by: Patrick Gill
Somewhere in the closet full of shoeboxes, brimming with pictures, there are snaps of me at 5 with my hair slicked into a mohawk, as its being cut. I have a large cup clutched in both hands and a face both concentrated and fearful, devouring all of my toddler’s anxiety through a strawberry shake. Even when I was young I didn’t like being touched, that much. I was happy, but wary of contact. This was particularly difficult for myself, my mother, and multiple cosmetologists in the Scotts Valley/Santa Cruz area every time that I needed a haircut. I needed my milkshake though, I needed my distraction.
That hasn’t exactly changed as I got older. Maybe there were a few times I didn’t mind when I got sheared down. I can’t really remember them. I remember ratty hair being pulled, washed, and combed by my barbers, my head resisting—hair fighting back as if it was sentient. If I had gone to the beach, which I did every day of summer, I remember leaving sand in my hair, damaging scissors (I am really ashamed of that, those things are expensive). It’s not so much that I liked my hair’s length. I just didn’t want to be changed. Or touched.
When I am uncertain of the person, or the situation, I cringe at contact. It’s just always been that way, or at least seems to have. Then unfortunate events happened, to be survived, leaving less room for trust, a skeptical residue, less willing and able to change—especially my body, especially for someone else.
It’s weird, I was raised in California Hug-When-Your-Introduced Country. I still do that. I tend to initiate contact. If I understand the designs, estimate a trajectory of motion. Even if I don’t know for sure, if I can try, I am willing to trust people. This can be changed though, I am working on that.
The last time I got my haircut, it was on a whim. I just, I get scratchy for change in my life sometimes. It usually culminates with me shaving down the sides of my head, taking a little off the top—once I gave myself bangs, it was unfortunate. At least I made myself look unfortunate, and I didn’t have to pay for it.
This time though, I was walking out of a Northside coffee shop and I saw signs for cheaper haircuts. My weakness, economical and physically altering. I had time, they had chairs open. Time to jump. I popped in, asked if they accepted cards, he said “Do I have a costumer?” “Yes” “Well no, but there is an ATM down the street.” I put down my bag and told him it was collateral. I came back with cash.
He asked “Do you have a wife? A husband? Anyone special?” “Nope” “Well, we’re gonna make you look nice enough to get someone, if you want.” I just, let go. I find it hard to tell a barber what I want, usually I just think “Morrissey! But happy.” This is hard to explain. I settle on asking for it to be just taken in a bit, nothing too much different, just the length.
I eased back into the wide chair. I let the radio do most of the talking, fill the room. He tightened up my hair, shorter than it had been in so long and finally symmetrical. A weight gone, a cleaner feeling. It was better
Though at times, when swaths of my curls fell down my cover, I was scared, I understood that this man had done this before, he said for decades; I remembered hair grows back.
Before finally dusting me off, he asked if he could touch up my beard. It was a short scraggled mess. I must have shaved it a week before but was too lazy to think about keeping or maintaining it. Again on a whim, I told him to do what he wanted. He took out his straight razor.
I have never had someone hold a blade to my skin. Much less someone who I could not see fully while they operate. My head was back staring, no tiles of the ceiling to count. I became determined to relax. Not wanting to move, a slip of the blade might confirm any fear I had. In face I couldn’t move when he touched my neck or head as well, tilting and positioning it for the shave. My mortification dissipated in my want for a successful outcome. I just concentrated on my breathing. The radio played a call in show, the DJs were talking about toxic masculinity and a famous athlete’s murder of this partner and mother of his child. No rest there, I had to find it in myself.
The sound and feel of a straight razor’s slide over your skin is an astounding blend of flattening and coarse. This is not your average you have the handle shave, this is a sculpting process cultivated over centuries. It’s an act upon you, done with intention and your satisfaction and well-being in mind. I rose to see my face, the line of my beard was more level than the ginger forrest that usually encroaches on my cheecks, I would have never been able to get something that straight. And though at first glance I thought it looked unnatural, I realized time with fade it in to my features, it was the basis of what would be a beautiful look.
Then he asked about my eyebrows. Again feel, then memory of regrowth. Go for it. I thought he had whittled them down to their half on first glance, I breathed deep and caught a new light. They were defined, sharp, fitting.
I rode the train west , excited, fresh faced. In all honesty it was one of the best feelings I had had after a haircut. I need to trust in someone’s hand if I am going to see all of the things my body can do.