About a month after John died, I went to get a haircut – my first in many moons.
The salon was polished but empty. Probably recently opened, which is why I’d found a Groupon for it. The hairdresser – we’ll call her Steph – was tall and thin with freshly pressed, white blonde hair. She had a sweet, unassuming smile, and I prepped myself for the often unbearable banter between hairdresser and customer. She began innocently enough with a question about where I worked, and I realized in that moment that this was the first person I was having a conversation with who didn’t know what was going on in my life. Steph was the first stranger I’d have to break the news to about John.
I worked in marketing in Chicago.
“Oh! Are you just visiting your family at home this week?”
No, not exactly. I just moved home actually.
“So you didn’t like your job in Chicago? You didn’t like Chicago?”
Oh no, I loved Chicago. I enjoyed my job. I just had to get out of there.
“Okay. So you don’t have a job. So what will you be doing?”
I was going to travel for a bit. I had a bachelorette party in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia coming up. Then I’d be going to Germany, The Netherlands, and Costa Rica for a bit.
“Oh, wow. I wish I could travel like that.”
Yeah, it wasn’t normal for me to travel that much, though. I was just trying to figure things out. See some people I love and explore new cities. Soul search.
“Sure. So what made you decide to do that?”
Here goes. Well my boyfriend died about a month ago and we both lived in Chicago, so I had to get out of there and start over. Travel a bit. Figure things out. See some people I love and explore new cities. Soul search.
The comb sorting through the knots in my thick blonde mess stopped. I felt her wide eyes on the back of my head. Her silence was deafening. My face became hot. My sinuses suddenly burned and my eyelids seemed to thicken and I held my breath to keep the tears in check.
“How long were you together?”
“That’s all I need to know.”
Our conversation turned to idle chatter about her church, her family, how she got into cosmetology. How she never really liked school. About the time she backpacked around Asia. Her mom’s passing two years prior.
She asked me to follow her into a back room to have my hair washed. I got up from one chair, followed her, and sat down in another chair, my neck resting snuggly on the edge of the wash basin. The lights were dim and soft piano music floated from the speakers. I felt the hot water on my scalp, smelled the eucalyptus in the air, took a deep breath, and for the first time in a month, let my shoulders relax. My eyes fell shut and my body softened. My jaw loosened. My fists unclenched. Steph massaged the shampoo through my hair. She didn’t say a word. Her hands felt like paradise. She massaged slowly, covering every inch of my head with tenderness, as if she had just realized that she had this great duty to help me breathe. I let myself momentarily fall into the care of this perfect stranger because I knew she knew. I knew she knew that my sinuses had burned and my eyelids had thickened. I knew she knew that as the words about John fell out of my mouth, so too had the wind and the gusto holding my body upright. I knew she knew that the world as I had known it had come to a screeching halt and the smile I’d been wearing on my face had been strained. I knew she knew that there was nothing she could do in that moment to rid me of my heartbreak.
So, Steph washed my hair. And for 10 minutes, that was enough.