Carol Novack
     

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Assessment
an excerpt from the novella Beautiful Hair

 

Anna narrates: "I remember the first student at the beauty school, oddly enough. A tongue ring and dramatically short, scary black hair streaked with violet and red highlights. She flattered me on my hair, shaping it with great care and polishing it with a combination of products that left each strand stiff and formal. I think she had a dog, some kind of terrier that ate her hairbrush and had to go to the hospital. No eyebrows to speak of, but a little gold ring at the end of one of them. I noticed a few students giving their clients massages. I wanted a massage but was afraid to ask.

Most of the students were female, in their late teens through mid twenties. They all smell practically the same, like the salon, a mixture of products emanating "natural" aromas like sandalwood and musk. Though sometimes I could smell their real aromas when they lifted their arms to work on my hair . . . when they're really close. And they all wear white gowns as though they're going to perform intricate operations yielding blood and unspeakable parts. Hair surgeons with plastic gloves, many with piercings and tattoos. How brave to have a tattoo burned into your flesh and a ring inserted into your tongue or nipple. I often imagine . . .

Yes, that was about three years ago. I'm now 25, you know, Martha Higgins, Social Worker. You have my date of birth, social, driver's license, the color of my teeth, Daffodils Under the Snow, shade number 129. You no doubt know that I live with Kook, a demented cat that pees all over the apartment, I get by comfortably on stupid temp clerical jobs, along with the modest inheritance my late paternal grandfather left me. You no doubt know that I eat tasteless comfort food at the local diner at least five times a week. What more should one want from life? I came here voluntarily, you're well aware. Mommy dreariest always said that co-operation with authorities is the safest course. Of course, you must've talked to Mommy.

Okay, okay, I'll continue, Doctor. I won't bother Martha and really, I'm just teasing. Show me your hands, Clock. And tell me why the walls are colored sick avocado and where are we anyway? I forget the non-essential details. Always do.

So at first, I went for a trim on a monthly basis, as my hair grows fast and I want to keep it long but shapely. I got lucky the third time I came, I think it was. A transsexual with large, tender hands gave me an exquisite hand massage with IMagEique Moisturizing Cream (made from a rare succulent from Tangiers) and a head massage too, while she washed my hair. She confided that she'd be happy to work on me on my next visit, but then I was told that I'd never have the same student twice when I asked for her the next time. I wondered who her friends were, whether she was having sex with a man or if she found it difficult to find a man who'd want to sleep with her. I was fascinated.

It all gets out of focus. I mean I can't tell one from another except a few of the ones that gave memorable messages and emitted enticing aromas. I started to go every three weeks or so, then every two weeks or so, asking for only a quarter of an inch off or a slightly different style. The employees thought I was nuts, coming so often. I heard them talking about me, whispering, calling me freaky and smelly. But I didn't let it bother me. I'd reached the point when I'd know immediately the minute a student approached me with her assignment card, the resume of my hair. I'd know whether the student would give me a massage. Usually, it's the ones that don't meet your eyes when they introduce themselves. Their hands are what matters to them and what matters to me. Well, their hands, the way they fondle and blow dry my hair, their touch, and their personal scents. The conversations are beside the point. Though I always asked the students why they want to become hairdressers. I couldn't help myself having to know. What were their real motivations? Permissible intimacies, artistic inclinations, dreams of creating new looks for celebrities, economic pressures?

Right. I realize that my switching tense is inappropriate and confusing. Perhaps it scares you, signifies an abnormal affect. You think I'll return to the salon incognito and do it again. I might. I'll switch tense along with point of view, as well. What else is there to do? No, no. I'm kidding. It's just that time has a way of leaping and flowing, back and forth, to and fro, above and beneath the streams like a slippery fish. Don't you think?

Oh yes, to continue. You want to know about Lydia, you say that's her name. I'd like a Scotch and soda first. No green tea, thanks. It thins the blood.

Lydia. Well really, there were so many that fascinated me. They inhabit my dreams. I told you, but you don't believe me. The professional intimacies, physical connections of and beyond hands on hair, like one night stands in a way. Each experience presenting a potential of contact beyond the narrow context, the curriculum, is unique. Each connection is an opiate, a personal gift. Not that I could tell the student, oh, I'm feeling a tingling all over, feeling delicious down there, as if . . . No, of course I couldn't. I had to say simply, that was wonderful. You're so good at massage. I guess this is part of your training, well maybe optional. You should pass with honors. They'd be very pleased. And they'd end up pixilated in my memory like undeveloped digital photos.

Lydia? I don't remember. There were others before her, after her. Oh and one guy I was interested in till I heard him call me smelly, when he was walking down a street with a friend.

No, I'm not necessarily a 'lover of women,' lesbian. I resent that question."

Reactive Attachment Disorder DSM-IV 313.89, thinks Clock. Flat affect, eyes all over the place. Tentative mildly severe deprivation of "holding environment" plus early abandonment of caretaker and acute deprivation of "good enough mothering." Results of inadequate supportive environment: "annihalation of self" and "fragmentation." Clock makes a mental note to read up on the latest theories concerning attachment and object relations disorders.

 

 

 

 

 
     

 

 

 

 

 

 

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