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"Yeah, but I don't have my supplies." Joelle replied. "You can come by at lunch." Her voice, neither elated nor depressed, was muffled by background chatter.
"Where are you?" I asked, flipping on my right turn signal and coasting into the parking lot. "And what do you want from Tropical Grille? Lunch is on me."
She responded with, "The usual," before ending the call. Guess it's not important, I thought and tossed my phone into the cup holder so I could use both hands to steer my Honda Civic into a parking spot. Upon killing the engine, South Carolina heat rushed into the cabin of the car. I evacuated and locked the doors before jogging into Tropical Grille.
Famous for its yellow curry sauce, Tropical Grille was a favorite lunch spot among Greenville locals; the dining room was abuzz with white and blue collars alike.
I took a spot in the back of the line and scanned the menu as I waited. The savory aroma of freshly grilled chicken and curry sauce taunted me from the back of the queue.
Everything from the Classic Chop to the Cuban Sandwich was delicious, but I, being a creature of habit, ordered the same entrée every visit.
When the cashier asked for my order, I said, "Two South of the Border Chops, please." He swiped my debit card and handed it back with a friendly, though slightly stressed, smile.
After a few minutes, another employee handed me a plastic bag with mine and Joelle's lunches. I smiled, thanked him, and stepped back into the oven-esque August heat. The nape of my back, the pits of my knees, and my upper lip sprouted beads of sweat; I wiped them away as soon as I was seated in my car with the muggy air-conditioning blowing in my face.
. . .
Two stop-lights and ten minutes later, my car was once again parked, and I was, once again, battling perspiration. The roots of my hair were slightly damp from sweat, and I wondered why I tortured myself with long hair as I grabbed my backpack and lunch from my passenger seat.
Don't cut your hair, I remembered him saying.
"That's why," I whispered to myself as I fought back feelings of remorse.
I clumsily yanked open the door to the church, stepped through a wall of cool air, and emerged in the lobby. The receptionist greeted me from behind her desk. Only the top of her graying head was visible above the counter, and I offered a hello before jogging up the stairs to Joelle's office.
. . .
"What was all the commotion on your end of the phone?" I asked, setting the takeout boxes on Joelle's desk and flopping into the adjoining chair.
"Staff meeting," Joelle replied. She wasted no time distributing the food and pouring cups of curry sauce over her Cuban food.
"You mean you actually interact with other church employees?" I asked, feigning surprise.
"Despite popular belief," she said before taking a bite of chicken, "I do leave my office every once and a while."
I smirked and mixed my food together- yellow rice, chicken, black beans, salsa, guacamole and sour cream. The usual.
After a few minutes of silent eating, Joelle finally spoke up and asked, "So, what is it you want me to do to your head?"
. . .
The high school ministry room was the only place big enough to set up a makeshift salon, so Joelle made the best of the situation. She laid trash bags on the floor to catch the clippings and put me on a stool in the middle. With an additional bag, she made a barber's cape by cutting a hole in the plastic.
She shoved the bag over my head, pulled my hair out of its braid, and combed it with her fingers. She asked, "how much did you say you wanted off?"
"All of it," I replied, taking a deep breath.
I'd been growing my hair out since freshman year of high school. Now, at nineteen, it was well to my waist and decorated with flyaways and remnants of home-dye jobs. Wearing it down reminded me of him, so I made a habit of braiding it back a few months ago. With my curls tucked away, it made it easier to forget all the times he ran his fingers through my hair before kissing me.
The ripping crunch of dull scissors cutting through hair broke my reverie. I straightened my back, positioning myself in a posture of power.
There's no going back from this, I thought.
As Joelle continued shearing, I felt myself lightening. Little memories of playful interactions dropped limply to the ground.
Do not cut your hair, I remembered him saying. It's what makes you so... you.
Countless times, he tugged on a curl near my waist, brushed a few strands behind my ear or ran his fingers through the waves- as if skimming the ripples of a pond. With a few more cuts, the majority of my locks were pooled around the feet of the stool ready to be discarded and forgotten along with memories of him.
The sweetness of my time with him had soured.
"I think we're about done here," Joelle said, fluffing up my freshly chopped strands.
It was short, about three inches- barely enough to tuck behind my ears. I touched it, felt the blunt edges before running to the bathroom to take a look.
"Oh my God."
The cut drew attention to my face. Without three feet of hair, there was nothing keeping my eyes from going directly to my eyebrows, my lips. I was surprised at the sharp edges of my cheekbones and jaw.
The bathroom door swung open, and Joelle entered with an armful of trash bags and hair. She stuffed her luggage into the garbage can and said, "Come help me sweep up the mess."
. . .
I held the dustpan, and Joelle swept. Her willowy limbs carefully gathered the last bits of my hair into a little pile at the lip of the pan.
"I know this wasn't a rash decision," she said, pushing the pile into the dustpan. "So, why?"
I emptied the dustpan and put it back in the closet before pulling up a stool. "Do you remember Jared?"
She smirked, showing a few teeth and nodded. "I don't think anyone could forget Jared," she added. And she was right. No one could forget Jared. Every holiday at family gatherings, relatives asked about Jared. When they found out we broke up, they asked about the breakup.
Every time he began to clot, someone picked off the scab.
"He had this thing with my hair," I began. "It was his favorite part of me, and I felt like I needed it to keep him with me." Joelle raised a dark, skeptical brow. "I know it sounds stupid, but bear with me," I continue. "So for the longest time, I felt like I needed to keep my hair long to be pretty. And then a few weeks ago, I thought, 'to h--- with that!' And started thinking about how liberating it would be to get rid of it."
"Do you feel 'liberated?'" She asked. The corner of her mouth was upturned.
I ran a hand through my short crop before replying. "Yes, I do. But it's not as much a free feeling as it is a renewed feeling," I said. "I feel like I need to relearn myself."