It’s been a year and a half since he walked out of my house for the last time and I kind of wonder if any of his hair is still embedded somewhere in the carpet.
He had the coolest hair I’d ever seen. It was short on the sides and longer on the top and he slicked it back with pomade that came in a little orange tin. In a few months, it would seem like everyone who was a certain kind of hip, style-conscious man had this same hair. But to me, he had it first.
When he and I first met, I was still getting my hair cut by an older woman named Lisa, who I’d started going to when I was in high school. She often got distracted by conversation and stopped cutting hair while she told some long-winded story. She worked out of her house and had a large dog that would bark and jump on me. Back then I kept my hair slightly above my shoulders and I had bangs. She washed my hair in her kitchen sink.
He got his hair cut at a salon staffed by young, hip stylists who wore all black and had manicured fingernails. The first time I went there with him, he told me it had first been his ex-girlfriend’s salon. He continued to go there after they broke up because he didn’t think anyone else did his hair as good as the woman he saw at this salon. Once, while he got his hair cut, I waited in a leather chair and read a book I was borrowing from him. I drank water from a paper cup and I thought about his ex-girlfriend. From the photos I’d seen, I knew that her hair was long and curly, the opposite of mine.
After a few visits to the salon with him, I booked an appointment of my own. The stylist I got, Tanya, was good friends with the person who cut his hair, so the three of us chatted. They sung his praises and said what a cute couple we were. I liked this attention and I was thrilled with how she did my hair. From then on, I quit going to Lisa and saw Tanya instead. She was about my age and her hair was a different color every time I saw her. The salon smelled like expensive hair products, the chairs were leather, and they had mints on the counter. I didn’t have to get my hair washed standing up. There was no dog.
He and I spent a lot of time together in that salon. We never had concurrent appointments because his haircuts were always hastily planned. I got mine cut sparingly, every few months, once my bangs grew too long. He would wake up one day and realize getting a haircut was an urgent matter, so he’d call the salon in the morning to see if they could fit him in that day. These appointments would often be for weird or inconvenient times, like 2:00 p.m., maybe. It could sort of kill the day. So we’d make an event of it—I’d go with him and afterwards we’d get smoothies from the cafe next door and walk to the boardwalk. I liked how the salon staff would greet me by name, too, even though I didn’t have an appointment, wasn’t on any list. I liked that I could hear him talking over the whirl of other people’s hair dryers. I could catch words sometimes: library, school, internship, Kerri, finals, clerkship. The mention of my name always made me smile into my magazine. I liked seeing him emerge from around the corner to pay, his hair freshly cut and styled. I liked how he’d thank everyone and grab a handful of mints from the jar on the counter on our way out. He knew I didn’t like the kind they stocked, but he always offered them to me anyway before stuffing them into his pockets.
At one point during our breakup, I cried with my head in his lap and he smoothed my hair. I wondered how he could do something so gentle at the same time he was doing something kind of brutal. He offered to tell me every time he went for a haircut, but I told him not to bother. I am glad this is not something we do. I wouldn’t want to get business-formal text message alerts from him every two months, informing me of a last-minute haircut. I wouldn’t want this logistical communication to be the only way we talked to each other, like some kind of custody agreement. That, and there might have been times when I would have read such a text message and been tempted to promptly book my own appointment—for my hair, my nails, anything—to force a confrontation. It was better not to know, to only be able to wonder if he still even went there. To wonder if we’d ever sat in the same chair hours apart, if our names ever appeared above and below one another’s on an appointment calendar, if the same hands had ever massaged our scalps.
The first time I went back to our salon for a haircut after our breakup, I had a sick feeling in my stomach and my hands were sweaty. I felt exposed when I walked into the building. Tanya stood behind me and looked at me in the mirror while I studied her face and tried to figure out if she knew. She asked, “So what’s new?” in a way that made me think she did. When his preferred stylist was booked she sometimes cut his hair. I told her that he and I weren’t together anymore and that she shouldn’t feel the need to be careful the next time she found herself with sharp objects near his face.
A few months later, I went to the grocery store on my lunch break. On the bottom shelf in the hair care aisle, I saw that little orange tin of the pomade he uses. I picked it up and could see him sitting at his desk, running his hands through his hair. I’d heard that scents have the power to bring back memories, but I never believed it until I opened the tin and my knees buckled in the middle of the grocery store. That scent is my head on his shoulder. It’s him sitting in his desk chair, telling me it’ll just take a minute, he’ll be ready to go in a minute, he just has to fix his hair. It’s what my pillow smelled like after he went home, what I’d press my face into after he left for the week.
Last week I got my hair done and Tanya said, “Guess who I saw the other day?” as she put the cape around my neck. She said that he mentioned me, told her that I hate him. I wanted to pull out my phone and type, You dumb fuck, I don’t hate you, but I didn’t. I just watched my hair fall to the smooth tile floor where, days earlier, so had his.