Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Bit of Backstory

I was in fourth grade when I turned into a boy.  It was on the day that my dad took me to get my new glasses.  A few weeks prior to this, I had left my old glasses outside in the yard, in silent protest of their continued existence, and my mom had run over them with the lawnmower.  I had considered this a victory, until I realized that I could no longer sit in the back of the classroom with my friends, as I could no longer see what was written on the chalk board.

On this day I was sitting in the cab of my dad’s old Ford pickup, riding home from the eye doctor, where I had been refit with a new pair of equally ungainly spectacles.  At the age of ten, my vision was already worse than that of most grandparents, and eyewear technology was still struggling to catch up to my rapidly increasing nearsightedness.  I was also contending with my parents’ belief that the larger the frames, the less likely I was to lose them again.  Imagine Peter Jackson’s glasses circa Lord of the Rings, but way thicker and on a ten year old.

I love peripheral vision!
Because my dad’s pickup had no working air conditioning, and it was mid-August, we were driving with the windows down.  My long, dirty blonde hair whipped and danced in the wind, getting more and more snarled by the mile.  I tried cramming it up inside my baseball cap, but it was thick and heavy and ultimately, a losing battle.  My dad glanced over at me from the driver’s seat and said, “You know, we could go get that cut if you want.”  My magnified, bug-like eyes turned to him hopefully.  I had been begging to get my tresses chopped for years, but my mom had flat refused.  “Short?” I asked expectantly, and he grinned.  “As short as you want.”  Years later I discovered that I had been a pawn in a calculated scheme: my dad lived with three long haired women, and he hated unclogging shower drains.

The rest of the ride back to my hometown was spent daydreaming about my adorable new “do.”  I pictured myself, a classy twentysomething, my frail, delicate features accented eloquently by my sophisticated pixie cut.  Of course, my vocabulary was slightly less advanced back then, and I couldn’t remember Winona Ryder’s name, so when we pulled into the parking lot of Phil’s Barber Shop, I was ill-prepared for what lay in wait.

The bell above the door jingled merrily as we entered the shop.  The walls were covered in dark wood paneling, and deer heads dominated the décor.  Phil was deep in conversation with an elderly gentleman about fishing, into which my dad animatedly joined.  I sat quietly in the corner, awaiting my turn, oblivious to the red flags surrounding this hair cutting venture.  I glanced around, hoping for an InStyle magazine, so I could find an example of my vision.  To my left, there was a hefty stack of Field & Stream, and a lone, battered, out-of-date copy of GQ.

A few more minutes passed, and the elderly gentleman shook Phil's and my dad’s hands and departed, tipping his hat cordially at me as he left.  I smiled back, unperturbed.  My dreams were about to come true, after all.  What were a few minutes compared to a lifetime of beauty?  Phil turned to me and pointed to the chair.  “Hop on up, kiddo.”  I complied, visualizing this old fashion, cracked leather seat as my throne.  Behind me, my dad plopped into the chair I had just vacated and began leafing through a Field & Stream, whistling a cheery tune.

“So, what are we thinking today, Morg?” Phil asked.  For years after I would regret my responding brevity.


Phil turned to my dad.  “Short, short?” he asked tentatively?  Phil was a family friend and knew my mom.   Without looking up, my dad gave a single nod of consent.  Phil shrugged and turned back to me.  “Well, alright then.  Let’s lose these goggles and get started.”  He reached around and pulled my glasses from my face.  The world instantly became a haze.

Snip went the scissors.  Buzz went the electric razor.  And within a few short minutes, away went my girlhood.

“All done!” Phil announced.  A thrill of excitement shot through my stomach.  I reached blindly forward, groping for my glasses, expecting to see this:

I make this look sooo easy.
My hand slid over its target, and I drew my glasses up to my face, slipping them on and looking up into the mirror for the dramatic reveal.  What met my enlarged, expectant eyes was far more reminiscent of Kevin McCallister, right after he slaps aftershave on his cheeks.

Phil smiled at me through the reflection in the mirror.  I hitched up a grin bordering on a grimace and whispered, "Thanks."  My dad, looking up from his magazine, smiled broadly.  He finally had a son.

At school the next day, I baffled other students and was asked by first and second graders on the playground whether I was a boy or girl .  Admittedly, I exacerbated the problem by responding more often than not, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”  With the name Morgan Lee and my affinity for flannel button downs and jeans, even adults struggled to deduce my gender.  I was, without question, the “Pat” of my elementary school.

I didn't get invited to many sleepovers.
Looking back on the two years (you read that correctly) of my life that I spent with that haircut, I believe that it is these experiences which turn children into interesting adults.  How many girls do YOU know who went by the nickname George until their freshman year in high school, when most of her friends couldn’t even remember the origin of said moniker?

It wasn’t until college that I truly figured out how to be (kind of) pretty, though I experimented a lot with skirts, fishnets and old man cardigans throughout high school.  Form a line, gentlemen.  Not all at once, now.  I believe that I appreciate my femininity more than girls who have never had it unceremoniously wrenched away from them, as I did.  So thank you, Phil.  Sorry I haven’t been back for another haircut in 14 years.

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