Pre-pandemic Me swore I would never cut the hair of any of my family members. And yet the evening's events began with me sitting on the floor in my bathroom cutting my naked toddler's hair and hissing "Hold still or I'll poke your eye out," and her giving exactly zero fucks about that possibility.
"Hold still," I barked.
"I am," she replied, while attempting to recreate that one scene from the Exorcist where the girl's head does a full 360. But without the pea soup.
She doesn't eat peas.
One hair splinter (in me) and only 12 exasperated sighs (also me) later, and my child looked like an off-brand Shirley Temple. Her haircut is the generic Lucky Charms that come in the bag on the bottom shelf. I know that they taste exactly the same because, as my grocer grandfather never ceased reminding me, "they're all made in the same place, but Fortunate KnickKnacks aren't Lucky Charms and this haircut is... well. It's fine.
The evening's events ended with my husband sitting shirtless on a kitchen chair watching football while I neurotically tried to map out his cowlicks as if I had any idea what the fuck to do with a cowlick anyway.
I gave my husband a haircut last night with my Dad's clippers. Clippers that hadn't been used since the month before he died. And as I grabbed the #3 guard, I saw the tiny, little-bitty clippings of his salt and pepper hair, much more salt than pepper in the end. Because chemo.
I saw the tiny shavings of one of his haircuts, probably many of his haircuts and everything in me in that moment wished that the earth would just swallow me whole.
I wanted to gather them up and put them in a sandwich bag until I could find someone who could do some sort of voodoo or witchcraft to bring him back to me. I would hand them my bag of his hair clippings and all of my money and talents and whatever else they demanded and, in return, they could throw them into a cauldron or stuff them into a silk bag and then I'd hear his laugh behind me.
I wanted to put them in an envelope marked "Dad's Last Haircut: July 2016" and put it in the firebox next to the envelope marked "[DAUGHTER]'s First Haircut, May 2020." And someday in my old age, I would open those envelopes and feel that salt and pepper confetti in one hand and those sandy curls in the other and I would feel my age and how I am both ancient and just beginning all at the same time.
I wanted to collect those clippings and bury them under the big tree in my backyard that shades my deck because I often imagine him sitting out on my deck, drinking coffee, drinking bourbon, watching the deer, watching the birds, watching my children play and grow up. Children he never got to meet. Children who ask, "Mommy, will we get to play with Papaw soon?" I always fumble for an answer before quickly settling on, "Papaw's in heaven, baby," as if I know any fucking thing about heaven anyway.
I wanted to put that shavings in the little wooden box that my grandpa made me as a little girl. He's gone now, too. It's shaped like a butterfly and the wings hinge open to reveal a little velvet-lined well for jewelry. I have my First Communion crucifix and a Quick Recall pin in there now, but I wanted to toss the crucifix in the box with the rest of the jewelry that doesn't seem to fit my life right now and put the clippings in instead. And whether that box would sit on my dresser or I'd take it and put it on top of his urn, I don't know, but I wanted them to be somewhere nice, somewhere made with love, rather than in a plastic Wahl clippers case.
I wanted to take them and burn them in his fire pit that he loved so much. And I'd listen to that Doctor Demento CD that he loved equally and get absolutely trashed by that fire until I stumbled into the house to pee and got a good look at myself in the mirror. I'd do that thing that I do so often when I wear my glasses, which is to pull my hair back and cover it so I can't see it. I can't see my hair when I do that, but I see his face looking back at me in the mirror. It's my most heartbreaking, comforting party trick. Especially when I do that half smile with my mouth closed and my lips pressed. His smile. His dad's smile. He's gone now, too.
I wanted those clippings to go to the Smithsonian next to Amelia Earhart's bomber jacket and Marilyn Monroe's White Dress. Actually, no. I'd want them to go next to the green Versace number Jennifer Lopez wore that caused a collective global heart attack. We saw it at the Victoria and Albert Museum when I wanted to design costumes for the Opera and he wanted me to be whatever would make me happiest. The little cardboard placard would read: Hair Clippings of Incredible Man. And then in italics below, it would say,
Michael was a deeply flawed individual who was practically perfect at the same time. Loving husband and the best goddamn dad in the world. Best friend. Guarantee if you met him, you're better off. He fought giants and cancer. He beat the giants. Here are his remains, next to the dress that had his entire family wondering about the magical adhesive properties of fashion tape.
I wanted to hold them in my hands and, somehow, smell them. Smell him. That mix of Dove bar soap and the tea tree peppermint shampoo he used. Maybe a little campfire. Maybe the smell of gumbo lingering. Or bourbon. Things that aren't possible to smell in hair clippings shorter than a grain of rice.
I wanted so many things as I stood barefoot in my kitchen, behind my husband as he watched Sunday Night Football. My dad would have, as he did every Sunday, bitched at my husband for watching RedZone because that's apparently the problem with football today. Nobody can be happy to just watch one game.
I wanted to hear him laugh as he made fun of my husband's need to watch 7 football games simultaneously while my mother puttered around and I made Ina Garten's Engagement Chicken in the kitchen (because even when the chemo dulled his tastebuds, he could taste the lemon), running into the living room when Green Bay was in the red zone. How many Sundays did we spend like that? My sister at law school, conquering her dreams. My own patchwork heart utterly unsure of what my dreams even looked like.
I cut my husband's hair with my dad's clippers. I didn't cry, although that wouldn't surprise him. Crying doesn't come easily to me. I cry at funerals. I cry when I'm frustrated. I cry when I hold my babies. I was doing none of those things. My body wanted to cry. The body knows what it needs, after all, but my brain wouldn't. It wasn't a sanctioned occasion. It was a football Sunday in a kitchen in a house he never saw while children he never met slept peacefully upstairs.
I cut my husband's hair with my dad's clippers and didn't do any of the things I wanted to do. Remember? I didn't want to cut his hair in the first place.
I didn't want to cut his hair. I didn't want to cut my daughter's hair. I didn't want to have a baby that none of my friends or family could meet or hold because of a virus that only half of my country takes seriously. I didn't want to have a panic attack in my shower because the thought of anything happening to my children absolutely cripples me and the news just keeps looking worse. I didn't want to have a miscarriage days before my daughter's second birthday.
I didn't want him to die.
I cut my husband's hair with my dad's clippers. And when I was done, I put the guards back in the case, wrapped the cord, and closed the latch. It's on the shelf in the laundry room next to the dog clippers because haircuts happen in the kitchen now. I didn't want any of this.
I cut my husband's hair with my dad's clippers. Pre-pandemic Me swore I would never cut the hair of any of my family members. Pre-pandemic Me swore a lot of things that Present Me laughs at. Present Me laughs because my brain won't let me cry. It's not one of the three sanctioned occasions.
So I swept up my husband's hair and, as it fell into the trash, I had the worst desire to collect it and put it in an envelope marked, "[HUSBAND]'s Pandemic Haircut: October 2020" and put it in the firebox with all the other things I'm afraid to lose.