“Two inches should be fine––just enough to clean up the dead ends,” I ask the small, dark haired woman whose nametag calls her Nina. She parts my damp hair as I catch my own eyes in the mirror. The lights in here are cool and the smock is too tight around my neck.
(Too tight, I think, like my life jacket and my bra and the skin stretched over my ribs and the smile plastered across my face.)
Nina drags the comb through my hair and it catches just above my shoulders, honey colored tangles stopped on its black teeth. My dad would have called them rat’s nests once, when I was little, and he was the only one who knew how to gently comb my hair. “That’s going to be more than two inches––if you want to get rid of all the dead ends.”
“That’s fine,” I say. “I lifeguard in the summer––it’s all the chlorine.” I have to excuse those honey colored tangles, like I excuse my hurried walk and my thin smile and my shrinking appetite. It’s the chlorine.
I wish those tangles were the only parts of me that felt knotted up, and that the other tangled parts of me could be trimmed off with such ease. But those tangles are behind my eyes and below my chest, in places that scissors can’t reach. They are not dead ends––they are very much still alive.
Nina snips off the first piece of hair and holds it out to me––an offering, a suggestion. “Is that too much?”
“That’s perfect,” I say. (It’s already gone, I think. Even if it is too much. And it doesn’t matter if it’s too much, because the ends are dead and we have to cut dead things off, even if we aren’t ready to. If you let something grow forever, it will become a monster. Or a rat’s nest.)
I chat and I watch my eyes in the mirror and I take slow breaths as she trims all my honey tangles away with delicate fingers. I love the sound of scissors cutting hair. I used to snip the edges off my own as a child, just to hear that sound. It’s sharp, and clean, and smooth. More and more tangles fall to the ground as Nina snips. They litter the white linoleum and the
smock that is strangling me. Does my chest feel this tight because I am mourning the tangles on the floor? Or am I mourning something else? I don’t think you can mourn something that was already dead.
She finishes, and towels my hair off. “There. It looks much cleaner now. And you still have the highlights from all that sun.”
How forgiving hair is, to put the warm soft colors at the roots, and the split and broken pieces at the bottom, where they can be trimmed so painlessly. There are things I cannot trim off as easily as dead ends. Things much worse than chlorine damage. The dead parts get mixed up with the alive ones, and you can’t chop off one without the other, and it hurts.
Nina is right, my hair looks cleaner and softer, free of the honey tangles, curling just above my shoulders. Now all I have left of the sucker punch summer is one last peeling sunburn, a tremble in my hands, and a thunder in my chest. I cannot trim those away––but maybe they are like my sun bleached highlights––maybe they will fade.