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Not me, her

In 1987, I found myself trying to write about a high school girlfriend that had been molested by her father when she was a child. I was 19 years old, struggling to find my way through a screenwriting assignment about delivering character. The idea was to describe messy young love between two Sid and Nancy want-to-be's. But that failed, as I could not stomach oversimplifying her complicated past, events that shaped her life as a 16 year old with a mohawk, a smart mouth, a lingering stare. I understood that I had to start at the very beginning.

No one wanted to hear the story. When it was my turn to read in class, it even came to be that some of the other students asked to stand in the hallway before they heard another description of what happened in that lonely little house in the middle of nowhere. I was trying, and failing, and trying again to get things right, to explain how this happened, how it could happen to this girl, how this man found his way to acts of selfishness and d…

not just then but before, and slowly after


E turned to me and asked if she could get a haircut. I did not hesitate and told her it was her hair, and she could do whatever she wanted. For her entire life she has never gotten a haircut beyond the random trimming seasons I perform, with her sitting patiently on the edge of the bathtub as I squint, snipping until I think things look alright.
"How short?" I asked her.
Her face twisted around, unsure.
Later, she showed me a picture of Jennifer Lawrence and said "something like this". There were other pictures, all of tough, independent, young women. I did not smile or even joke around with her. I just made a plan, found the right salon and printed out some pictures of what she wanted so we would not leave anything to chance. Ten years old, and her first haircut outside of the house. We tromped through the snow, just on time for our appointment.

They let me sit in an empty chair not far from them. I had the Leica with me but the woman cutting her hair was shy and said please no pictures. She wore Uggs covered in gold sequins, and a sweater dress that hugged her thick frame. Her eyes were kind enough, and she treated E like a young woman not a little girl.

The hair fell in chunks. E held that long stare we all do into barber shop mirrors, seeing herself not just then but before, and slowly after.

It was all over before we knew it. The blow dryer yawned on, making the air smell hot and a little bit burnt.

"I needed a change." She told me, once we were outside.

I leaned my head back, looking at the bright sky, the haze that hid the stars but drew the edges of a collection of clouds.

There was nothing operatic about it, this simple act of getting a haircut but a realization crept along the back of my neck as we made our way home in the darkness. This was just one step that would soon be followed by other ones, the steps of a young woman, not a child.









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