The Hair

12 Nov


My Jennifer,

Your mother told me about the happenings with [Mr. Poison] and now you are in Denver, Colorado. I am sorry you have hurt, but you have the courage and adventure in your life now. You can begin a new life.

You are a good woman. [Mr. Poison] was not as good as you. I said to your mother many times.

I send you this check for you to buy something nice (impractical).

Sincerely and love,
Aunt Petra

My Great Aunt Petra was the only one of my mother’s four aunts who never married. When Aunt Petra was my age, women in Hungary didn’t even dream about not being a housewife; Aunt Petra rebelled and instead moved to New York, where she eventually directed a small art gallery. Though she dated frequently, she never married because, according to my mom, “Petra didn’t want to spend her life waiting for a man to come home from work.” I didn’t know a lot about Aunt Petra, but I always kind of admired her. I wish I had appreciated her perspective more.

I carried Aunt Petra’s note in my handbag as I walked to the upscale hair salon where I was about to cash in on her encouragement to do something nice and impractical for myself.

It was one of those perfect afternoons in late fall, an unseasonably warm day where the whole city seemed to be alive in one last celebration before winter. A warm wind caught my hair, and I felt like I was in a movie montage, on top of the world. I thought of the woman with the sleek bob who had recommended this hairstylist. Maybe I should get a bob, I thought, and became giddy with the thought of a total transformation.

When I arrived at the minimalist salon, I kept my sunglasses on as I announced myself: “I’m here to see Steven Stephenson.”

A man with sculptured blond hair and an expensive looking blazer and t-shirt turned away from the woman whose hair he was cutting and stared me up and down for an uncomfortable silence. “I’ll be with you shortly.”

He turned back to the woman in the chair, whispered in her ear, and she threw her head back and laughed. He squeezed her shoulders as she stood up.

After he rang her out, Steven silently ushered me into the empty chair with a grand sweep of his arm. He whirled a cape around me like a bullfighter. Then, without a word, he left me to observe myself in the mirror.

I tried not to scrutinize the size of my nose, the circles under my eyes, the visible pores on my chin. My mind wandered to a video I had recently seen where a graphic designer Photo Shopped a slice of pizza into a swimsuit model. I tipped my chin up with false authority. No one Photo Shops the International Woman of Mystery.

When Steven finally returned, he exhaled heavily and ran his fingers through my long hair, catching his fingers on some snarls along the way. “What are we doing today?”

I really wanted to say, “All off,” Audrey Hepburn’s defiant line from Roman Holiday, but I didn’t have the guts. Instead, I decided to be a copycat and said, “Um, I’d like a bob?”

Steven raised an eyebrow. “Did you just get dumped?”

“What? Uh. No.” I looked away.

“Really? Because every chick I ever met who chopped her hair did it because some guy dumped her. All you girls are the same.”

“No,” was all I managed to get out. I felt dumb. Of course I was getting my hair cut to redefine myself post-breakup.

Steven whipped my chair around so he could look at me directly. “Let me tell you something, sweetheart. If you’re going to pull off short hair, you have to be honest with me and you have to let me be honest with you. Now –“ he straddled my knees and got very close to my face. “Do you trust me?”

“I just met you.” I pulled back and squirmed.

He gestured with his hands between the two of us. “This will only work if you believe that I will make you beautiful.”

Steven took my hand. “Come with me.” He led me to the back of the salon, where several plaques decorated the wall. He gestured. “This is why you can trust me. This magazine said I was the best hair stylist in Denver. And this one rated me best colorist in Colorado five years in a row.”

Then he held both of my hands. “Now. Do you trust me?”

I just wanted to get it over with, so I acquiesced. “Sure.”

He smiled and eye flirted with me. “Let’s go make you look stunning.”

I should have left. This should have been the moment I walked out on a man who wielded his power by believing he was responsible for making women more beautiful objects, more worthy of a man’s attention and validation.

But I felt frozen in the shadow of his ego. Aunt Petra would have been so disappointed.

I spent the next two hours in the chair, listening to Steven brag about his latest female conquest as he cut and darkened my hair (turns out, Steven is straight, which makes his invasion into my personal space so much creepier). I cringed when he said his last girlfriend didn’t do a good enough job of keeping him interested, and I silently begged Aunt Petra to forgive me for not saying anything when he said his new girlfriend was “qualified.”

When Steven finally finished my hair, he stepped back and admired his work.

Well damn. In addition to being a misogynist with an overinflated ego, Steven was also a talented stylist. I loved the way I looked. I hated that he was the one responsible for it.

“See.” Steven smirked. “You come in here because some guy broke your heart and you leave feeling like a million bucks. You’re welcome.”

I smiled with tight lips, said thank you, left a polite tip and walked out. I shivered in the now dark, cool evening. I didn’t feel like a million bucks though; I felt deflated. Why didn’t I put him in his place? I let my own fear of conflict inhibit my ability to dis-empower him.

Why was I doing any of this transformation if I couldn’t even stand up to someone as non-threatening as Steven? He was a hairstylist, after all, not the world’s most wanted villain. I had some work to do.

I caught my reflection in a window and startled myself. I didn’t look anything like the woman who walked into the salon two hours ago. I really did look like a woman capable of single-handedly saving the world through international espionage, clever survival tactics, nimble strength and sheer defiance.

A woman in a fur coat passed me on the sidewalk; as she did, she nodded and smiled in seeming approval.

It felt like an omen. Ready or not, the International Woman of Mystery has arrived. Or at least she looks like it.

But looking the part is just the beginning. Now I have to learn how to act like one.


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