Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Long Goodbye

"It's ok, Mrs. S.  I promise--no big deal.  We'll find someone else.  And we still love you no matter what.  Just take care of yourself and your family."

I forced a smile as I spoke those words into the phone's receiver, remembering having read somewhere that you can hear a smile in a person's speech.  Despite my intentional smile and carefully controlled, lilting tone, my eyes unconsciously dropped to the floor.  

For the next minute, I inspected my fireball orange painted toenails, the wall's dusty baseboard, the kids' toys on the living room rug--all in a guilty, ridiculous attempt to hide the truth in my eyes, a truth she would have been able to clearly see...had not a dozen miles been separating us.  

When I hung up, I sat heavy on the sofa, my hand pressing against my forehead.  Nothing could mask the sinking feeling of sadness in my heart.

Nobody died, even though it feels like it some moments.  All that happened was that Mrs. S. finally decided to not cut hair anymore.  She had given up her business years ago, so I knew this decision was day.  Still, I had hoped it wouldn't happen so soon.

I met Mrs. the beginning of high school.  She was the mother of my best friend and soon became my hairdresser.  As crazy as it sounds to say it, that was almost twenty five years ago.  That's enough years to where I didn't have to say anything when I went in for an appointment.  She just knew what to do.  

But going for a hair cut was so much more than that.  It was a time to catch up with an old friend.  It was a sharing of ourselves.

How were my parents, my brother?  My, how fast my children were growing!  How were her son and daughter? Her grandchildren? How was she managing around the house?  Did she need any help?

I had grieved with her over the loss of her oldest son and husband in less than six months' time.  I remember waiting months and months, not knowing if I should call and interrupt her mourning to ask for a silly hair cut or just go somewhere else.  In the end, I just waited longer.

It wasn't just about me, though.  When my children came along, they, too, fell in love with Mrs. S. as she made them beautiful and handsome in just a few minutes time.  She was the one who, with a few snips of the scissors and swipes of the trimmer, transformed my babies into young girls and boys. 

All three of my babies left behind their infancy in mounds of curly ringlets on her tile floor.
As they grew, they loved going to her house to feed her dogs their biscuits, play in the tree house, swing on the back porch swing, look at the rustic water fountain falling from the tin roof in her country garden where something was always in bloom, or watch the train pass by on the rusty tracks that ran right beside her place.

Mrs. S. became more than a household name, more than a hairdresser.  My children grew to love her just as I did.  Going to see her felt a lot like going to see my own mother.  It was home.

Now?  I know how people are, how I without a reason to bring people together, we rarely find the time to do so...and if we do, it's never the same and never as often as it was before.  Our lives simply go in different directions--both good directions, just different.

Maybe my heart is most heavy because I know what's coming.  Eventually, she will be just another person, another vague memory in my children's early history.  Eventually, she will no longer hold this warm place in their hearts as she always will in mine.

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