She stayed up late last night looking at a list of names.
This list is more than one hundred people. She looks down the list as her cell phone alerts sound. Facebook, text messages, questions. She puts the phone down and goes back to the list.
Her list is not just names. It brings up faces in her mind.
Children she met as babies and cut the first time they were ready and not afraid to sit in her chair. Men and women, old and young. She takes a breath and she thinks about her list.
She thinks about her year. She thinks about what she knows and she wonders.
How is your wife dealing with her illness? How is your elderly father? How is your child dealing with home schooling?
She thinks about the client she invited to Thanksgiving, the lady who has no family, the one she hasn’t heard from in months and she worries.
She knows about your problems. She knows about your new job, about the child you are sending to college in the fall and she wonders how they will do because she’s cut their hair since they were in elementary school and she’s planning a small graduation gift for you to give to them.
Something to show she cares.
She knows about your friends. She knows about your fights. She knows about your sex life or lack there of. She knows about your worries and she listens.
Her chair is a confessional, a psychology session, a bar stool. Your words never leave the salon and she will always keep it that way.
Her phone sounds again. She looks at the message.
When are you opening?
She closes her eyes.
The pandemic has taken months of time. Time is valuable. Days can be twelve hours, standing for most of it, morning to night. Appointments, cuts, colors, perms.
You need her to stay late? Sure. Your color didn’t turn out and you need it fixed? Let’s do it.
She works without breaks. She gives you her time. She gets home after midnight again and kisses her kids goodnight as they sleep in their beds. She changes in the dark, listening to her husband shift under the covers. She warms up dinner from a container. She sits at the kitchen table shaking her hands to wake up her wrists.
Her fork feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. Her right arm held a blow dryer for hours today, elevated, an extended single arm pull up that would hinder any grown man.
And she pours a glass of iced tea. And she eats as night passes outside.
Her phone alerts again. A comment on the salon’s Facebook page. People are angry. She scrolls through replies. She scrolls through her main page. She scans new status updates.
So happy to get my hair done finally.
Got my hair cut. Had to drive to do it, but it was worth it!
Two names on her list. She grabs the paper and makes changes.
The salon meeting happens over Zoom. PPE is purchased. Stations will be spaced out. Protect yourselves. Protect your clients. No one in the waiting room. They will enter from the parking lot, get cut, and leave.
No paying with cash.
And there’s the catch. The commission will be less, sure, but it will pick up eventually she believes. No cash though, that hurts. Credit card tips get taxed.
Cash is a tank of gas on the way home. Lunch money for school. A cup of coffee.
Color is complicated. Color is chemicals. Color is heat and she’ll be wearing extra layers, so she’ll be sweating. So she’ll need to drink. Drinking means taking time. Time she doesn’t have with a crowded parking lot waiting to get serviced.
So she doesn’t drink.
Oh, and by the way, no blow-drying hair.
The final touch. The masterpiece. The way a client can see their beautiful new color in action.
Not anymore. No, they will go home and do it themselves and, if it doesn’t look good enough they will call that night to get it fixed.
And they will go back on the list.
“Mommy, I’ll miss you.”
She hugs her son. She’s spent months with them. She’s planned days and activities. She’s been a teacher and cook, mother and manager. She’d had weekends for once, months of weekends!
She’s gotten used to weekends.
Saturdays now will be different.
Saturdays will be her Mondays. Driving to the salon as the sun comes up some mornings, no traffic, window down and radio playing.
Nerves kicking in.
Her phone sounds again. It pulls her attention from a picture on the wall from when she was younger, fifteen years before. The first time she’d stepped in to a salon.
The moment she knew this would be her calling.
“It’s all I know,” she told her husband.
So they would wait until they could open.
One final weekend. One final week.
Looking at the list 1,000 more times.
She looks in the mirror. She tries on her work clothes and loops the mask over her ears. She wonders how this will work. She takes the mask off.
She finds her equipment. She cleans it.
She loads her car and she looks at the quiet house.
It’s time to go to work.
Matt Shaner has been married to a hair stylist for fifteen years. This is his tribute to his hero and to all stylists out there getting back into it. Stay strong. You will make it through.