Originally written in December 2012
I’d only been in the bathroom for about twenty minutes, a reasonable time for a six-year-old. My mom and brother were too enveloped with their game of “horse” or their bike rides around our driveway’s circle to notice how much time had passed.
I looked into the mirror at my long bangs. They curled down and ensnared my bushy brown eyebrows, and I needed to take care of them. My mother’s words repeated in my head.
“Your bangs are getting long, babe. I’ll call Sylvia and get ya in for a haircut this week.”
I was six. I had a lofted big kid bed, an alarm clock, and I made my own cereal. I was independent. If I could wake and feed myself, cutting my own hair was the next life step before paying rent. Little did I know that you have to have more experience with scissors than cutting construction paper at school before moving to one’s head. And I should’ve stuck with some smaller safety scissors than the hedge trimmers we kept in the silverware drawer. They didn’t trim my bangs, they nixed them.
Large scissors with pumpkin orange handles snipped at the thick locks that swept down towards the tile countertop. My bangs quickly fell away in clumps like Tetris blocks, leaving a jagged hairline over my forehead. Maybe this endeavor was a little harder than I expected. Each snip of the scissor’s silver blades made a harsher, more uneven hairline. Sylvia, the woman who always cut my hair, made it look so easy.
Watching myself in the mirror was extremely difficult. For one, your reflection likes to move in the opposite direction you do. That rough looking chunk of hair that you were trying to cut- well it deflected the scissors to the other side of your head. A large slab of your forehead is now bare and exposed. Way to go. That rough looking chunk is still there, too.
Secondly, that person in the mirror begins to change into a stranger, but one with a familiar face. They’re standing in your bathroom, holding the same pair of scissors, while an Elmo bath toy sits on the shower’s nook behind you two. Elmo’s sprawled out over a blue plastic inner tube with his fuzzy red hands patting his stomach while his head cranes over the tube. He’s mocking this poor life choice of yours.
My first grade music concert was in four hours, and my grandmother who frets about a straggly hair breaking free from a combed part will be there.
I looked at the block of brown hair missing from the top of my head in the bathroom mirror. Mom will be pissed when she sees this. What was I thinking? I’m no hairdresser. There had to be something I could do to bide my time. If I keep cutting in an attempt to even out the hair, I might as well go until I have a buzz cut. A layer of stiff fuzz over my head. Either way, Mom would kill me.
I had to do something. Wait! Down the hall, in the make-shift office, there was a bulky tape dispenser holding down a mound of papers and bill envelopes. It was only a short stretch from the bathroom; I could make it.
The hallway was narrow and dark. Streaks of white light spilled out onto the floorboards from beneath the bedroom doors. My parents’ portrait hung at the end of the hallway is if they were watching me sneak down to my father’s office for the tape.
Of all the days I chose to cut my bangs, it’d be the day of his elementary school’s music concert.
The door to my father’s office was still foreign to me since I didn’t go in there very often. But the few times I had been in there, the tape dispenser had always been plopped on top of a stack of papers, manila folders, and opened bill envelopes. I knew for a fact because I’d used it to tape the sheet of notepad paper, with the frills from being torn off the spirals springing in all directions, onto the door. The jagged handwriting with the backwards “E” in “Dad’s Officɘ” was a fine example of Nick’s earlier literary work.
Time was of the essence. I thrust the door open. The cluttered room was gray with the restricted light coming through the venetian blinds. Boxes, exercise equipment, and gun safes made the office look like a supply closet than a workspace. Weaving through the narrow path to the desk, my foot snagged on boxes, making the stack they rested upon buckle, which would only impede my hurried return to the bathroom.
The tape dispenser was not where it always was. In fact, it couldn’t be found anywhere on the desk. It wasn’t next to the blue coffee mug with the white seagulls on it- the one that was packed full of pencils, pens, highlighters, and markers. That was the go-to spot for it if it wasn’t on the corner of the desk. My eyes scanned frantically about the room. Finally, behind the corner of the desk, I saw the sharp metal teeth of the tape dispenser sticking out.
“Nick? Are you all right?” my mother called from downstairs.
The color and heat drained from my face, my hands became chilled, and I hurriedly grabbed the tape dispenser from behind the desk. I hurdled over the tumbled boxes, stomping down the hallway towards the hallway.
I no sooner made it back into the bathroom, locking the door behind me, and I hear my mother’s approaching steps. They crescendo as the floorboards pass along creaks and groans along the wood’s grain. I pulled the tape out in one long strand.
Stretching the tape in front of me like I was showing off my Fruit-by-the-Foot to my classmates at recess, I quickly laid it across the countertop, the clumps of bangs attaching to it. I slowly raised the furry strip to my forehead and gently pressed it against my forehead. My fingers ran along the plastic line as I patted the tape against my forehead. In the mirror, I looked like a young Rambo whose hair tie held a poorly made wig in place. Sprigs of brown hair billowed out onto my forehead, in between my eyebrows, towards my ears- every which way. Maybe it could pass for bedhead? I’d tell my mom I took a nap.
There were bald patches on my forehead where hair didn’t cover. In the sink, clumps of hair sat in heaps like hay piles on a green pasture. I slid my fingertips around the sink’s basin, smearing the gob of toothpaste left across the smooth surface with the hair. The slime grabbed ahold of hair strands like a magnet with lead shavings. I slapped my toothpaste-smudged locks underneath the tape and watched the two adhesives fuse together. It’d have to do.
Just because tape is clear does not mean that its patchwork is unnoticeable. The tape was stretched across my forehead. Instead of being an invisible line that would hold my freshly cut bangs to my forehead, the tape was a silvery line with air bubbles keeping the adhesive material from creating a complete seal. Yeah, this could pass for bedhead.
Someone knocked on the door and I hustled like a starting gun had gone off, grabbing handfuls of hair and tossing them into the toilet.
“Nick? Everything all right?” my mother asked from the other side of the door.
Oh, crap. It was Mom.
“Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine.”
I wasn’t convincing.
“Why don’t you open the door, okay? I just want to see that you’re all right.”
I didn’t answer back. I was racing to cover up my bangs, and to hide the tools that had helped me do it. Outside the bathroom, my mother heard the collage of slamming cabinet doors, rolling drawers, running sinks, and toilet flushes. She then started knocking constantly at the door. Worry and panic started to increase in her voice.
“Nick, open the door. I mean it!”
The knocks echoed through the small bathroom and each quickened my heart rate. My hands frantically grabbed the scissors and clunky tape dispenser from the countertop. I flung the drawers open; they rumbled like a speeding train as I tossed my tools in then slammed them shut.
I kept looking into the mirror above the sinks. The scotch tape was pulling away from my forehead, the tape bubbling as our pockets separated the adhesive side from my skin.
My mother knocked again.
‘Nicholas, open this door!”
“I’m okay, Mom! I’ll- I’ll be out in a minute.”
The panic couldn’t be masked in my voice and it seeped out beneath the door, billowing out like smoke. She in turn beat on the door faster, pleading that I’d open it.
“Nicholas Robert, you open this door now,” she said, worry more prevalent than anger.
Oh no, she’s pulled out the middle name. It’s either do as she says from here or be in significantly more trouble later on, but I’m not finished covering up my haircut.
“I’ll be out soon!”
There was no delaying it, I’d have to face my mother and admit to botching my haircut. I swiped my hand over the counter, sweeping a handful of brown strands into my palm. I peeled back the loose tape from my forehead and pressed the stragglers to my skin. Running my hand over the tape one last time, smoothing out the air bubbles, I kept my hand pressed to my forehead as I opened the door. Maybe she wouldn’t notice, I thought.
My face was cold and blank when I made eye contact with my mom. Her stare jumped my eyes to the hand pressed against my forehead.
“What did you do?” my mother asked.
“Nothin’,” I replied.
“Nick, put your hand down.”
“No. I think I have a fever.”
My mother retreated away from me slightly.
“Yep. I better go lay down.
I started for the end of the hallway but my mother’s hand stopped me as it planted itself against the doorframe.
“Well, I’m feeling better actually. I’m gonna go outside with Mitchell.”
I avoided my mother’s eye contact at all costs. As my head leaned towards the floorboards and my eyes studied the grooves between them, the tape started to peel away from my sweaty forehead. No, now she’ll know what I did (even though my hand had only covered about a third of the tape running across my face). One of my mother’s tennis shoes rose from the floorboard and began hammering the nail beneath back into the wood.
“Nicholas, look at me.”
The hundred-pound weight of shame and embarrassment hanging from chin made it difficult to look her in the eyes. With all the bravery I could muster, I tried to lift my chin up to level. Apparently I wasn’t moving fast enough because my mother’s palm found its way underneath my jaw and scooped my head up to face her.
My mother’s hand gently wrapped around my wrist and slowly pried my hand from my forehead. The band tumbled down the front of me, hair coming loose in the free fall and sticking in clumps to my clothing. My mother’s gasp resonated down the hallway in each direction since the walls were too shocked to absorb them into their white paint oblivion.
“You cut your hair?! Honey, what were you thinking?”
“You said that my bangs were getting long so I cut ‘em.”
“Whaton earth made you think that you could cut your hair?”
“Didn’t think it’d be so hard.”