My stylist calls herself a “hairapist” –rhymes with therapist– and as we’ve talked about this moniker over the years, I have come to recognize how apt a descriptor it is at least for our relationship. My stylist is an artist and healer in other parts of her life and she brings those qualities to her work “behind the chair.” Yet, unlike therapists, who are encouraged and trained to maintain some level of professional distance, in the salon personal sharing is not a one-way street. Even as I choose to share a current struggle, dilemma, or triumph she may also choose to share such things with me. You might say, “Well, sounds like to me like you’re friends.” Yes, certainly. But it’s a different kind of friendship, not characterized by Saturday get togethers or dinner parties. Yet, for me, a woman approaching a certain age, this salon friendship has taken on particular significance.
I consider myself fortunate to have a pretty deep bench when it comes to women friends starting with childhood and moving through my professional life. Among them there are many I could call in an emergency and some that know the secrets of my past. There are women that taught me that my baby’s bath water was “still too hot” or that maybe I really should talk with the doctor about this or that pediatric issue. There are women that laugh with me about my husband’s obsession with bikes and trail-building and those that have joined me at my mother’s grave to leave flowers. There are women I talk books or university politics with and some who are always willing to share a dessert (too few of those sadly!). But as I’ve continued through adulthood, my time to talk deeply with friends has shrunk. I remember so fondly those late nights in high school and college when there were endless hours to talk about who my friends and I thought we were, how we might achieve whatever it was we wanted to achieve, what would make a meaningful life. How often do I have a conversation like that now as I run from meeting to meeting or more recently zoom to zoom? Nowadays, it’s a group dinner here, a walk there, a quick lunch out during the week. Once in a while the weekend get-away. I suppose some people might think that women at our age have it figured out; there’s really no reason to ask questions about meaning, purpose, and identity when life is certainly in its second half and we’ve made our choices. But, for me, the opposite is true. I think I am asking those questions now more than ever and I find I crave “the deep” in conversation. And, oddly enough, the place where I most regularly feed that craving is a place that seemingly focuses on the literal surface of who I am.
My “hairapist” knows a lot about me. When I tell Andrea I want a cut with “a little edge,” she can guess I’m a little bored with my current circumstances. Want to go shorter? Looking for control. More low lights? Feeling bad about my aging skin. Longer, with some layers? Worried about my weight. She also knows how much daily time I’m willing to invest to achieve a particular presentation. Not much. How much money I’ll spend to to minimize the daily time on my appearance. A fair amount. With all this as baseline, it doesn’t take much to make the salon a space where, in front of a large mirror for several hours every six weeks, I take a deep breath and confront the reflection staring back at me and the me I hope to take into the world upon leaving. Happily, Andrea is a willing ally in the switchbacks between the interior and the exterior exploration that goes on in the salon.
I am not the only one apparently who gravitates toward this interior/exterior salon meet-up. My hairapist has other clients and sometimes our conversations draw them in. Because we both have creative pursuits that are sidelines to our day jobs, Andrea and I talk about them and share our progress. Recently, I shared a piece of writing I was thinking about submitting for publication. Deeply personal, it featured a first love who recently made contact after many years. I looked like a Martian with foil all over my head as Andrea quietly read the piece through twice or maybe three times. Her focus is never on the craft of the writing; she responds to the emotional gestalt. She loved it and said so, piquing the curiosity of another client who asked to read it. I was nervous, but then again, my plan was to submit it to a national publication. I turned it over to this stranger and tried to calm the butterflies in my stomach. The conversation that unfolded was a delight. Three women sharing their experiences and memories long locked away about early love lessons, those men we leave behind, and how we are shaped by them. At the appointment’s end, I looked in the mirror and saw both the girl I was and the woman of a certain age that I am. The gray was gone. The ends looked sharper. I had new questions to consider.