Monday, January 24, 2005

The Last Shampoo

Warning: this is long bit of "faction," loosely based on the truth.

Darlene wiped a tear away from her cheek before she turned the faucet. So many emotions racing through her brain, her heart pounding and her throat all choked up. She knew this moment would be coming for months now, but somehow she had avoided coming to terms with all the painful, swirling feelings until that very second in the timeline of her until-now, fairly serene life.

Callie sat there, quieter than she had in years, peace awash over her face. Her hair was a thin spun silver with little tufts of white here and there. The two women had been doing this routine for years, Darlene making the trip from the big city to the little village about an hour away. In fact, Callie was the first person to let Darlene near a live head of hair with a pair of scissors. It was a daring move for Callie at the time, but she had confidence in the girl, and knew this little hobby of hers could take root and turn into something magnificent. Darlene saw cutting hair as an opportunity to get out of the dusty, missed-on-the-map kind of village and have some fun. Callie always thought of it as a chance for Darlene to make something of her life, to do something better than all the other girls in the one stoplight town.

Darlene ran her hands under the water, making sure the temperature was nice and warm. She was always thinking about the comfort of her clients; whether the water was too cold, whether the chair was reclined at the right angle for them. Comfort was her top priority for Callie, her very first client in a long list that had multiplied and developed into a very successful salon business.

Callie never liked making the long trip to the salon. She always hated the drive there. The traffic started getting a little hairy for her about 20 miles out of the center of town, which is exactly where Darlene's sleek shop sat, merely blocks away from the intersection of Broadway and Main Street. No, Callie hated making that trip, insisting Darlene would have to pile all her tools and lotions and potions in the back of her car instead.

Years ago the trip was never a problem for Darlene. At first little was holding her back in the city, what with no children and an independent, successful husband and a thriving business of his own to take care of. Darlene would pack up her special bottles and hair dyes, a little gold pair of scissors she got at the supply shop for about five hundred dollars, and all her clips and bobby pins in a tackle box for the trip to Callie's. Usually she'd throw a special body scrub in, one that smelled of lavender and sage, as a little gift for the older woman.

Darlene would pull up to the house, a home where inside Callie was bubbling with anticipation. A chair would already be pulled up next to the kitchen sink, and some freshly fluffed and folded hand towels beside it, just waiting for the expert to take the helm. Callie'd have a pot of water on to boil for a cup of tea later (she'd hope Darlene would stay for two) and a loaf of homemade banana bread just about done in the oven. The two women would talk about anything under the sun, exchanging recipes and little snippets of life. Callie'd get Darlene up to speed on all the gossip in the town while Darlene would confide and question the wiser woman. Sometimes their talks came to a screeching halt, usually after heated words that Darlene either never wanted to hear or never wanted to say, nevertheless, the snipping and shaping of the hair would go on, talking or not. As those little bits of salt and pepper hair fell to the ground, time marched on, just as the pace of life did, and with it a baby. A baby that was a gift from God.

After years of trying, Darlene had long forgotten the notion of having children. Instead she plunked down cold, hard cash for a little convertible sports car, zipping down those country roads to see Callie, carefree and without another place to be for dinner or any other occasion. But low and behold, one of the many trials had taken, and before she knew it a beautiful little girl came into the world, breathing and beating with life inside her.

Darlene rubbed a bit of fancy shampoo in her damp hands, bringing the fragrant gel to a lather before touching Callie's hair. Gently she pulled the bangs away from the forehead, working all of Callie's hair into a soapy bundle. The two sat there quietly, both doing what God meant them to do, both letting this last shampoo wash over them.

Callie became the namesake for Darlene's little girl. Right behind baby Callie came another gift, an even bigger surprise, little baby Ava. Darlene figured God had gotten everything up and running for baby Callie so well that everything was just set in motion for the blessing that Ava came to be. The little girls were Darlene's world, and they had a way of putting a kink in her trips an hour out of town to see the old woman. Sometimes she'd pile the girls in the back of the minivan, filled with a portacrib and all kinds of dollies and diapers. Right beside her in the front seat sat that old tackle box, just waiting to be cracked open for her visit with Callie. The girls would get antsy though, one would be too tired or the other would be too sick, and so Darlene's visits with Callie would get cut short.

Over time, Darlene began again making solo trips to see Callie. Alone the two women would be, sharing hopes and tales over treatments with the blue-gray creme and a cup of chamomile tea. But the meter was always running, so to speak, and Darlene had to get back to her two girls, anxious to spend some time with their beautiful mother.

Callie sat there this last time, patiently, with all the time in the world for Darlene. Callie didn't flinch a muscle as Darlene gently tugged on the gray and white tufts, running her fingers through the hair while the blowdryer was going. Darlene pursed her lips, desperate to keep bottled in what she wanted to say to Callie, just knowing that giving life to the words would bring with them rage and fear and sadness.

Darlene's upper lip quivered as she ran a fine comb through Callie's freshly washed and dried hair. The dryer gave the silver spun strands a bit of a lift, and Darlene carefully sprayed some hairspray on the tendrils, all while putting a hand over Callie's eyes to shield the older woman from the mist. That little lip was like a dam, a great big monument of strength and grace, holding back everything just brewing beneath the surface.

Sometimes, nature has a way of handing us great challenges and personal tragedies, raging flood waters that rush and bound over even the most carefully engineered dams. Cement structures that just give way to the sheer force of God's power.

And that's exactly what happened to Darlene.

That little lip wavered and quivered as she snipped away at a few of Callie's stray hairs until she gave out a huge wail that had been compressed inside her far too long. Darlene's chest heaved, gasping for air as the tears streamed out of her like the water that had just poured out of the faucet at the start of their little meeting. Mascara running, Darlene's left hand grabbed her forehead as her right hand dropped the fancy gold scissors to the floor.

Darlene had no idea what she was going to do without her mother. For over forty years, she trusted and confided in Callie, a woman who knew no bounds where love, forgiveness and understanding were concerned. Callie loved her daughter Darlene, and always wanted the big city girl to know she always had a place in the country.

Now Darlene wondered just how often she would make it back home to that one stoplight town. Now Darlene wondered how her little girls would ever know her wonderful, loving mother. Now Darlene wondered why, despite all of God's greatness, He had invented cancer.

Darlene let out a huge moan before she took in another breath, wiping away the tears and kissing Callie's cheek. It was the last time she'd do that, too, she realized, as she bent down to pick up the small pair of scissors from the floor. Darlene walked away from Callie, knowing this was their last moment alone together, then placed the scissors back inside the tackle box and went upstairs.

This little bit of faction is dedicated to my dear friend Darlene, who buried her mother today. Her little girls are the "little monkeys" that I love spending my Saturdays with. May Grandma Callie find her way in Heaven, and leave the light on for all the rest of us.


Micah said...

Boy, that is long. I bookmarked it and will read it this weekend. :)

Kate The Great said...

Yes, it is long! It just kind of poured out of me and I had absolutely no control over my fingers.

I was kind of worried about putting something so long on the blog... computers seem like a venue better for short snippets. But then, I guess folks will sit at a desk and read a book (law or otherwise) so I suppose they'll sit at their desk (at least the ones who really -read-) and read my little literary ditty.