The Girl Who Cuts His Hair
Dara Cunningham
Break

I used to touch them. I touched their hair, their ears, their foreheads; I cradled their chins to move their heads just so. It was my job; touching men and making them feel good about themselves.

I worked in a barber shop. It wasn't my original career plan of course; I always thought I'd stand in palatial salons tiled with marble in the company of the fabulous. Instead, I learned an undervalued trade considered unusual for a woman to attempt, let alone master.

"Is she any good?" they'd ask, or somewhat thoughtlessly say, "I'd never let a woman cut my hair."

I had penetrated a long cherished boy's club; the grown up version of the tree house boarded with a "no girls allowed" sign. The barber shop was a sacred haven of American masculinity. It was a tiny time warp where men could complain, curse vulgarly, sample Playboy and be confident that neither their wives nor Human Resources would ever find out.

I was an unwelcome intruder to some, a curious novelty to others. I won them over in time, as I was skilled at what I did. More enlightened men grew to value my fresh perspective on how to resolve a fight with their mothers, why their teenage daughters rebelled, or how to approach a woman they'd like to ask for a date.

I generously made suggestions to these single men, cautioned against clichés and steered them toward sincerity, often learning my advice had garnered successful results. I dispensed advice and humor like a bartender, and that's how they came to see me: as a saloon girl. I was friendly, witty, good for a laugh and deserving of generous tip, but not of any invitations to dinner myself. What must I have looked like to them, in my sensible shoes and black polyester smock that concealed my ever fluctuating weight?

As my twenties drew to a close I was still single and cutting hair in a verdant upscale suburb. I began to pay attention to the Saturday morning men; those successful young guys who had two hour commutes to their jobs in Manhattan and were never back home in time to get a haircut on the weekdays. They would leave their beautiful sleeping girlfriends and do their weekend errands: the gym, the bank, the car wash, the haircut. They would smell good and wear crisp shirts; they would talk about playing racquetball or the stock market or where the best new microbrewery was. Eventually one by one, they would announce they were getting married, and then feel compelled to share with me the lurid details of their bachelor parties. It was okay to do that, they figured. I was one of the guys.

I met their new brides and learned quickly why I couldn't compete. They were lovely creatures with yards of glossy hair, tiny waists and tight, tanned bodies. They had all graduated from college and beyond. They wore silk blouses and pearls to work; they had offices and carried Coach bags. They didn't come home with hair clippings stuck to khaki cargo pants from the Gap.

If I was ever to get closer to those men than trimming their sideburns I would have to be a different woman altogether with a very different career. I can hear them talking about me over lattes or sushi and saying, "Yeah, man. She's nice, the girl who cuts my hair. But I wouldn't date her. I mean, come one, she works in a barber shop. Get real."

I am different now. I abandoned my tools, my trade for something more acceptable. I talk about college and professors and topics for a thesis. I have learned to soften my sarcasm and stifle my knowledge of sports and politics. I sleep late on Saturday mornings on soft sheets in a king bed, and he comes to kiss me goodbye before he goes to see "the girl" who cuts his hair. I dream of the anonymous woman with the scissors, I see her hands peeling back his collar and dusting his neck with pine-scented powder. I never want to meet her, because I already know who she is.

Dara Cunningham is currently pursuing a BA in History and hopes to teach. Originally from New Jersey, she now lives and writes in Northeastern Pennsylvania.