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Six Strands of Separation

I sit in the hair salon, facing myself in the mirror, screaming with laughter. I am with my hairdresser, Lexie, and we’re laughing about something frightening that could have happened to me but didn’t. I laugh at both inappropriate and appropriate times. I laugh when I’m describing things that scared me, hurt me and made me sad. I laugh at eerie things that have no real explanation. I find the funny bone in tragedy.

So many scenes in movies, plays and books take place at the hairdressers that I believe that, in some way, it is a place on a par with the bedroom and the dinner table. I hear more stories here than nearly any place else. I also tell many stories here.

I have a specific relationship with Lexie. She and I recently attended a live performance of Dancing With the Stars but we don’t socialize outside of that. I enjoy this limited relationship with her. She is a petite blonde, twenty-three with an angelic face, single, with a four-year-old daughter. She has a sunny nature and is a great laugher. Also, she’s a size 2. I’ll say nothing more about that other than I forgive her. She has an extreme form of a popular hairstyle. It is a bob, long and blonde on the sides, and colored a dark chocolate in the back, shingled short. Over the years, I’ve noticed most stylists I’ve seen seem to take their hairstyles one or two degrees farther than those of the hirsute citizens on the street.

It’s a wonder any of us go to the stylist. And so often. I think it’s the nurturing and cosseting we return for, not so much the styling. I’ve been known to stay with an inept or abusive hairdresser for eons. It may be guilt or perhaps a substitute for my mother of blessed memory. Lexie is neither bad nor abusive. She thinks I’m funny, which is a baseline requirement.

Lexie tells me about the new man she dated who has been either following her or stalking her. Rick works for the company that supplies product (that ubiquitous style term) to the salon.

She has recently ended a long-term relationship with Rex the Cop, which is the only way anyone ever refers to him. According to Lexie, Rex the Cop is a good man but spends more time with her parents than with her so that was that.

“So, I had to meet Rex the Cop at my house to return some stuff to him, and I noticed as I was driving, there was a car following me,” she says. The scissors balanced on her hand, wide open and winking.

“You’re kidding!” I say.

“Yeah, and I pull over on the street and start to get out of the car with my stuff, and there’s Stalker Rick in his car, pulled over about a half a block down.”

“Shut up!”

“Later,” she continues, “when Rex the Cop drives away from my house, Rick follows him and Rex the Cop pulls him over with the flashing lights and says ‘Are you following me?’”

How ironic, I think.

“And?”

“So Rex the Cop tells him to cut the crap or he could be in trouble.”

“No way!”

“Yeah, and I told Rick I couldn’t see him one night and I walk out to my car after the salon closes, and there he is sitting in his car.”

“Creepy,” I comment. “So what’d you do?”

“I said to him, ‘You’re frickin’ nuts! I don’t want to see you anymore, you head case,’” she says snipping away at my hair with gusto. I let out a brief hoot.

“You tell him!”

Amazingly, in the midst of this dramatic account, my hair looks great. I watch my hair creation emerging like a sculpture out of a block of stone.

“Well,” I say, “there are so many wackos out there. I’ve been pretty lucky throughout my long dating life, but I’ve had a few scary experiences myself.”

Lexie remains quiet, waiting for me to spill. “It’s an intuition thing,” I say. “If you don’t listen to what your gut tells you, you could get yourself into serious trouble.”

I met Brad on Match.com. There are not a lot of avenues of choice other than on-line dating these days, though I have to admit I don’t cope well with it. Too much pressure up front. There are of course potential drawbacks to meeting someone on-line. You have no idea who you’re meeting. You’ve nothing to base trust on. It’s a blind date without the friend referral. You have to be more careful when you meet someone this way. Your instincts have to be acutely sensitized. Otherwise, you might find yourself alone with a dangerous person, a pathological liar or a con man. Still you have to take some risk if you want to meet someone.

Brad was a fireman at Conrad International Tradeport with the National Guard and had held that job for many years. He was physically beautiful. About 5’11” and built rugged, like Tonka Trucks. Soft brown eyes. Curly thick salt and pepper hair. No male pattern balding in his future. Perfect, smooth skin with sun kissed dark brown hair all over his arms. His skin was firm and elastic. He was the kind of handsome guy who gets chosen for those firemen calendars. First we emailed. Then we spoke on the phone. He sounded charming and anxious to meet me. So we set up a date to meet at the cafe in my town.

He looked exactly like his photo, which is often not the case with on-line dating. There was something vacant in his eyes but maybe I imagined that. He exuded animal sexuality and he smelled wonderful, like warmed earth and sunshine. Smell is a big thing to me. If the person doesn’t smell right, he’s quickly crossed off my list. Brad passed the smell test without breaking a sweat. Now, it was a matter of communication. We talked about all the usual mundane things that people who don’t know each other talk about. Work, education, family, friends. Everything was okay. He didn’t seem terribly bright but no red flags. Eventually, we left the café and since we didn’t want to end the evening, we moved to sit in my car. In the way of those things, we kissed. It was great.

Then, he said, “Let’s go back to your place. I want to make love to you.”

I’d just met this man an hour and a half before. I looked at him and there was nothing behind his eyes or his words. No passion, just physical need.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “It’s not my way. It takes me time. I don’t trust that easily. With good reason.”

“Why not?” Brad said. “It’ll be great. I can tell. I’ll make you a good boyfriend.”

Red flag waving briskly.

“Come on,” he says. “Let’s go.”

We didn’t.

“So,” I tell Lexie, “I can’t give you a good reason for this, other than animal attraction, but I went out with him two more times. Is that crazy or what? My intuition was screaming at me, ‘Don’t get involved with this guy.’” She is laughing her high trill laugh. “I mean, what did I think was going to happen on the second and third dates? He was going to magically metamorphose into a mensch? He never gave up trying to coerce me into bed. I never give it up to anyone who wants it that badly to the exclusion of anything else.”

“Totally,” Lexie agrees. “How stupid can men be? They never get that.”

“Well, some do,” I amend. Some know how to manipulate a woman into bed, I think, by talking about anything else but sex. And there are some who want everything, body and soul. Those are the men I’ve loved and some have loved me back.

Lexie looks thoughtful for a moment as she rolls my hair around a large round brush, focusing the blow dryer. I could do this every day but the thrill would fade.

“You know, it’s funny,” she says. “I have a client who is married to a Conrad fireman. And he has salt and pepper hair too. I met him once.” She swings my chair to get the other side of my head. “I’m sure it’s not the same guy but you won’t believe what happened to this woman.”

She tells me that this woman, Lynn, met this Conrad fireman, fell in love, and married him after seven months.

“Duh,” I comment. “Never a good idea as far as I’m concerned.”

“They were married in the Caribbean,” Lexie adds. “On an island.”

Is that a rationale I wonder?

Lexie tells me that Lynn is a nurse and works at the local hospital here in town. They’d been married a couple of months, and everything had been going fine.

Lynn has a fifteen-year old daughter who usually lives with her biological father but was staying at their apartment one night while she was at work. A phone call comes in to her work. It’s Lynn’s daughter. She says she’s been raped by Lynn’s husband.

“You’re going to think I’m making this up but do you know what kind of nurse Lynn is?” I don’t have time to think or respond. “She’s a rape-crisis nurse, for God’s sake. Can you believe it?” Lexie blurts. “She was at work when the call came in. That’s why she got the call. Her daughter called the Center right after it happened. The police brought the daughter in for testing and the results showed she’d been raped.”

My mouth is a big O. “What happened to the fireman?” I ask, finally.

“He took off and holed up in some nearby motel under a false name for a couple of days. Then the police found him. They drove him to the psych hospital in town because he attempted to kill himself twice.”

I think about all the lives involved that are, in some ways, destroyed or at least epically changed. I am sad for all three of them because the fireman is clearly ill. Somebody should have spotted it at work or somewhere. But no, Lexie is telling me that the fireman’s boss refuses to terminate his employment because he’s worked there for seventeen years and he’s such a great guy, a great worker.

A great rapist, I think.

“Well,” I say, “What’s the fireman’s name?”

“I don‘t remember,” Lexie says. “Brett or something. And Lynn has a different last name. But just go on-line to Foster’s to search for fireman and rape. It just happened recently. It was all over the papers.”

We look at each other in silence and our eyes meet.

“It can’t be the guy I dated,” I tell her firmly. “I don’t see him doing that.” But something inside me is curling like a question mark in my stomach.

“Right,” says Lexie.

“It can’t be,” I repeat.

“No,” she agrees. Her scissors dip and fly around my head for several moments.

“But wait, you have to hear this last part. The wife goes to visit him in the county jail. He’d been out on his own recognizance but the idiot removed the leg bracelet they put on him and took off again. So they found him again and took him to jail. Then Lynn the wife goes to visit the guy and you know what? He says to her, ‘You’re not my wife. I’m not married.’”

“Very convenient,” I say.

“Yeah,” Lexie says, “She thinks he’s trying to act psycho to get out of it.”

I think that if this happened to me, I wouldn’t have gone to visit him in jail. I definitely wouldn’t be discussing it with my stylist, especially with an upcoming court case. Suddenly, I’m glad my haircut is finished because I just can’t bear any more of this story.

“I guess that woman should have paid attention to her gut,” I say as I leave.

“Maybe her gut wasn’t working,” Lexie says to my back.

When I get home I immediately Google the story. An enormous headshot of the alleged rapist is featured on the front page. It is Brad. I sit staring at the screen. I suppose I’m in shock. The photo is so large and close-up, I can’t even pretend to myself that it might not be the same person. There is no doubt. I call Lexie and leave a message on her cell telling her that the main character of my story and her story are one in the same. When I put it all together, I feel sick, like I just ate bad meat that was sitting out in the summer heat. I know I’ve had a narrow escape. This story could have been my personal tragedy. It comes to me in a moment of stark clarity that I dated an accused rapist.

He’s the guy next door. He’s just down the street. He’s on the dating websites. He’s a fireman, an accountant, a policeman. Perhaps he was a sex addict for a long time but something pushed his anxiety to the breaking point and he raped a little girl. And I could have chosen to get involved with this man but I didn’t. I’m not sure why. I feel relieved. I feel vindicated for trusting my instincts. For not doubting myself.

Recently, I go back to the salon for a trim and Lexie and I return to the subject briefly. Lexie says, “I have his wife as a client. I have you who dated him. And it turns out, Brad’s best friend is also my client.”

“There’s something really strange about all these coincidences,” I say. I’m not sure I believe in coincidence. I feel very uncomfortable about my involvement in this drama despite that it’s peripheral.

“So,” Lexie continues, “the best friend comes in this week and tells me he’s known Brad all his life and even though he may have done it, he’s going to stand by him.” We both shake our heads in wonder at this revelation.

“So his wife visits him in prison, his best friend will stand by him, and he raped a fifteen year old girl,” I say. Lucky rapist, I think.

I watch my stylist sweep my hair together with those that have already fallen into a big pile onto the floor. I wonder whose hair is in that pile with mine. The wife? The friend? What happens to all that DNA? Deep inside, when I allow myself to think about it, I know that, in a parallel universe, I didn’t listen to that still small inner voice, and I am sitting somewhere crying and broken.

– Jewel Beth Davis is a writer and theater artist who lives in Rollinsford, NH with her cat Lizzie. She has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College and won awards for her acting and playwriting. Her work has been published in Compass Rose, SN Review, Moondance, Cezanne’s Carrot, Bent Pin, READ THIS, Sylvan Echo, Lilith, and American Diversity Report.

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