Five years ago, when I knew I’d be losing my hair anyway, Bernie advised me to chop it all off in advance. Getting used to short hair was prudent preparation, and honestly, the thought of long, blonde clumps circling the drain was more than I could handle. Katherine booked an appointment for me at a fancy salon. I still have no idea how she convinced them to squeeze me in, just two days before Christmas. Well, I guess I do. It’s very Katherine to chase down Boston’s most famous hairstylist in Beacon Hill to insist on a favor for a friend. Appointment secured, April came to fetch me, and we drove into the city on a dark, snowy afternoon.
That night in the fancy salon was blurry. I chose an edgy, short hairstyle out of a magazine. I was terrified I would start sobbing. Suddenly, there was someone who didn’t look like me in the mirror. I don’t remember paying (thanks, guys). April and I returned to the car, and it wasn’t there. We navigated slushy streets in the wrong shoes to find an ATM and then a cab to the sketchiest parts of a city where cars are towed. We paid the scary man, found the car, and shared nervous could-it-get-worse?? giggles the entire way home.
A month later, a few days before surgery was scheduled, my short haircut was getting shaggy. But I wasn’t going to return to the fancy salon on Newbury Street for a trim. It was time to come clean with Clyde.
Clyde had been my go-to guy for a quick cut and color since 2007. Back then, I was a walk-in to his studio as an exhausted, frumpy-feeling mom of tiny boys. I needed to mask the gray and just wanted to feel pretty, dammit. Clyde promised me this would be easy, as I was already pretty (and now I already loved Clyde) and he also assured me fabulous hair for small money in a short time. We were fast friends and I’ve been a regular at Clyde’s station for a decade.
A typical exchange with Sandy, the front desk receptionist:
“Hey, it’s Britt… can I get in with Clyde, like, TODAY?”
“Hold on babe…. yep. When?”
“You got it.”
“You know he’ll squeeze you in whenever you want, doll.”
My girly readers will attest there can be quite a bond between a gal and her hairdresser. Geez, there are entire movies centered on conversations in swivel chairs and over contoured sinks. Though I will watch Steel Magnolias every time it is on and love the idea of being a regular at Truvy’s, Clyde is a true departure from any stereotype you have of a hairdresser. Picture an extra from The Sopranos: slicked back, black hair (when he had it), sleeve tattoos, and a Harley. Clyde is Andrew Dice Clay in a beauty parlor.
After umpteen hours in his chair–over most of the years of my marriage– Clyde could quote my mother-in-law and recite the list of all of the extra Asians we’ve housed over the years. He even talked Shmo out of pink hair when he knew she was applying for jobs. Clyde and I shared similar taste in binge-worthy television programming and agreed that kids should never be forced to eat broccoli but should be dragged to Church regularly. We covered all of the topics.
After too many months without seeing Clyde, I booked my appointment, showed up with hair he hadn’t cut, and confessed.
“I cheated on you.”
“Sit down. What’s going on?”
That’s when I told him I had cancer. He understood entirely how I couldn’t ask him to lop off the hair he’d been perfecting for years. I knew he’d be too sad for me. And if Clyde was choked up, I’d start sobbing, and I only had so much Ativan, and that’s how close we are with the dear ones we choose to tend to our hair. It’s an oddly intimate relationship some of us have to the talented folk who know us well enough to forbid bangs.
Last night Sandy called me at home. Clyde is gone. A brain aneurysm means I will never see Clyde again. He was only 48.
I’m sad. I’m praying. I’ve been writing since midnight.
I have an irrational (?) need for his closest family and friends to know I loved him, too. Likely there are so many of us who have relied on him for years, have marveled at his talent and speed, and loved him, too. Clyde has been on the sidelines of my silly life—making me feel prettier when I felt invisible, literally shaping my recovery, and always telling me I was a cutie.
Clyde is gone, but I take solace knowing Clyde knew I thought he was fucking amazing. I hugged him hard, tipped him hugely, and only ever cheated on him with a fancy salon once. I told anyone who asked that no one was better at color than Clyde. Six years ago, I even yelped it, earning him a shout out from the corporate office.
“Do you really think I’m actually that awesome? I mean, no one has ever written a review like that for me.”
“Clyde, you’re fucking amazing.”
“Alright. YOU said it.”
And I’m so glad now that I did.