Clyde

Five years ago, when I knew I’d be losing my hair anyway, Bernie advised me to chop it all off in advance. Getting used to short hair was prudent preparation, and honestly, the thought of long, blonde clumps circling the drain was more than I could handle. Katherine booked an appointment for me at a fancy salon. I still have no idea how she convinced them to squeeze me in, just two days before Christmas. Well, I guess I do. It’s very Katherine to chase down Boston’s most famous hairstylist in Beacon Hill to insist on a favor for a friend. Appointment secured, April came to fetch me, and we drove into the city on a dark, snowy afternoon.

That night in the fancy salon was blurry. I chose an edgy, short hairstyle out of a magazine. I was terrified I would start sobbing. Suddenly, there was someone who didn’t look like me in the mirror. I don’t remember paying (thanks, guys). April and I returned to the car, and it wasn’t there. We navigated slushy streets in the wrong shoes to find an ATM and then a cab to the sketchiest parts of a city where cars are towed. We paid the scary man, found the car, and shared nervous could-it-get-worse?? giggles the entire way home.

A month later, a few days before surgery was scheduled, my short haircut was getting shaggy. But I wasn’t going to return to the fancy salon on Newbury Street for a trim. It was time to come clean with Clyde.

Clyde had been my go-to guy for a quick cut and color since 2007. Back then, I was a walk-in to his studio as an exhausted, frumpy-feeling mom of tiny boys. I needed to mask the gray and just wanted to feel pretty, dammit. Clyde promised me this would be easy, as I was already pretty (and now I already loved Clyde) and he also assured me fabulous hair for small money in a short time. We were fast friends and I’ve been a regular at Clyde’s station for a decade.

A typical exchange with Sandy, the front desk receptionist:

“Hey, it’s Britt… can I get in with Clyde, like, TODAY?”

“Hold on babe…. yep. When?”

“1 o’clock?”

“You got it.”

“Really?”

“You know he’ll squeeze you in whenever you want, doll.”

My girly readers will attest there can be quite a bond between a gal and her hairdresser. Geez, there are entire movies centered on conversations in swivel chairs and over contoured sinks. Though I will watch Steel Magnolias every time it is on and love the idea of being a regular at Truvy’s, Clyde is a true departure from any stereotype you have of a hairdresser. Picture an extra from The Sopranos: slicked back, black hair (when he had it), sleeve tattoos, and a Harley. Clyde is Andrew Dice Clay in a beauty parlor.

After umpteen hours in his chair–over most of the years of my marriage– Clyde could quote my mother-in-law and recite the list of all of the extra Asians we’ve housed over the years. He even talked Shmo out of pink hair when he knew she was applying for jobs. Clyde and I shared similar taste in binge-worthy television programming and agreed that kids should never be forced to eat broccoli but should be dragged to Church regularly. We covered all of the topics.

After too many months without seeing Clyde, I booked my appointment, showed up with hair he hadn’t cut, and confessed.

“I cheated on you.”

“Sit down. What’s going on?”

That’s when I told him I had cancer. He understood entirely how I couldn’t ask him to lop off the hair he’d been perfecting for years. I knew he’d be too sad for me. And if Clyde was choked up, I’d start sobbing, and I only had so much Ativan, and that’s how close we are with the dear ones we choose to tend to our hair. It’s an oddly intimate relationship some of us have to the talented folk who know us well enough to forbid bangs.

Last night Sandy called me at home. Clyde is gone. A brain aneurysm means I will never see Clyde again. He was only 48.

I’m sad. I’m praying. I’ve been writing since midnight.

I have an irrational (?) need for his closest family and friends to know I loved him, too. Likely there are so many of us who have relied on him for years, have marveled at his talent and speed, and loved him, too. Clyde has been on the sidelines of my silly life—making me feel prettier when I felt invisible, literally shaping my recovery, and always telling me I was a cutie.

Clyde is gone, but I take solace knowing Clyde knew I thought he was fucking amazing. I hugged him hard, tipped him hugely, and only ever cheated on him with a fancy salon once. I told anyone who asked that no one was better at color than Clyde. Six years ago, I even yelped it, earning him a shout out from the corporate office.

“Do you really think I’m actually that awesome? I mean, no one has ever written a review like that for me.”

“Clyde, you’re fucking amazing.”

“Alright. YOU said it.”

And I’m so glad now that I did.

Day of Beauty Three

Hair by Clyde.

Advertisements

Hair: a Reprise

Is it too soon for another post about hair? I cannot avoid it. There it is atop my grateful head, making me look exactly like… a mom. I have mom hair. April, who is the sort of friend who will tell me these things, counseled me to commit: either keep growing, or abandon the effort and aim for an edgier ‘do. At this point, I’m waiting out many more months sporting too-cutesy-for-40 barrettes and headbands until my bangs reach ponytail nirvana. In the meantime, I’m your go-to girl for bake sales, playdates, orange quartering, and quinoa recipes. I’m the woman-most-likely-to-get-out-of-the-minivan. No one doubts for a soccer halftime second that I have Purell and granola bars in my purse. And unless I pledge another four inches of hair growth, I’ll be trapped under the Mommy helmet, wearing the duck boots, holding the L.L. Bean tote bag.

This isn’t entirely about hair, I suppose. Anything that incessantly reminds me of my mom-ness, robs me of a bit of Britt-ness. In my mind, I’m swinging my little skirts all over town, brightening mundane errands with witty zingers and a hair toss. When completely preoccupied with mom duties, I forget to look in the mirror. I once spent an entire day with a gummy apple affixed to the butt of my unflattering jeans. (No one told me… because dowdy mommies with small children are invisible.) When entirely–gleefully!– busy with the exhilarating and exasperating day to day doings of small boys, I am fulfilled and smart and brimming with love and gratitude. But, for me, these moments, no matter how sweet, don’t Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman. Only a swish of long hair, a full glass of bubbly, and a child-free evening in expensive shoes has me seconding that emotion.

Back in college we used to tease Jason that he was “living his hair.” Freshman year, Jason had the cascading ringlets of a mall-lingering girl wearing neon.

Somehow, it was even wilder and redder than this.

Somehow, it was even wilder and redder than this.

Jason was loud and always singing and loud and playful and loud and brilliant and loud. LOUD. Even his hair was loud… all red and curly and all over the place. But by senior year, Jason had mellowed a bit, now a Phi Beta Kappa Philosophy major, New York Times tucked under one arm, a cup of black coffee, up all night in the computer center, punctuating his deep thoughts with scotch breaks. It was time for Jason’s hair to match, so he engaged a gaggle of girls to tame his mane in a pictorial that now looks a bit drunk and hedonistic… just like Jason. (In fact, I’m reluctant to post it here even with his permission. Never has a haircut looked so… naughty.)

Today, Jason is shave-it-all bald, sporting only a yarmulke as his head coordinates with the self-discipline of his Orthodox Jewish faith. Jason is the very passionate director of a theatre company, all serious and successful, and now his hair matches this.

Too busy, handsome, and important for hair

Too busy, handsome, and important for hair

Unlike Jason, I’m not living my hair. I’m nostalgic for the locks I lost instead of embracing the evidence that I’ve made it this far. This isn’t to say my hair isn’t fabulous. Oh, it is. At the airport a few months ago, a woman sidled up sort of embarrassed with her odd request: could she take my picture? She wanted her stylist to see my hair. She wanted my haircut… as if this were a real, on purpose, not cancerous feat of fashion. I let her snap 360° iPhone images of my head, and when she left, Teddy had a theory.

“Do you think one of your friends told her we were here? And that she should say that? So you feel good? I think that’s nice.”

It was nice, but my boys couldn’t quite believe that someone wanted to look like this. Because this hair still haunts us with memories of why it’s not long. This hair, this mom hair, is blonde and adorable and ready for its close up. But I’m not loving (or living) it. I’m growing the hair that matches the girl in the swinging skirt, the one who has shelved the terror, the one who is ready for a mighty fine time. (Because we always had a mighty fine time.)

Jeremiah, in sexy blonde splendor

Jeremiah totally gets me.