The first person I told about my love affair was Jeffrie, my hairdresser.
Jeffrie was 250 miles away from where I was conducting this secret, inspired affair, so I stopped everything, found a note card in a corner market, and wrote him.
Jeffrie. Thank you for the gorgeous haircut. I’m in NYC — just went to a Fifth Avenue gallery opening — and everybody had great hair. I want you to know that mine’s better. But, oops, it’s getting a bit roughed up at the moment. Wait! Yes! It still looks great! More later.
If context is needed, here it is: My mother, upon giving birth to me, took one look and screamed. “Good god. I’ve delivered an ape.” It was the only time she ever fainted.
I come from a family where hair has a mind of its own. It’s more untamed mascot than crowning glory. Hair billows from our heads at the rate of an inch a month. It explodes up and out and not so much down. The hair goes in all directions like … well … like nothing else, though tornadoes and grizzly bears come to mind. We could smother a lover with a toss of our head. The Padilla elders, therefore, had no choice. They seized one of the daughters, smuggled her out of her college dorm, and forced her into hairdressing school. She was installed in a special room they added onto the garage and put in charge of Padilla hair. My mother drove me there on Saturdays and said: Do something. My resentful aunt threw scissors into the maelstrom and we Padillas got one version or another of the family shearcut.
Jeffrie, though, never flinched when I walked into his salon after an especially bad drubbing on Boston’s renowned and pricy hairdresser row — Newbury Street, of all places. “I can make you look prettier,” he said. I loved his attitude and I loved the thousand layers that seemed to say to my Padilla hair: I see your inner beauty. But you must comply.
My mother, upon giving birth to me,
took one look and screamed.
“Good god. I’ve delivered an ape.”
It was the only time she ever fainted.
I tended to Jeffrie like I would an African violet or a slow-stirred risotto — dutifully and with great regard. I made a habit of searching high and low for the best birthday card on the face of the Earth. I did this once a year for one person only: The man who knew how to cut my hair. He got 20 percent tips, even if he was the salon owner. He got my best stories. He got all the praise I could muster. He got 100 percent of my loyalty.
Well. The love affair moved from secret to out-in-the-open to cohabitation. During this three-year period of the total destruction of my old life and the slow and scary restructuring of a new life, I realized: Rae, you can no longer afford to make trips of 250 miles just to get your roots touched up or your bangs trimmed. You are going to have to find another Jeffrie.
Women. Believe me, I know the score. I’m a submissive in the Padilla school of hair control, otherwise known as complete and total annihilation of hair. Hair style, in my lexicon, didn’t exist before Jeffrie.
I thought there could be no other Jeffrie. Women have their Jonathans and their Suzanne’s and their Paulo’s. I had my Jeffrie. These are constants, like breath or chocolate or William Shatner. Pardon me. Hasn’t there always been William Shatner?
And there must always be Jeffrie. Unless you quit your job and move in with your lover 5 hours by trains south of Jeffrie’s salon beside a not-so-great sub shop.
After more than a year of transitional haircuts of all sorts, I’ve come to a state of peace with my newest hairdresser, a true artist named Lam. He is a sculptor of hair. He cuts three dimensionally, surrounding his client with mirrors and checking all angles as he works.
When I first began to talk with Jim about quitting my job and living on less, he asked me what expenses I thought I’d have. I didn’t say mortgage payment or car insurance, I said Jeffrie.
We all need the help of a few others to live our best, most accomplished life. I need an editor. A handful of amazing friends. My lover. My daughter.
And I need my hairdresser, the person who takes a look at me and says, “I see you as you want to be seen. I get it. I’m investing my effort, my reputation, all my considerable talents in you. Toss that head of yours. Go ahead. Forget yourself. I’ve got your back.”