Megan Hesse — “The Haircut”

The Haircut

These are probably the worst scissors for this sort of thing. They’re the scissors that have lived in the junk drawer in the kitchen as long as anyone can recall. Neither Kayla Wallace’s mom or dad actually remembers buying them or where they came from; they manifested somehow when they’d moved in, appearing in the drawer of odds and ends that every family’s kitchen seemed to have. The scissors lived among old lighters, a nearly empty roll of tape, a tattered Chinese take-out menu and those little plastic not-shot-glasses that her mom would pour sticky-sweet purple medicine into and the way Kayla had to bolt it down while holding her nose it may as well have been a shot of the worst sort of bathtub booze. She had tried beer for the first time last year, at her older brother’s eighteenth birthday party and it tasted to her like soured soda and everyone laughed when her face puckered and she stuck out her tongue.

But the scissors, they are dulled and the bits where you put your fingers in were once some sort of vibrant red color that have morphed into a weathered maroon after being called into service time and again to nip the plastic tops off ice pops, stab into masking-taped packages, meticulously cut pictures out of magazines, and on one occasion cut gum out of the cat’s fur after an unfortunate sneeze from her father. It had been a family effort, with Kayla holding Indiana Jones’s back legs while her brother held the front, her dad taking the middle wiggly bit while her mother attacked the gum. Since this incident, Indiana Jones always flinches when someone sneezes and no member of the Wallace family is allowed to chew gum in the house.

Kayla is reflecting on these memories as she stares at the worn blades of the junk drawer scissors, again thinking that these are terrible scissors for this. But a little thing like that isn’t going to stop the spirit of Punk, or more importantly, the spirit of Macie Ross, Kayla’s best friend who is reaching out to take the scissors and cut Kayla’s hair. They are in Kayla’s bathroom, crouched in the tub, dirty socks slipping against the slick white sides. Macie’s hair is electric mouthwash blue and she is wearing a shirt that is more safety-pin than cloth and this has all been done in the spirit of Punk and if Kayla truly is the punk she claims to be, she is going to let Macie chop up her long brown hair until it matches just how hardcore Kayla feels on the inside. And Kayla feels very hardcore. Kayla feels so hardcore that she is barely shaking as she holds the scissors and she can hardly notice the way her stomach is seemingly trying to curl in on itself in attempt to make the complex knots she learned in Wilderness Girls back before she became punk.

Wilderness Girls was where Kayla and Macie had met two years ago, paired together in a leaky kayak on a lake that, according to Macie, “probably has that brain-eating parasite thing that crawls up through your nose and eats your brain.”

“Through your nose?” Kayla had repeated in horror.

“Actually,” Macie had replied thoughtfully, tapping multi-colored nails against the side of the boat, “it could probably go through your ears too, or any hole on your body. So, you know, don’t let water into any of your holes.”

This exchange had two results: Kayla spent the rest of the day convinced she had somehow managed to contract a brain-eating parasite, and she and Macie became friends. Even before the two girls had discovered the many wonders of punk rock, Macie was the more daring and adventurous, potential parasites be damned. She was the one who had the idea to try to pick the lock to get onto the roof of her apartment building (it was unlocked), she was the one who dreamed up the noble sport of Toys R Us tricycle jousting, and she was the one who had signed them up for the talent show on a whim.

“You did what?”

“Well you’re always like, ‘let’s a make a band, let’s make a band.’ Well now we have to.”

“Macie, I’ve only written lyrics, I can’t even play any instruments!”

Macie had waved her hands and rolled her eyes and said “Dude, jeez, I’m gonna teach you,” as though that solved everything. Macie had been taking drum and guitar lessons since she was six.

Kayla discovered punk when someone at the music store she was browsing through while her mom shopped next door misplaced a CD of The Clash’s seminal album, London Calling, in the pop music section. She stared at the album art: a black and white photo of a skinny figure in a crouch, hefting a guitar that almost seemed bigger than they were, about to smash it against the ground. Kayla bought it, and before she was even halfway through it, it had blown her mind out through the back of her skull. She quickly shared it with Macie and it spiraled out from there, as they zigzagged from popular mainstream punk like The Ramones and Dead Kennedys to more obscure but equally enthralling bands like X and Television, landing amongst the angry girl shrieks of Bikini Kill. It was 1992 and punk’s heyday had ridden off into the sunset but the girls didn’t care, they chopped up their clothes, bought every spiky accessory they could find, and threw themselves into “the issues.” They did this because, as they learned, anyone could be punk, (even middle-class suburban girls), if you gave a crap about the right things (standing up against The Man, fighting for the underdog, dismantling the broken patriarchal capitalist regime, etc.), and refused to give a crap about anything else.

“We can’t stop giving a crap about school,” Kayla had had to insist. The girls were at Kayla’s house, lying on their backs on the cool wooden floorboards of her room, Operation Ivy screaming lyrics about social injustice from her stereo. Old martial arts trophies had been crowded to the side of the top of her dresser to make room for stacks and stacks of CDs and tapes.

“But that would be so punk!” Macie had whined back.

“Dude, how are you gonna change the world when you can’t get a job doing anything because you didn’t finish school?”

“There’s nothing punk about becoming part of the system,” Macie had scoffed.

“Okay, but there is also nothing punk about living at your parent’s house when you’re like, thirty because you have no job and no money.”

Macie was forced to concede that point and instead offered the compromise, “What if we stopped giving a crap about certain parts of school? Like PE?”

Kayla stroked her chin thoughtfully. She and Macie were both terrible at PE and had been berated by Coach Trasser many times for throwing this ball to the wrong team, kicking that ball to the wrong goal and he had given them both detention for Macie’s smart comment on Trasser “clearly knowing better than us what to do with balls.”

“Yeah okay, no more giving a crap about PE. And also Winter Formal.”

Winter Formal was considered the biggest dance of the year at Shopshire Middle, and for the last two years Macie and Kayla had spent it standing in a corner in dresses that seemed designed to highlight every awkward byproduct of their ongoing pubescence, eyes on the floor as chaperones kept boys and girls from grinding on each other to PTA-approved music.

Macie grinned gleefully, “Yeah! Screw Winter Formal!

For their band, they had decided on the name Asymmetrical Boob Job, until Mrs. Ferris, who ran the Shopshire Middle talent show, made them change it and they became Rabid Hamsters until she made them change it again and they were finally forced to settle on We Killed Batman with Mrs. Ferris’s begrudging approval. In the meantime, Macie began training Kayla on the drums, insisting they practice nearly every day.

Macie said things and they happened, she led and Kayla followed and was that what was happening now, with the haircut? For a moment Kayla thinks so but it is a moment of weakness, because all the things that Macie has dragged her into are things that Kayla knew, knew deep inside herself, she wanted to do anyway. And she is, after all, an independent and autonomous person capable of saying no. She is thirteen and full of something that her grandmother refers to as “gumption” and she wants to cut her hair, really she does. There’s just so much of it, and it’s never really been cut before, trimmed but never cut, and it almost goes down to her butt and when she wears it in a ponytail she has to be careful not to whip her head around too fast or else she will smack someone in the face with it, which seemed, as she tried to point out to Macie, pretty punk in its own right. Weaponized hair. One time she even left a mark on some poor stranger’s face when she’d heard her name called at the mall and had spun around to see who it was. But Macie says this haircut will hit people in the face in a different, albeit less literal, way. It will be a testament to their ideology, a banner waved in the face of conformity, a, to put it in Macie’s words, “bitching mohawk.”

When We Killed Batman played at the talent show, Macie had been training Kayla on the drums for about two and half months, and while she did not sound earsplittingly terrible, she also did not sound particularly good. They shared singing duties, belting out Kayla’s lyrics as though the volume level would make up for the fact that, despite all of Macie’s musical talent, neither girl could carry a tune. They played “Lipstick Kitten,” a song Kayla had written lamenting the use of makeup testing on animals that included such lyrics as:

Every time you put on your lip gloss on

            (Yeah!)

            Think about all the cute animals

            (Yeah!)

            THAT ARE NOW DEAD

            (So dead!)

            Your eyeshadow shade says Orange Cream

            (Yeah!)

            It turned a bunny’s life into a MUR-DER SCENE!

They did not win first, second or even third place, but received a certificate of participation that they ceremonially burned in Macie’s backyard afterwards with a lighter stolen from her mother. A week later, Macie’s blonde locks were the kind of blue you’d only find in a pitcher of Kool Aid, which was incidentally what she used to do the job. She had been hassling Kayla afterwards to do similar for days and days until this moment right now in the tub in the bathroom Kayla shares with her brother, Macie holding one hand out while the other one clutches several of Kayla’s mother’s Lady Bic razors.

And Kayla knows she is stalling, knows that this will be, has to be worth it, but still she chews her lip and runs her fingers through her long, long hair. There was a boy in her class, a boy named Will for whom puberty had jumpstarted, who had a cracking voice and the shadow of facial hair. Will sat behind Kayla in English and History and he pulled on her hair like they were still in the third grade. Upon complaining about this to her mother, she received the response,

“He probably just likes you and doesn’t know how to tell you. Boys have trouble with that sometimes.”

This was followed by her father calling out from the next room, “One time I threw a rock through your mom’s window! …It was an accident!”

Kayla had found this an unsatisfying response and the next time he pulled her hair, she had turned around in her chair and cried out, “Stop it!”

The class had gone silent and she had blushed with embarrassment. They both were given detention for disrupting class, and when detention ended, they were alone in the empty school hallway. Will had shuffled his feet awkwardly and told Kayla that he didn’t mean to upset her, but that he did indeed like her.

“Well I don’t like guys who act like they’re eight!” she had retorted, bitter at having to be in detention without her usual partner in crime.

She turned to leave when she felt a horrible, painful yank that radiated through her whole head and down her neck, snapping her backwards.

“Hey! I said I liked you!”

Kayla stood in a crouch, clutching at the back of her head, realizing for the first time just how big Will really was. Taking advantage of Kayla’s position, he shoved her against the wall and made like he was going to try to kiss her.

Because since she was small and usually quiet he thought he could.

Because he didn’t know that while Macie had been taking music lessons for seven years, Kayla had been taking karate lessons for eight.

Because he didn’t know he was dealing with a punk.

She bloodied her knuckles on his teeth and he blackened his eye and broke his nose on her fist. They both were suspended, prompting a call from Kayla’s mother to the school that was the first time she ever heard her mom swear at someone without being behind the wheel of a car. When she learned what happened, Macie had spray-painted “Dick-Weasel” on Will’s locker and had to be talked down from lighting his house on fire. It didn’t matter anyway, as Will was deeply afraid of her now. But Kayla still felt that pain in her head when he had grabbed so violently at her hair and she kept staring at the healing scrapes on her knuckles, when she brushed her teeth, when she scratched Indiana Jones behind the ears, and now as she sits in the tub. So she had called Macie over and told her that now was the time because underneath her nervousness and uncertainty, she wants to match her outside with her inside and shove spikes of hair in people’s face and dare them to pull it. Her hands tighten on the junk drawer scissors and she places them in the waiting hand of Macie.

“Go for it.”