I always got the same haircut, the one my mother did for us. It was the same type of conservative Asian haircut, parted to one side, faded on the sides. I really didn’t know any other way for my hair to look. And I never liked the idea of having hair that was too long. So I kept the same hairstyle when I started going to a barber.
One day, I was in the waiting area outside of Matthew’s haircut room, buried in my econ textbook.
“Jackie Chan!” I heard from a young child’s voice. I looked up and noticed a black kid sitting on the bench across from me. “You’re Jackie Chan!” he yelled, pointing at me. I smiled uncomfortably. He proceeded to make cringe-worthy kung fu noises while doing sloppy karate chops. “Hiya! Hua! Eeya!” An anger simmered. I knew this was just a kid, but that made it worse. I couldn’t stop him. I awkwardly said to him, “Hey, how’s it going? I’m not Jackie Chan. My name is –” But he didn’t stop making the sounds. I sat there and waited until something else overtook his interest. After a while, a black woman emerged from the room. I thought of saying something, but I decided against it. Matthew sat me down.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“What are we looking at?”
“You know, I think I want to try something different this time. Think you can switch it up?”
He did something bold. Instead of the conservative side part and the combing to the side, he flipped the front, forming a little peak. It made me look younger, which was never really a problem for me. But it did make me feel gayer.
He leaned me back and cradled my neck in the plastic lip of the washing basin. He rinsed out my hair and squirted shampoo in his palm. He rubbed the shampoo in my hair for about a minute. Working up a lather, working my scalp. It felt good. It made my eyes droop a bit. I looked up and noticed his arms. His biceps flexed as he was shampooing my hair. I couldn’t help but feel an extreme attraction in the moment. He was touching me so intimately. My throat was so exposed to him. I was so vulnerable. And I felt safe with his strong hands grappling my head. I wished my mother could touch my head and stand back and look at my face and say something to me. It wouldn’t even have to be “Ching ching,” since no one said that anymore.
I walked up the steps under the boutique hotel. It was a cool October day. The wind swept around my head and I felt refreshingly naked. As I made my way back to my dorm, my eyes watered a bit. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was feeling so alone.