When I introduced myself to Ms. Angie*, she looked drained and nervous. Her blue eyes were heavy and tired. “Please don’t judge how I look right now,” she pleaded. “This is so not who I am.” She confessed to me that she was battling an illness that was robbing her of her thick hair and thin waist. In fact, she resigned, the two had traded places. The medications she was on were heavy duty and made her feel like a zombie, devoid of consciousness and wreaking havoc on her insides. She’d only recently regained the ability to walk short distances. “I know you’re not a magician, you can only do so much, and I’m still going to be me when I leave. But I can’t stand looking at myself in the mirror, so anything you can do will help.” She once again told me this was not how she normally looks, and how much she hated seeing what her illness had taken from her. She pulled out her phone and began to show pictures of choppy, trendy haircuts she wanted. I knew that I was going to like Angie when one of her favorite haircuts came from a mug shot she’d found online. “Well it ain’t mine!” She laughed with a thick Georgia accent.
Ms. Angie kept her eyes closed the entire time I had her in front of the mirror. She told me she hadn’t been out the house in months, and our salon was the first place she decided to go. “The only people I ever see are doctors, nurses and pharmacists,” she said. It became obvious that this was not just a haircut. The hour of my day that belonged to Ms. Angie wasn’t just an opportunity for me to remove 5 inches of the hair she had been cutting herself. It was a chance for her to talk to someone other than her caretakers, to remind herself of the independence she’d once enjoyed, and in her own words, “to feel human again.” She cracked me up with horror stories of her previous salon experiences, her childhood full of colorful characters, and how her yard played host to many a fender-bender leaving her mailbox as the only casualty. “I’ve just learned to pay my bills before they come due because I never know when I’m going to have a mailbox or not.”
I love my job. Prom hair is fun, highlights bring me unspeakable joy, brides are exciting, and chopping off dead hair is insanely gratifying. But there is something special about the few who sit in my chair seeking a little more than just a new ‘do.’ The stay-at-home moms who just need an hour of adult conversation, the lady executives who want to sit back and let someone else to make the decisions for once, the women who want to read trash magazines and sip their coffee undisturbed before returning to their home duties, the teenagers looking to create a personal statement through their hair. And of course, the Ms. Angie’s of the world who just want to feel human again.
I am not a magician. I’d managed to take her shoulder blade-length hair to a trendy bob just below her chin, but Ms. Angie was still herself when service ended. I didn’t cure her illness, she was still going home to take a plethora of medications and attend another week’s worth of doctors’ appointments. But by the time she left, we had laughed so hard throughout the entire appointment we’d drawn the attention of the entire salon. Her blue eyes seemed brighter, she stood a little taller when she walked to the front, and her energy seemed lighter. She gave me a huge hug as I begged her to come see me again, and she promised she would.
She playfully shook her hair back and forth as she prepared to leave, “I told my husband I was going out for a gallon of milk. Let’s see how long it takes for him to notice.”
*Angie is not her real name