I was walking to my car.
She was standing there under the awning. Smoking. Her hair was different. But there was no doubt it was her.
I quickened my pace and focused hard on my shoelaces. Hoping desperately that she wouldn’t see me. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the car keys.
I looked up and simulated surprise.
“Dawn!” I said. “How’s it going?”
I tried to feign happy, but my facial expression said something more along the lines of gallstone.
Dawn and I saw each other for 3 years. She’d run her fingers through my hair. Spray my head with her shpritzer bottle. Then, she’d cut it.
We were different back then, Dawn and I. She still worked at Fells Point Hair and Nail Emporium. I still washed with Pantene Pro-V.
Now, seeing her standing there, it all came back. I could almost smell the cheap conditioner.
“Your hair’s getting long,” she quipped. She said it deadpan. Heavy with judgment. Oozing passive-aggressiveness.
In those four words, she communicated so much more. Bitterness. Jealousy. Longing.
“Who is she?” The words demanded. “Does she give better comb?”
Her gaze narrowed. “Do you tip her better?”
She puffed her cigarette, contemplated the lipstick stain, then exhaled a long, pale stream of resent.
“I work over here now.” She said, gesturing to “A Cut Above.”
She said it as if I’d been trying to find her.
The nagging thing was that I never officially broke it off with Dawn. I never called to tell her it just wasn’t working out. Never explained that I’d met someone else. I just stopped showing up.
I wanted to tell her. I just didn’t know how.
I mean, how do you break up with your barber? “It’s not you. It’s my hair?”
It’s not like I didn’t try to make it work. Towards the end, I made every effort to spice things up.
“Let’s try something different.” I said. “Do whatever you think would look good.”
I hoped this freedom might encourage creativity. My head was a blank canvas. Every barber’s dream.
Instead, Dawn looked dazed. As if I’d just walked into a diner and ordered sashimi.
No matter what direction I gave, it was always the same. Number 2 clippers on the sides. Small talk about the weather. Hair mussed with enough American Crew Firm-Hold Styling Gel to deflect a missile attack.
Over time, we just grew apart. My shampoo had changed. Dawn hadn’t.
And then, one day, I met another woman.
It wasn’t premeditated or anything. It just kind of happened.
It was March and the weather was just starting to turn warm. I called to make an appointment. Dawn was on vacation.
So I called somewhere else.
Her name was Kathy. She worked in a salon. The kind with a bowl of hard candies on the counter and a decidedly more attractive clientele.
Even the radio station was different. It wasn’t Baltimore’s Best Mix Of The 80s, 90s and Today.
Kathy had XM.
I knew immediately that I could never go back.
Kathy gave better small-talk too. Sure, she covered the obligatory weather discussion. But she also brought up some more advanced topics.
“Been on any good trips lately?” When I said I hadn’t, she deftly changed the topic to the upcoming Arts Festival.
She even covered the offbeat: “I heard Travel & Leisure magazine named Baltimore the city with the ugliest people in America.”
“Huh.” I said. “Then I guess you’ve got your work cut out for you.”
She was even polite enough to laugh at my bad pun.
When Kathy finished, my hair was transformed. Well, relatively. It was little shaggier on the top. The sides were trimmed with scissors. Not the military buzz to which I’d grown accustomed.
I liked it.
I took Kathy’s business card, told her it was good for me and promised to call her again.
Walking out, I turned her card over in my hand. I ran my thumb over the embossed lettering.
“Kathy Sparks. Stylist.”
I liked the way that sounded. It implied that some of the style might wear off on me.
Much better than “Barber.” Which conjured images of high-waisted pants, liver-spotted arms and too much Stetson.
Now, it had been almost a year since the last time I saw Dawn.
As we stood there on the street, her cigarette smoldering, her eyes burning icy holes in my chest, I fumbled with my car keys. I wanted to explain, but she just wouldn’t understand.
I was a Garnier Fruitis man now.
I didn’t know what to say.
So I flashed an awkward smile, ran my fingers through my hair and told her to enjoy the weather.