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  • Writer's pictureSarah Thomas

Quarter-Life Crisis

Style: N/A.

Statement: N/A.

Before you left home, you decided to cut your hair short. Not extremely short, though – your journey into the realm of pixie cuts came to an abrupt end after you experimented with hair for the first time in middle school. You wanted something chic and effortless, something French. Maybe waves that stopped just shy of your shoulder. Your idea for a new haircut came from the nagging feeling that the end of your last summer at home before college needed to be punctuated with some type of change.

After you got home from your first haircut at the new studio that opened ten minutes away from your house, distastefully named Barbere, your younger sister remarked that since your hair was a boring color and had no volume or texture, it couldn't function at such an awkward length. After a brief pause, she added that she understood weird haircuts were sometimes necessary to externalize change. She could have meant it sincerely, but the implications of her statement made you cringe.

The last thing you wanted was to broadcast that you were changing, which people only did when they tried to change and were unsuccessful. The notion that your haircut made the same impression that your 50-year-old neighbor’s new motorcycle had made on you made you ashamed. The embarrassment you felt was amplified by the fact that the haircut hadn’t resulted in any positive change in your life. The haircut hadn’t felt liberating, and you didn’t look effortlessly stylish. In fact, you looked just like the type of person to pay a hundred and twenty dollars to look like Edna Mode. You wanted nothing more than for it to magically grow three inches on your five-day drive across the country.

Handing over the money for this haircut had caused you physical pain. One hundred and twenty dollars, which you pried from your mother’s hands that morning. You explained that it was the least your parents could do since they hadn’t commemorated your exit from home in any way.

The bright white lights in Barbere and the silence, save for occasional snipping and obnoxious electronic music, made you so uncomfortable you couldn't relax the entirety of your appointment. The coldness of the entire interaction made the cost even more upsetting and was a sharp contrast to the haircut you received right before graduation.

That haircut, at the salon you’d frequented since childhood, wasn’t out of a desire for change, but just to prepare for graduation. The hairstylist hadn't charged even a fraction of what you paid for this new haircut. You just asked her for some weight to be taken off with a few layers and to get rid of some split ends as you sat down in her chair. Your graduation took place on a hot June day, so you didn’t want your hair to weigh you down.

The tenderness in your old hairstylist's hands had conveyed a certain care that made you feel obliged to continue going to her, even after your parents no longer organized your hair appointments. Your parents had started going to her when they moved to this town twenty years ago, and her prices hadn't changed since then.

Whenever you went to her for a haircut, she took her time with you. She spun you around so you could inspect your hair at the end, and she would smile proudly at you, making eye contact and nodding as if the two of you had achieved it together. When you were eight and needed a booster seat; when you turned thirteen and begged her for bangs; when you drove yourself to your haircut for the first time and she exclaimed as she saw you come out of the driver's seat; she always offered you a lollipop before you left and waved you off.

This June, during your pre-graduation haircut, you seemed to notice her age for the first time. As a kid, her energy convinced you she was closer to your age than your parents. That day, with her hair uncolored and the bags under her eyes, her appearance almost worried you. She greeted you the same way, but her mind seemed to wander away. As she sat you down, you patiently waited for her to start the small talk.

But the usual 'how are you’ never came, so you opened your phone and pretended to be immersed in a video, but you were really focused on how to get your eyes and nose to stop burning. You had mentioned in passing that the haircut was to prepare for graduation when scheduling the appointment, but she had yet to comment on it or even acknowledge you as anything other than a random client.

You caught her eye in the mirror, and you noticed her eyes looked almost opaque, giving her a faraway, dreamy look. To distract yourself from the impersonality of the haircut, you searched for something to focus on in the salon– dried-up plants, outdated hair reference photos, the lack of other patrons in the salon, or containers of hair care materials that looked almost empty. When you paid and left at the end of it, you were trying so hard to hide your rapidly reddening eyes that you didn't care to check how your hair looked, or to notice that she hadn't offered you a Dum Dum.

Your mother tutted when she inspected the aftermath. "She's getting old. It's all slanted in the back," she complained, sucking her teeth when she lifted up the hair to inspect layers closer to your neck.

But you wanted to argue with your mom, cover your hair with your hands to protect your hairstylist. So what if she was getting old? The scissors still fit her forefinger and thumb, no? And her eyes still creased when you parked and walked in. She was still the same. Even the store hadn't changed and the neon lights were the same colors, though its surroundings got newer, whiter, and more minimalistic until the hair salon was the only glint of color you could see from a distance.

Thankfully, the damage that your mom perceived was done to your hair wasn’t visible on your graduation day, and as it grew out over the summer, the memory of that haircut began to fade. It wasn’t until your next haircut at Barbare that memories of your old hairstylist and the disappointing haircut came back.

Months after that haircut, before you left home with too many boxes and suitcases, you mentioned briefly to your sister that you considered saying goodbye to the hairstylist. You considered the potential awkwardness of returning to the hair salon as you watch your trunk fill up with your things. As you continued to pack, your sister had came outside to help you. She ended up sitting on the front stoop and talking about her recent _____, then asked what was on your mind, which led to your eventual confession of regret for not saying goodbye during that last haircut.

Your sister giggled and punched you in the arm like she always did when you made a joke, but you were serious, which made you even more embarrassed. It felt unfinished – like there should have been some final haircut that ended with an embrace and her wishing you well in the future, a real goodbye before you moved away and probably never saw her again. But it would have never happened, and it was childish of you to want it.



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