The haircut kicked off a chain reaction of butchness, a butch-a-lanche if you will. After a few days of continuing to wear my ballcap, left it at home one day when I went to work. I felt really exposed, as if the hat had been a shield of invisibility. It wasn’t just the haircut, a simple lack of hair on my neck and temples, it felt as though a veil had been lifted. I was visible in a way that I had never been before.
I spent way too much time staring at myself in the mirror in the days that followed the haircut at Marci’s place. My face was familiar and completely new to me. I was fascinated by the difference. I had a picture of my family tucked into the mirror of my dinky bathroom. My father with his customary scowl, scruffy face, with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his work pants. My mom standing next to him, squinting a little, looking concerned, flower print dress fluttering a little at the edges. She had my baby sister in her arms, though she was a little kid by then, perched on my mom’s hip. My brother stood next to her, arms crossed, a smirk on his full lips, wearing blue jeans and the scuffed black biker boots he would only take off to get into bed. And then there was me. I was about 10, looking up at my brother, trying to see what he was doing, my arms crossed like his, wearing overalls and a checked flannel shirt. I remembered those overalls, my mom would groan every time I came out of my room wearing them. She would have to sneak them out of my room to get them into the laundry. I cried the day I couldn’t get the straps to stretch down to the buttons any more. Even then I tried to wear them anyway, the straps trailing down like twin tails.
I stared at the picture, then back at the face reflected in the mirror. I put a slight sneer on my full lips and it was as if I’d stepped into the Twilight Zone. It was my brother’s face. I turned my head this way and that, looking at the way my hairline framed my ears, the way it emphasized the cowlicks at the corners of my forehead. Just like my brother. It was weird and trippy and sometimes I’d have to force myself away so I could get on with my day.
When I was little, I wanted to be just like my brother. I used to cry when he and my dad fought. I cried for a week when my brother left home. My dad wanted to throw all his stuff out, in fact he had started to do just that, stuffing clothes and books and drawings and the stuff of my brothers life into garbage sacks that he swore he’d put out for the garbage truck. My mom was practically draped on him, crying and trying to pull the bags out of his hands, begging him to stop. My dad finally relented, dropping the sack he was holding, giving a short mirthless laugh when he heard something break. He took one look at my mom, red-faced and with snotty, hair matted to her head, and shook his head in disgust.
“Fine, you want to save this shit? Fine, that’s your business. I’m not going to coddle that shithead any more. He left here on his own and he can stay on his own.” He stomped off down the hall toward his recliner in the living room. I heard him muttering profanities the whole way.
“Mom, I can help you…” I stood in the doorway, looking around my brother’s room. Even though it was trashed at that point, it was a source of fascination for me. My brother hardly ever let me in his room and never in the last year he lived there. We worked on it together, mostly in silence, and put most of his things back where they’d been. How she knew where to put everything, I’ll never know. I hadn’t seen her in his room ever either.
The first day after my haircut, I woke up and took my shower and forgot I’d lost several inches of hair until I washed it. I ran my fingers through it, amazed at how little there was. I combed it with my fingers, playing with a faux hawk and trying to get it to stick up just so in the front. Then I crammed my ballcap over it and went to work.
The second day, Val turned to me suddenly in the second hour of my shift. “Did you get your hair cut? Let me see it?” She started to reach for my cap and stopped herself, and added “Please?”
I glanced around, an unconscious nervous reflex, and pulled it off. I looked down as she gave my head a long look, I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks and chest. I glanced up at her and saw her smiling. I smiled back, feeling silly that I’d been so nervous.
“It looks really good, Buddy. That haircut really suits you,” she nodded and grinned as if entertaining a private joke. “Uh huh.”
“‘Uh huh’ what?” I felt even more self-conscious.
“Well, I’ve had this feeling about you, and thinking if you butched it up a bit, you’d be a real lady killer. Not that you weren’t already cute, but this haircut, Buddy, this is handsome.”
At that I blushed a full five-alarm and jammed my hat back on, looking away from her.
“Alright, I can see I’ve embarrassed you, sorry about that. We’ve got a shipment in today, do you mind handling it for me?” She’d already turned to the cash register.
“Yeah, I’ve got it.”
Over the next few days, I wore the hat less and less until I came in on Friday with it. She gave me a small smile and nodded but didn’t fuss over it any more, which I appreciated. That morning I’d stared at myself in the mirror, trying to see ‘handsome’ in the face I’d lived with all my life. My mom used to call me pretty but I always felt like she was just being nice. I had no connection with that word.
“Handsome” said my reflection, with a small smile.
“Handsome” said my face, with my brother’s smirk.
On the walk to work, I thought, what would it feel like to be handsome? I thought about my brother, he was handsome. I remembered how when I was little, I’d pretend to be him. I’d wear a pair of his old boots or one of his shirts and I’d pitch my voice lower. He’d usually get pretty annoyed at me, but sometimes I think he liked it. I wondered what he looked like, if he shaved or had a beard. My heart hurt when I realized it had been 4 years since I’d seen him last. As I made my way down the sidewalk, meditating on my brother and the word ‘handsome’, I could feel my posture change. My shoulders came back, my hips caught gravity and my quick walk turned into a saunter. I held my head up and paid attention to the people I was passing on my way. What did they see when they looked at me? Did they see a woman with a short haircut, some kind of weird anomaly that wasn’t one thing or the other? Or did they see a man? Or maybe, like Val, they saw ‘handsome’. That thought made me blush again and also smile.
Funny how a word can transform the way you see yourself.
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