A very definite “no” floods out of my iPhone speaker.
“Wait. Why not,” I sputter. After all, my sister is the one I’ve made the “I’ll do it before you graduate” pact.
“I don’t want to mess it up.”
Her words shoot out like a knee with a reflex hammer.
“Faith,” I counter. “It’s shaving a head. You can’t mess up shaving a head.”
“I am not,” my father’s voice is steadfast as his eyes burrow at me from his striped patio chair. “Going to be apart of that.”
As if I’ve suggested we vandalism a vitamin shop.
My father is very serious about his vitamins.
His bottom lip sucks in. The way he does when people talk about living together before they’re married. Or eating gluten.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Mom, do you still have that haircutting kit?”
“Yes,” she chirps. She sounds echoey, making me wonder if she’s somehow pulled her rotary phone into the kitchen. My mom doesn’t own a cell phone.
“Okay. Awesome. Okay, so I’m not losing my mind, or pulling a Britney Spears, but I’m going to shave my head. It’s actually something I’ve wanted to do for awhile now.”
My words sputter out in a rambling, defensive way.
“Oh. Okay. Sure.”
No change in her pitch.
“The clippers are in the bathroom closet.”
I arrive at her house the following day. She isn’t home. I stare at my face in the mirrors that line her walls. Read about Jane Seymour’s tips for wearing a bikini at age 64.
An hour and a half later, a car door opens. My mom is juggling bags. I pull open the door and grab a couple. Carry and place them on the kitchen counter.
“So. Mom. I found the kit in the bathroom. I’m ready. You okay to shave my head?”
My mom continues on about the leaking jar of canola oil she returned.
“…a hole in the bottom of the glass jar. I couldn’t believe it!”
Crap. I thought she wouldn’t—
“Mom. Do you not feel comfortable shaving my head?”
I breathe in.
“Well, if you don’t like it, or if you start crying in the middle of me cutting it. I just don’t…”
Internally I sigh out.
“It’s okay, mom.”
It’s my first Tennessee Christmas since moving to Austin.
I’m in love with my new music city, but if I stop long enough to think about everything, thoughts of What the fuck are you—?? tend to creep into my mind. Some nights, it takes all 110% of my self control not to crawl into the front seat of my Taurus and cruise-control the fourteen hours back to my other music city.
Change can be the best and most needed thing you need. And Austin is. But it’s still change and scary as fuck.
I pull up to my brother’s apartment in Murfreesboro. Push open the door and walk into the room with the barren white walls. The fuzzy pool table. The roommate’s dog that always looks confused.
My two brothers are upstairs. I sling my arms around their necks. We’re gonna watch Fight Club and talk about vaporized marijuana.
“Hey, Kara’s* coming over.”
My brother Adam.
“The girl Will’s talking to.”
“What? He just broke up with ___________.”
What the hell. This is family time.
The door downstairs opens. We walk downstairs.
A short petite figure stands in a black peacoat. She’s looking at me.
“Hi. My name is Kara.”
Her face is porcelain. Something straight from the soft side of a baby. Her eyes are lined with dark pencil and a black mascara swipes.
And her head is shaved. I stare.
Good lord. She’s beautiful. How the hell can a woman be so beautiful with a shaved head? Isn’t that basically the epitome of what makes a female a female?
“Hi,” I answer back. Forced. She’s eating up my family time.
I spend the evening bantering and barking with my brothers. Getting in their space and faces. They do the same. And for the most part, I ignore the tiny creature with the big eyes in the corner.
“If you could fight anyone…”
At some point, Brad Pitt is put on pause. My brothers rise and clamber out of the room. Bathroom or grub or both. I rise to make my way out.
“You’re really beautiful,” she looks right at me.
“Thank you,” I stammer and walk down the stairs to find my brothers and see what’s left in the fridge.
I drive to Nashville and my mom’s house that night. A few days later, I head back to Austin.
But the shaved head girl has left an impression on me.
She’s beautiful, yes. Chillingly beautiful, even with, or especially with a shaved head. But it’s her attitude that sticks with me. She’s not threatened by other’s beauty. And she’s not intimated by society’s definition of beauty.
I wonder if I can ever be as brave as the shaved head girl.
A year goes by. Following a Valentine’s Day breakup with a man, I whack my shoulder-length crop into a Tinker Bell pixie cut.
“Always wanted to,” I say to anyone that asks about my new ‘do.
And I did always want to.
But I don’t feel brave.
Around this time, other women’s haircut stories begin hitting my ears:
“I did it in eighth grade. Didn’t tell anyone. Just came home with it shaved. I just wanted to.”
“[My boyfriend] actually shaved it for me. Yeah. I’ve always to shave my head.”
“I shaved it about a month ago. It was just something I wanted to do.”
Another year goes by. Another breakup with another guy. This time I don’t follow it with a haircut. I follow it with a year of not dating. A year of rock climbing. Of breaking my foot (not rock climbing). Of quitting my “big girl” job with benefits, moving back home to my hometown city and working jobs that range from teaching swimming to sanitizing climbing shoes at a rock gym.
Six months in Nashville.
Six months of meeting up with my dad for MSG and gluten-free dinners. Followed by Nestle chocolate chips and gelato. Six months of sitting in a puffy Starbucks chair with my sixteen-year-old sister to talk about Honors English and why Pisces are so emotional. And being able to reach across the table to ruffle her head when I want to ruffle her head. Three months of accompanying my mom to her Sunday School class in a large basement room where there’s always someone grabbing my arm and leaning in with, “Your mom is so wonderful.”
Six months of writing. Not for a publication. Not for a blog. In a small notebook with scribbles and crossed out words and cramped ink letters. And in one entry, the words: “Writing is breathing to me. I know no difference.”
I walk into the salon. I’d been there six months before. When I first moved back to Nashville. I can’t remember the receptionist’s name—I’m sure she doesn’t remember mine—but she’s bubbly and we make small talk about mutual faces we know.
“So,” I lean forward. “I’m been wanting to shave my head for a while, and I’m going to do it today. Can one of you guys shave my head? Could Liza?”
Her eyes go wide.
“Let me see!”
She leaves the front and comes back within a minute.
“How about 5 o’clock?”
45 minutes. I go for a run in the neighborhood. Do a face mask at home. Drive back to the salon.
And sit in the chair.
“You ready,” Liza squeals.
My eyes are closed tight.
I don’t look in the mirror as the razor hits my skin. It’s like giving blood: I want to do it. I just don’t wanna watch the needle go in.
The buzzing noise harvests my hair.
My eyes squeeze tighter.
It’s the roller coaster cranking up the hill before the first initial drop.
“Ohmygosh you look amazing!!”
“Ohmygosh that is so badass!!!”
The other girls in the salon are gathered around.
The buzzing noise stops.
“Okay,” Liza says.
I look in the mirror.
To my utter surprise. I see myself staring back. A girl that’s still a girl even with a shaved head.
“You used the 2,” I tilt my head towards Liza.
“Okay. Well. Do you think I need to do a 1? I mean, I’m only doing this once in my life, and I don’t want to be accused of not actually shaving my head.”
“Do you want me to show you what a 1 looks like on your neck?”
She slides the 1 up my neck.
I breathe in.
“Let’s do the 1. I mean hell. I moved back from Texas. Go big or go home.”
The buzzing noise slides up my scalp.
“Why did you shave your head,” my brother stares at me.
“I’ve always wanted to. I’ve meet different girls over the year that have…and remember Kara? Will’s Kara? I always wanted to after I met her. She had a shaved head and she was so beautiful.”
“Kara,” my brother scoff’s at the name. “She hated having her head shaved.”
“What–” I stop short and stare back at him. “I thought she loved it! She did it after a breakup with that guy before Will.”
“She said she wished she hadn’t. Couldn’t wait for it to grow out,” he says slowly. No inflection.
“She always regretted it.”
*Name has been changed