handled herself just fine without you. In fact, that’s what snagged my attention -- the voice of a child unaccompanied by an adult.

That’s not the way things usually work, Chuck. Usually, Chuck, children arrive in groups of two or more, their appointments scheduled back-to-back with that of the attending parent -- typically a mom -- who oversees and sometimes directs the stylist’s movements, while not literally wielding the tools of beauty herself. So when I heard your little girl chirping away at the next station, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop.

How old is she, Chuck? Seven? Eight? I know a lot about her. Getting her hair cut was her idea. She thought about cutting her hair short, but decided that would be too short. She used to have a boyfriend but he dumped her for a kindergartener. I drifted into the half sleep that I fall into whenever someone works or plays with my hair. Then the stylist said, “Does your mama know you want to cut off your hair?”

Your little girl said, “Oh, yes. She said it’s my hair, and I can decide what to do with it.”

I abandoned the unspoken dictates of beauty parlor etiquette, which require that patrons pretend we can neither see nor hear each other, and opened my eyes, thinking, first, Where is your mama? and second, How old was I before I could decide what to do with my hair? Nightmare visions of pixie cuts and Toni home perms and butchered bangs flashed before my eyes in the time it took the stylist to glide her comb through the thick, dark blonde tresses that cascaded over the back of the chair. “Are you sure you want to cut it? It’s so pretty .”