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We went to the woods to cut my hair, and I let Shea drive. I was too cold and my neck was stiff and my eyes felt heavy and sick. The night before, we’d stayed in a hotel together in the Gorge, intertwined all night. In two days, I would ride a bus to Seattle to start fighting the war. Today, she would do me two favors in the woods and I loved her. I was slow and sick and I didn’t say much but I think she understood scared people. She looked the same way in Mass every week as she sat thinking not of god but of how soothing the repetition of it was. She understood how it felt to be inherently unstable.
I asked her to cut my hair because the war boys would make me cut it at training anyway and I trusted her more. I hadn’t cut my hair since my grandmother died, and she did it then too. I hadn’t known her yet then. My father and grandfather cut their hair in our kitchen and cried. I drove to Seattle to have it done because I didn’t to see anyone I knew. No old friends patting my arm and asking how my grandfather was doing. No old tribal ladies saying what a shame it was that my long hair was so beautiful.
Before my grandmother died, my hair was past my shoulder blades. I really only had long hair because my grandfather had long hair and my father used to have long hair before he got successful. I told her that when I sat down and told her to cut it all off. I knew she didn’t understand but she was still reluctant with her scissors. Her hands worked somberly and respectfully, like she knew about my grandmother and was apologizing that way because she knew I didn’t want to talk. It made me breathe easier. I looked at the ground the entire time anyway, for safety.
We didn’t talk for a long time but eventually told me that my hair was unhealthy. She said the ends were dry and splitting and she asked me how often I cut my hair. I said I never really cut it and yet she still didn’t ask any questions. Then somehow I tripped into telling her all about how my mom was in jail and how my dad was fired and how I had to drop out of college to save money. It was just random, but I must’ve talked for an hour. She kept listening even when she finished cutting my hair. I even ended up talking about my grandmother. I even cried a little but she just kept listening.
When I was done she didn’t touch me. She just let me sit and then she told me that her dad had been in jail when she was born in Ireland because he bombed buildings. That made me feel good because it was way worse than what my mom had done. She also told me that she had to drop out of school because of money too and that her parents were divorced and unsuccessful. But at the end she told me that she had never lost a grandparent and that she couldn’t even imagine how awful that would be. I handed her some money but she handed it back.
I finally looked at her when I left. She looked patched and tired and kind of hungry. She looked cold there in her thin shirt with all the doors open. I decided that she probably understood everything, more things than I did. Her nametag said Shea.
She stopped sweeping my hair off the floor when I started leaving. She told me that she had an extra ticket to a Mariners game that night and she wondered if I’d go with her. I said yes. I told her my name was Jesse. We went in my truck that night and she made fifty dollars betting on the game. She was amazing. The next day I took her whale watching on the sound. We went on like that, doing things and talking. She’d be there waiting for me in the woods after work and we’d get in my truck and I’d turn up the heat so she wouldn’t be cold.
When she met my family, the war had already half-started in the city. Her apartment building had been set on fire so I invited her to stay with us on the reservation. She fit well with my dad and grandfather, sprawled out on the couch cussing at the baseball game on TV. She told them about how we met without making it sound embarrassing. She said that my short hair was cute but that she hoped I’d grow it long again.
She was still staying with us when the war boys came and recruited me. My father and I were scared but she and my grandfather got so angry that they left for a drive together and didn’t come back until two in the morning, all drunk and weepy. That night on the couch, her vodka lips told me that she’d kill me if I didn’t come back. I was too tired and scared and in love with her to correct her error.
So then a lot of scared time passed and soon we were driving to the forest to cut my hair again. Once we found a spot off a hiking trail, she got a lawn chair and a towel out of my truck and told me to sit down. She cut off as much as she could with scissors before she shaved, mumbling the whole time about the damn war boys and the damn government and how long my damn hair had gotten.
When she was done she showed me what I looked like in my truck’s side view mirror and I cried. She shoved me and commanded me to stop crying. I just kept bawling about how I couldn’t fight and kill and she kept being rough with me, trying to make me stop. You don’t have to do any of that, she said, all you have to worry about is surviving okay? Stop crying okay? Okay Jesse?
Quickly and angrily she yanked off her sweatshirt and jeans and shoes and socks and bra and underwear and stretched for a moment before performing the second favor for me. She got some dirty toe shoes out of her backpack. She hadn’t danced since high school and she wasn’t even good but she promised she’d dance ballet for me in the woods. She was white and unbearably restrained as she moved slowly. She was almost too stiff to be graceful but I watched her sinews stretch and retract perfectly. She was almost bone on the outside, a combination of a million flat surfaces, a prism angel flawed with dark mud from the ground. Her corners and angles were high-pitched and sweet. Her soft shadows bled low like bruises. I was so lost all through that dance, all through the drive home, with my shaved head cold.
At home she wrapped me in blankets and told me a bunch of stories that didn’t really matter. We talked about Ireland and cleanliness and bloody, broken toenails. I accidently said she was beautiful and after scolding me she told me I was genuine and young. She gave me a pair of hand-knit socks. She gave me some lines from Macbeth written in a little book. I gave her a lock of my hair I picked up from the ground in the forest and she finally cried.
Now I’m on the train and I feel naked and decaying. I feel rancid and impossible. I look at birches out the window and see her white elbows and sharp white hips shifting and falling like scared geese and broken glass.