Events Which Lead to Drastic Haircuts

Personal Fiction

Seat 24c, Delta Flight 1219. LaGuardia airport, New York. April 2008. The plane is closing in on me. I repeat: the plane is closing in on me. It’s like that scene from the Wizard of Oz in which branches transform into arms and bark appears with faces and Dorothy finds herself helplessly confused amidst a haunting and unfamiliar wilderness. Only it’s not wilderness and it’s not unfamiliar and I’ve done this before. It’s just a plane, Lissa. It’s just a plane. But it’s never been this warm. A no-smoking light a few seats in front of me blinks spastically. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, blink. I make sure the overhead air vents are open, and they are. This provides no comfort. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, blink.

I feel my underarms sticky with sweat. I press my nose into my shirt to make sure I don’t smell and the woman in the window seat to my left catches me. Her pale skin becomes flushed and she gives me a strange look. I smile awkwardly to let her know I know she sees me and that I don’t care, but she, it turns out, also doesn’t care. She has hair the color of burnt copper and goes back to reading her Financial Times. My right eye is twitching. I wonder if I remembered deodorant.

The air is becoming stuffier and my breathing has gotten heavy. Abnormally heavy. Asthma heavy. It smells like an old air-conditioner and my eyes are starting to burn. I need to change my contacts. A young couple behind me furiously makes-out and I’m convinced one of them is jerking my chair with their foot to make sure I know it. The sound of saliva smacking lips. I want to scream at them. I want to punch them. I miss Adrien. I’m not sure I should be going to Paris.

I feel nauseous. I should have eaten breakfast and I shouldn’t have had Mexican food last night. I think of the time I went to the mall with my mother to get a dress for my first Teen-Canteen. There was a food court and there was Taco Bell and there was a dead fly in my burrito. I feel the bile in my stomach churning. I need a cigarette.

Sweat beads have formed on my hairline. One trails down to the corners of my mouth. It’s too sweet. I get the chills and jolt my opened seat tray with my knees, sending my water bottle to the floor. The copper-haired woman notices and I feel her look over. I don’t move. The rustling of newspaper. I see her pick it up and place it back from the corner of my eye and barely say thank you. No wedding ring. Christoph could be married for all I know. I’ve been sitting for too long. My legs are cramping up.

Rustling of newspaper. It’s getting too hot and too hard to breathe and my heart has suddenly started poundingpoundingpounding so fast that I can feel its vibrations rushing through my fingers, up my arms, and then down to my stomach, where it stays, pounding and pounding more. Like a drum, keeping a beat. My father impersonating Ringo Star. A stutter in my heart. If you saw me right now, you’d probably think I was hyperventilating. It’s that bad. She’s got a ticket to ra-ah-iiiide. I really need a fucking cigarette.

An old man walks up the isle to my right carrying the scent of bad-odor masked by cheap cologne. My grandpa’s old military pea coat. The scent of moth balls. Spider webs in Grandma’s attic. Spider webs in my hair. Spiders across the stars. Right eye twitching. Cramp. A sweat bead meets my waist. One Mississipi, two mississipi, three Mississippi, blink. My seat jerks. Saliva smacking lips. Screams of impatient babies from every direction.

I close my eyes. I want to scream with them. I need backup.

I repeat: I need backup.

“God, Liss, you look like a hung-over mess,” I hear Autumn’s voice suddenly tell me above my sweat. She laughs, and I don’t. Rustling newspaper. My eyes are still closed, but I know the copper-haired woman must be staring. Autumn is wearing a self-inscribed white shirt that says “I Am The Virgin Mary.” Everyone must be staring.

I feel my chest expanding to great lengths and assume it doesn’t look normal. A light draft against my face lets me know that Autumn leans over toward me, and I feel her gently mat what I imagine to be a piece of stray hair to try and make me look more presentable. “Liss, you alright? You’re sweaty as fuck,” she whispers.

“I think I’m freaking out,” I say, quietly.

“You what?”

“ I said….I think…. I’m freaking… out.” I open my eyes and Autumn looks like she knows something I don’t. She looks amused and I want to slap her for it. Her shirt is ridiculous and I feel embarrassed for some reason, and I hate myself for it. She asks me whyyyyyy I’m freaking out like she would ask a small child, or a puppy, and I don’t respond. There’s a moment of silence and Autumn tells me she’ll be right back, that she has to go back to her seat for something. Meanwhile, the old man makes his way back down the isle and I see a large mole on his right temple. It bothers me. Cheap cologne. I feel my heart stutter again, and it bothers me more. My eyes feel better closed.

“Here, take this,” I hear shortly after, as Autumn sticks something against the palm of my hand. I squeeze my hand into a fist and look up at her, not really needing to ask - or know, for that matter- but she tells me anyway. “Don’t worry. It’s just my mother’s Xanax,” she says more loudly than necessary. She puts something in her mouth. I notice she’s brought a bag of walnuts back with her. “Shhhhhhhh! Jesus, Autumn, you’re not the only one on the plane!” I say, looking at the copper-haired woman first, who I know has heard, and then frantically at all the people closest to me, who I also think have heard. Two sweat beads on my waist. They tickle me. I wish Adrien was here.

“Oh, please. It’s like taking a Tylenol these days,” she says, even louder than before. “Besides, my mom gave them to me. Said she doesn’t need them anymore. She usually takes two pink ones, I think, so take two. Don’t worry.” She smiles and pops a walnut in her mouth. “I told her I think it’s great. I’m proud of her. She doesn’t need them, really, you know? It’s all in her head half the time anyway.” Autumn pauses and picks her teeth. I rub my hand hard on my forehead, trying to wipe the wetness away, but it remains. She’s rambling. I need to pee. “But I guess not in situations like this, you know. It’s all relative.”

“I’m gonna go pee, Autumn,” I say as I fasten the plastic seat tray back up and stand. Too quick. My brain spins on the inside. The bile churns. I feel nauseous. “I guess, thank your mom for me?”

“You’ll be alright, Liss,” Autumn responds, turning away toward her seat at the end of the plane. “Go sing some Madonna or something in the laaaaavatory,” she finally says, partially skipping her way down the aisle.

Flying team, please prepare for departure.

One-bedroom apartment, 9th floor. 59 w123rd, New York. December 2007. The revelation came sometime around 9am one unseasonably warm morning our final semester of Columbia. One morning when Autumn and I probably should have been cramming for finals, and we probably should have been sober, and we definitely should have been regretting not telling our neighbor Smitty the night before, that yes, we were in fact busy, and that no, we did not want to go to his buddy Jimmy’s house to watch the new Cohen Brothers flick and get our hands on some “grade-A quality shit” from the “otra otra Colombia-aaaaa.” But instead of immediately dismissing his cheesy Spanish and bound-to-be problematic idea as another pathetic attempt to get laid, Smitty simply smiled, like usual, and gave us the same “Oh come on, you guys used to be fun!” bullshit, like usual, and Autumn and I made the somewhat regrettable and not-too-smart decision to ditch studying, and go to Jimmy’s, and try a little too much of his grade-A quality shit. Which, for reasons not quite known, somehow resulted in a late-night road trip to Atlantic City with a French guy named Christoph and two red sparrow tattoos from a 24-hour shop which now shamelessly remind us of what being young and not-too-smart can actually do to a person. But we blamed it purely on the spring-fever-esque quality of those last weeks of school. And, of course, on the drugs.

“Dude. I think they just said that mice can walk vertically. On, like, walls and stuff. Does anyone else find that ridiculously unsettling?” That was Autumn. Autumn was wearing Birkenstocks with wool socks in mid-December and was trying to braid her impossibly frizzy, long, auburn hair while watching some History Channel special she had recorded last week about the Black Plague. She was the kind of girl that used words like “rad” and “awesome” more than necessary, and when torn between which she wanted to say more, merely combined the two into “rawsome” and proclaimed herself a visionary of the English language. Autumn had an unhealthy relationship with Parliament Lights and chain-smoked them often- which was probably the main reason we became so close our Freshman year- but she was also the only other girl I met that shared my fancy for champagne-brunches at the Bronx zoo and old Jean Renoir movies. Her level of worry was drastically lower than mine that morning and I genuinely admired her for it, but considering a ten-page poem about the nose ring she pierced herself one night in high school had already cemented a high-B in her most important class, she technically didn’t have much of anything to worry about, educationally speaking. I, on the other hand, had two psychology finals that were bound to be filled with questions I didn’t have the answers to. Two finals, in fact, that would more or less determine whether this semester would finally be the last one. Thankfully I was too hungover to have a panic attack because of it.

“Aw-toom. Leeee-za. How do you say, eh, you are, eh, tres interesante. Vous êtes special. You understand?"” That was Christoph. He was the first person we noticed when we walked into Jimmy’s because he was wearing the tightest black jeans we’d ever seen look good on a guy, and his wild hair was held together, more or less, in an orange scarf of sorts, which we thought was very chic, in a European kind of way. Think Robert Plant circa 1979, only shorter, browner, and with a little less poof. Christoph had a helplessly attractive French accent that made it sound like his name was “crystal” or something- which Autumn naturally took as a sign from a higher power, because crystals were supposed to heal and I, she declared, needed major healing- but the fact that we didn’t completely understand- or care- what he was saying and vice versa, proved to only make things that much more interesting. Because he was from Paris, and he played some weird horn instrument in a band, and he grabbed both of our hands and told us we were like rare flowers picked from some famous Paris garden or some shit, and if we were going to let anyone get away with such nonsense we decided it would be a strangely beautiful Frenchman with long hair and dark eyes. Not to mention that Christoph was the only other person who didn’t think that going to Atlantic City after midnight was not, in fact, a joke, but rather a very good idea, so we almost immediately deemed him amazing. He was also eating popcorn with a spoon at 9am and meowing back to our cat, Iceman, which we also deemed amazing, if a bit strange.

“I still look drunk, don’t I?.....I mean, do I?..... Can you tell? Can you smell it on me or something?” And that was me. Melissa Ann Cornish. I had two finals in less than two hours and the only productive thing I had managed to get done all morning was stare into a large, aluminum salad bowl and determine that what I thought was a new pimple on my cheek was actually a bug bite, which wasn’t any more comforting. I had a tendency to procrastinate and hold off all sense of commitment and responsibly for as long as possible- for reasons I had yet to figure out- and the past five and a half years, six apartments, four and a half boyfriends, and three credit cards with nauseating amounts of debt built up were as true a testament of that as any. The only thing that had remained completely constant over the drawn-out years of college, it seemed- and everyone would let me know it- was my long, strawberry-blonde hair; and the fact that it could go days without being washed, blow-dried, and combed and still managed to look somewhat presentable was probably the only reason I had simply let it be. But more about me later.

Rue Royer-Collard, Paris. April 2008. It’s exactly five minutes after 3 ‘o’ clock and my third glass of Burgundy is almost at its end. The ashtray in front of me is overflowing with the new Gauloises Bleues I’ve been chain-smoking since 2:30, not because it’s that bad of a habit or because I’m that nervous, necessarily, but because I’ve noticed that’s what all the chic and uber-cool Parisians do, so if I’m going to be chic and uber-cool and un-American in Paris, I figure the least I can do is look the part by out-smoking them with their own kind.

3:06 pm. I don’t know how French people deal with time, exactly, or if French people even care about time, or if by 3 ‘o’ clock Christoph actually meant 3:15, or 3:30, or if 3 was simply the time I was supposed to leave my hostel so I can meet him here by 4, but I’m starting to get pretty annoyed because according to me, he should have been here by now. And today’s budget only allows for one more glass of wine, so needless to say, I am not happy.

There’s a café directly across the street from called Le Pantalon or something, and I’ve decided that if Christoff doesn’t show up in the next five minutes, I’m making my way over as fast as physically possibly, even if that means not paying my tab and risking arrest. Because everyone in there looks intelligent and interesting and like they’re actually having a good time, unlike me, who has been placed at the farthest outdoor table possible by a waitress who must secretly hate me or my yellow dress or my country or the small white flower in my hair, because less than ten feet away from where I’m sitting is a mumbling homeless man who wears one shoe and smells of stale urine a hundred times worst than any homeless man’s stale urine in NYC, and he keeps looking over in a creepy, manic sort of way that’s sort of starting to kill my buzz. And I know she knows he’s there, but she still won’t relocate me because she pretends doesn’t comprends pas anglais, so again, I am not happy. Note to self: minus five points Christoph for choosing such a fancy shithole.

3:07pm. Tall man approaching from a distance. Getting closer. He has a beard, and thank god he’s not Christoph, because my skin is sensitive and beards and sensitive skin do not go well together, as Adrien clearly demonstrated with his dramatic unshaven starving-artist makeover two years ago. I feel an unwelcome memory start to gurgle underneath the surface, sudden flashes of a momentous fight and an even more momentous make-up. A red beard-scratched nose and chin to match the next morning that remained a chronic two-day reminder of how passion can hurt and heal at the same time, and how I might never know the difference. But before my thoughts betray me completely, I lift my glass, taking the last sip of my wine and savoring ever last droplet like I’ve never savored cheap wine before in my life. I tilt my head even more and then lift the glass even more, allowing a large drop to escape my lips. I feel it roll down the side of mouth, slowly, knowing it will undoubtedly collide with my lap and leave a permanent reminder of an otherwise forgettable moment, but before I get a chance to wipe, I see a figure from the corner of my right eye. “Lissa, is that you?”

Lyon, France. May 2008. The sky was a royal purple from the nearby downtown Lyon lights, welcoming and somewhat perfect in its urban imperfection. I lay on Christoph’s chest in a wonderfully out of place patch of grass along the Rhone, the river of his youth, as he called it, looking up at the stars with him and admiring the ones which would furiously sparkle every so often, like the tails of fireflies in the summertime.

Although it was well into Spring and I had expected the weather in Christoph’s hometown to reflect it, instead, the days were mostly cool, and the nights required very un-Spring-like measures, like sweaters and warm coats, neither of which I had thought to pack. It had only been two days since we arrived, a little romantic getaway, I was told, but I immediately missed Paris and its warmth, even if I had only been there a little over a month since leaving New York. The feeling increased even more when I was forced to resort to an old oversized wool jacket of Christoph’s, which itched uncontrollably even with layers of clothing underneath, often to the point of madness. “It looks cute,” Christoph said when I first looked in the mirror, the glare on my face purposely exaggerated.

“I look like a beggar in a potato sack,” I said back, starting to scratch my shoulder, and then my torso, and then my neck. Perhaps again, a bit too exaggerated. “One that people are going to think has fleas or something. Come on, doesn’t your mother have anything I could borrow?”

“They’ve already packed. Don’t worry, it’s just for a couple days until the movers come. Besides, my dear, I told you to pack some warm clothes before we left.” I knew he was right, technically, but in my defense, I didn’t have that many clothes to begin with, and warm, to me, meant a cardigan, not sheep’s wool from the Alps.

“What movers?” I asked.

“My parents are finally selling the house,” he responded, walking out of the room and into the kitchen.

“Ah-ha. Well. Where are they moving?” I said in a loud voice so he could hear me while I took off the coat and followed him.

“Nowhere, really. They’re just going to go back to their Paris apartment for a while. I think they’re there now, actually.” He was opening the cabinets one after another, looking for food, probably, but they were almost all empty except for half-opened boxes of crackers and crumpled bags of peanuts and noodles. “Which means we have the whole house to ourselves,” he said, grabbing me by the hips and pulling me close.

“I thought you were living in their apartment,” I said, stepping away.

“I am,” he said, pulling me back to him. “They’re moving into the other one.”

The wind was getting stronger, making it seem colder than it was, just like it had the previous night. The wine kept us warm though, so neither of us cared, or if we did, we didn’t show it. I proudly pointed out one constellation after another, explaining to him what each one supposedly meant just as I remembered being told as a little girl. I asked if he knew which star was the North Star and he took a few wild guesses, clearly for my own amusement, but after a while I just dragged his pointer finger up and circled it around the sky for a few seconds before finally settling on the Big Dipper. I squinted my left eye for accuracy and then towed the finger a few stars to the left, until finally settling on one uncomplicated speckle right above the Little Dipper, keeping it suspended until Christoph reassured me that he swore he could clearly see it. “Now you know how to find your way home if you ever need to,” I said, echoing the words of my father.

My long hair was let loose onto the flattened weeds that surrounded us, and Christoph’s fingers combed through my strands slowly, tangling and untangling them, and every once in a while stopping to pick out a burrowed blade of dry grass. “Your hair is very beautiful, Lissa,” he said at one point, “it smells, like…like” he continued, taking a thick handful and inhaling it for almost too long, “like the hair… of a baby.” I couldn’t help but laugh to myself, thinking of the baby powder I had sprinkled at the roots earlier in the day to, how should I say, un-grease it, but I dared not say anything about it for fear it would ruin the sensual slash romantic aura he was trying so hard to create.

A rustling Jacques Brel was crooning from a vintage tape cassette player I had practically made Christoph buy last week from a thrift store for two Euros. And since he had picked out the tape himself yesterday at a flea market, meticulously sorting through dusty boxes for what seemed like an hour, I knew he was beginning to actually enjoy the purchase more than he had originally let on. At first in the thrift store he told me it looked like a piece of shit and probably wouldn’t even work and wasn’t worth even half a Euro, let alone the three it was priced for, but I told him that he was a piece of shit for not realizing a golden treasure for the life of him. “Besides me, of course,” I added with a clever smile. Eventually he agreed to buy the thing if the cashier marked it down one more Euro and I made dinner that night, but only after reminding me that I was slightly crazy for having such taste in crazy things. “I know,” I said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek, “but craziness is like…”

“…heaven. Yes, yes, I know. But sometimes you are too crazy for me,” he said jokingly, but slightly not, as he rustled my hair with his hand. And even though it almost certainly meant nothing coming from him, at the same time, my mind had already cemented it in, making it mean everything, for no particular reason at all.

Not surprisingly, we lost track of the hour after the first bottle of wine, and started measuring the time after that by individual glasses we had gone through - about thirty minutes for each one, more or less, we figured - until that too become just as ridiculous and unimportant, and instead we settled on talking about the strange people we had met in our parallel lives in New York City and France. That naturally, led to questions about our ex loves and ex lovers and people that were never quite lovers but just needed some temporary love. Thankfully, though, the conversation became strangely uncomfortable strangely fast once we both realized that each was hiding certain unmentionable things that needed not be revealed quite yet, so we simply left the subject and moved on to the far more somewhat uncomplicated stories of our youth.

First he told me how Van Gogh had painted this very river and these very stars, and how his mother, once an aspiring artist, would take him and his two older brothers out at midnight once every Spring to paint the very same scene. His father was a pastry chef for a few years when he was younger, or so he briefly remembered, but eventually he settled on restaurant management and began opening up different eateries in affluent areas, which further down the road, gave him enough money and liberty to not have to work very much at all. And so his parents stayed home for his upbringing, buying musical instruments from different countries and taking him to film screenings and futbol games and making his youth, more or less, one big art project.

Christoph’s life, or so it appeared, was becoming more and more fascinating and yet more and more distant with each little story, and while I listened intently, imagining what it must have been like to travel to Morocco and make clay sculptures in the Sahara or to live in Florence for a year supposedly studying Italian with some famous Sicilian poet– I pleaded with him to tell me something in the language, but he said it was too long ago to remember and quickly changed the subject–at the same time, I was beginning to wonder just how much in common we really had. Or, if it even mattered. “What about your parents, Lissa?” he asked, sitting up and filling my glass with more wine. Even though I knew it was coming eventually, the question was still startling.

“What about them?”

“Come on, now it’s your turn. I am very interested to know where you come from.”

I sat upright and silent for a few moments, thinking of where to start, and suddenly felt the wine rush to my head. As Christoph lay back down, I joined him, and began to tell him how my mom was a teacher and drove me crazy, how my twin siblings were going through their teenager phase and drove everyone crazy, and how getting a scholarship to Columbia University had changed my life but made me even crazier in the process.

“What about your dad? He taught you very much, no?” he asked innocently, stroking my hair once again.

“Yeah, I guess he did.”

“You are very close to him, yes? ” I saw a shooting star fly through the sky, and had a sudden urge to reach for it. My right thigh started twitching, and I could feel my palms begin to grow wet with sweat.

“Well…yeah. I mean…I guess I was.”

“You are not anymore?”

There was an awkward silence that grew more awkward with every second I delayed the answer. His stroking slowed down, almost to a halt, and I could tell he knew that he had asked the big question.

“Well, no...It's just that he's dead.”

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