I hadn’t had a haircut since April. An entire summer of really bad hair days (can you say “humidity?”) and an upcoming job interview (Tuesday) put me back in the hair chair.
I showed my hairstylist a picture of Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
“That’s a lot like what we usually do.” she said.
What a difference waiting six month makes. Those scissors were inspired. And the blow-dry styling was exceptional. So of course I bought the expensive new hair product she used, even though I shouldn’t have spent the money and I’m sure I won’t be able to achieve the same effect.
The haircut pulled me out of a slump. Not just my little writer’s “everything I do sucks” tantrum the other day, but a real slump caused by the shocking news that a friend I had known since kindergarten had died. He was fine Friday, and gone on Sunday, leaving a grieving husband and hundreds of stunned, saddened friends.
That hit me like a ton of bricks. Not only because I don’t want to believe that my peers and I have reached that stage in life where we look to the obituaries before we read the headlines, but because this particular friend was the kind you could take right back up with even if you hadn’t seen each other in decades. He was vital, loyal, funny, energetic and always responsive, although he was 2,000 miles away.
I messaged him when I reluctantly got back on Facebook in August, just to give him a heads’ up that my new friend request was legit. His response was:
I took his being there on the other end of Facebook for granted. But now he’s not.
The last time I saw him in person was at our 40th high school reunion. (God, just typing “40th reunion” makes me feel ancient). Of all the attendees, he was the last I would have thought would check out early.
We met on the first day of kindergarten. Best I recall, he was wearing dress shorts and Buster Browns. He was always well-dressed. Unwrinkled. There was something different about him and it didn’t matter at all to the guileless, totally accepting 5-year olds that we were. Through the years we sang in school choruses together. He had a wonderful bass voice. He performed in talent shows I directed and brought the house down with a brave, fey twist on the song “Convoy” – in high school, in the ’70s. He won everyone over and everyone loved him. At the reunion I told him that his performance was the bravest thing I’d ever seen a friend do. I’m sure he brushed that off, saying it was just for fun, but I hope he took in my true admiration.
The evening of the day I found out he was gone, I had to go to chorus rehearsal, still feeling blue, stunned and pissed off (“how could this have happened? He was healthy, strong, vibrant!”) I turned west, and suddenly my windshield was filled with a breathtaking sunset. Pink, peach, purple, and just enough cloud in front to make it possible to enjoy without being blinded by the setting sun. It was a glorious reminder of my friend’s personality and his effect on everyone he knew. It was a reminder to me of how far I have to grow (still, at my age) to even approach being the kind of person he was.
I found out later that he had been very ill last year, and medication for that illness had weakened his heart. He went to take a nap last weekend and didn’t wake up. I hadn’t known he’d been ill, which, if I was any kind of good friend, I should have. I feel rotten about that. Another smack upside the head about how superficial my friendship can be. I don’t like that about myself and I’ve been trying to change that since my husband died. But here, I failed.
The pink in the sunset was the same color as the scarf my friend wore around his neck for his “Convoy” parody. The rest of the colors were as vibrant as he was. Heaven got brighter when he arrived.
I think he would have liked the haircut, and my joke about how it made me look like a short, fat, senior Fleabag, and how people would think I’m an (old) pervy Englishwoman, and I didn’t know whether I should be worried or turned on. He would pick “turned on.”
At church the sermon today was about being present, in the now, and and letting go of anxiety, anger and frustration. It was about not letting routine and business interfere with living each day. This is the only this day you get.
Missing an old friend, right now, I remain,