I finally got a haircut.
For all my adult life I've had a bad habit of letting my hair reach wizard-like lengths before the annual hack to my shoulders. I wish I could say it's for my finances or out of convenience, but both my therapist and I know that's not the case. Everything about hair salons gives me anxiety.
I don't like small talk, or talking about myself at all, really, and the fluorescent lights reveal every flaw or insecurity of my face. Seriously, it's as if they planted a chair at the Target self-check and forced me to stare at myself in the security footage. It's the most humbling chair to sit in.
I never know what to do. Do I watch the stylist? Do I keep my eyes closed? Or maybe a dead-eyed stare into the abyss is more appropriate.
The worst part is the judgment. Granted, some of it is warranted. I'm always an extreme case, which perpetuates the salon anxiety cycle.
A couple months ago my hair had yet again reached witch status. This time I strayed from my usual procedure of phoning a hair-cutting friend, picking the nearest place, or finding a salon with the best reviews. I sought out something that might give me less anxiety. The cycle needed to end.
I found a salon that seemed my speed. There were no posts bragging about what business magazines the owner has been in, it was small with only a few stylists, and the focus seemed to be on eco-friendliness. That was all well and good, but I mostly picked it for it's lack of endless thumbnails of that same wavy, blonde-highlighted, mid-part hair that I've come to associate with wealthy Californians.
My stylist was a well-dressed Gen Xer who I was instantly comfortable with. She had that calmness about her that many in her generation seem to have and mine seem to lack.
"What's your relationship with your hair?" She asked. She wasn't prying. Her tone was more that of a therapist or a psychic prepping for a reading.
Little did she know, that was a loaded question. I had to slam on the brakes of my own words before they tumbled out of my mouth. I hate my hair, but it also defines me… No, it's complicated. It's thin but there's a lot, don't let it fool you. It's often flat on top, and poofy on the bottom and few have been able to change that…
I stopped myself. No, don't ruin this too. You might want to come back here.
"Pretty good," I said, "I'm way past due for a cut. At one point this was a shag, and I would like another one, but no straight-across bangs. They don't work with my face for some reason."
She gave an understanding smile, "You've some experienced things. You've learned. You know what works. Got it."
After describing what I wanted⏤which, looking back, was detailed instructions for the Noel Fielding/Joan Jett⏤she went to work.
To my relief, there was no small talk while she was in the zone. Snip by snip she revealed the curls of my hair. In her words, "Like the bow drill, that releases the fire within the stick" she was "just the hands, listening to the hair and letting it reveal itself."
I had not found a hair stylist, but a hair guru.
She refrained from making me the host of any baking competitions, and opted for more of a King Princess look instead⏤Something I hadn't considered. It was modern, and well-executed. It shaved several years of my face, and I'm not saying that to brag. It's an important piece of information.
In the chair, I was ecstatic. Curls appeared that I didn't know I had. My head felt lighter. Everything seemed great.
It was when I left the salon that problems arose.
Every glimpse of my own reflection⏤in car doors, security cams, and mirrors⏤ came with a sense of unease.
No problem, I thought, I've been here before. I just need a day or two for the ol' neurons to soak and recalibrate. It's a drastic change.
But two days passed, and something still felt wrong. Every trip into the wild resulted in an old lady angrily expecting me to get out of her way and a twenty-something giving me a smile like we both were part of the same club.
Too many years had been shaved off. I was 23 again.
It felt like a movie where I had lived a whole life only to go back in time and start over⏤something that sounds amazing on paper, but, in the thick of it, is a panic-inducing experience. Haggard me was the real me. The years on my face contained years of experience. The age was a badge of honor⏤a burden of proof. The weariness was proof that I knew how to do my taxes, what to do in a car accident, and how to navigate credit card fraud.
All of it gone. Erased.
I was back at square one to claw my way to respect, years away from designating personal space with nothing but my eyes.
As if the knowledge erasure wasn't enough, something worse happened during a night out. Despite wearing skinny jeans and a jacket that sent all the right Millenial signals, eventually the dance floor was just me and two girls who were authentically 23 years old⏤ not "fellow kids" 23 like me.
They held hands and spun, like two swing dancers taking the same role. They gestured for me to join, and I politely declined. I was invited a second time, and declining twice felt too rude, so I accepted.
The spinning went on forever, and I tapped out a bit earlier than what they had in mind, leaving my dance partner to take her last spin solo.
"Sorry!" I said, "I thought we were done. My bad."
She stopped, and smiled, in the "everything is great" sort of way people who have never had to deal with identity theft do.
She then looked me dead in the eyes, and said in a flat-lined, factual tone, "Slay."
I failed to hide the recoil on my face. I couldn't comprehend this combination of tone and words, or, word. I was familiar with "Yasss, queen," or "Slay, Girl!" In the cheerleader, hype-person sense, but a concluding, "Slay" confused me.
Is she telling me to "slay"? What does that mean? Is that like saying "it's all good"? Or "no worries"? Why was it finite? How is that a conclusion? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
I sat down to catch my breath and contemplate whether I should ever leave the house again.
I'm still in my house. I might let my hair grow out a bit first. Those old ladies are mean.