Esther was the sister of a close friend of mine, and we were in a hair salon in a lavish resort in Fethiye at the end of several weeks in Turkey. Our other friends were somewhere else, maybe on a boat or in the bar, and I was sitting in a cracked leather couch in yellow room while Esther had her face helmeted with bangs and squarish layers. I was tired and eighteen and drinking a can of sour cherry juice and I was staring at a laminated picture of Kate Moss in a blue binder. She had very short hair.
“I can give that to you.” Suddenly Adem the hairdresser was crouched in front of me. He brushed hair out of my eyes and touched my chin. He had no hair himself and a vague jaw line; he was older than me by a lot. Later that night we were at the disco in the resort and a song by Tarkan came on and it was one of the few Turkish songs I knew. Adem materialized (he had a talent for this) and grabbed me and led me through an extravagant sort of tango that required me only to sort of relax into him and move my feet fast enough not to be stepped on. It was a spastic dance but had a loose logic that kept us from banging into any of the other four couples on the floor who were all engaged in a style of grinding I’d never seen before, grinding with a lot of footwork. I remember holding on to Adem’s back through his slick pastel tee-shirt and my other hand clamped in his grasp. It felt like The Scrambler, this crazy amusement park ride I loved, except that when I would exit that attraction the ticket taker wouldn’t gather my hair in his fist at the nape of my neck and ask me if he could please cut it.
A week after I returned to California (still with long hair) I started work at a small, family owned camera shop. I ran the register, dusted the frames with some scraggly feathers, and kept the film processing envelopes organized. When one of the owner’s daughters, an army vet who actually did teach me to tango, didn’t show up I was responsible for scanning and color correcting negatives and burning them to CD. It was an okay job and when we had no customers my coworker Paul and I would play air hockey with crumpled paper and compressed air. Paul studied photography at the community college and made long lists of qualities he desired in a wife. When we weren’t playing our air hockey tournament or dusting, Paul would show hundreds of his photographs to Ned, our senior salesperson. Ned hated Paul’s work. I tried to be encouraging and pointed out pictures I liked, but I couldn’t do much to blunt the criticism. At the end of the summer Paul presented me with his final list of desirable wifely traits. Pious, Good with Money, and Long Hair were three that stuck out to me.
My hairdresser was named Douglas and his salon was meticulously decorated in a spare, popular “zen” kind of style, and Madonna’s Ray of Light album was a favorite soundtrack. After the shampoo Douglas would do something I liked very much, tuck a towel over my wet hair and behind my ears and put some good smelling oil on my forehead. He’d press it right above my eyebrows with his index finger and then drag the oil up very quickly in a short little line. Then he’d leave the room very purposefully and I’d sneak looks at him through the glass door; he’d be in the hall eating a little sandwich or hardboiled egg. The hair cut was always too short and too bouncy and once he put some red dye in without asking me. We had a close relationship. When he cut my bangs a few years later he didn’t mind when I grabbed his leg. I was nervous. At the time I stuck with a single length, right at the shoulders, parted straight down the middle. I thought something might change if I switched.
At the end of the summer I got a call from Ethan, who I hadn’t heard from since the sixth grade. I guess we had been sort of boyfriend/girlfriend in elementary school – he gave me a pen with three different colors of ink – but no declarations were ever made. We were both skinny and I had some huge glasses and braces and he was covered in freckles. His most distinctive feature was a shock of red hair, bright, beautiful orangey red that I had always wanted to touch. I told him over the phone to take me to lunch and he showed up at my house that weekend in his father’s convertible. I was in the kitchen, craning my head around so that I could see him exit the car and the first thing I noticed was that Ethan’s red hair was now on his face in a careful goatee. I don’t remember much of the lunch or him driving me home, but I know that at one point he touched his jaw and found a small patch he’d missed with the razor, and then sat with his chin in his hand to cover the spot.