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Dear Frank (Me), Age Nine,
My name is Frank. I am you, from eighteen years in the future. I’m sitting in my apartment (Yeah, we have our own apartment! It’s OK, nothing fancy; just a place to keep all of our stuff. But we do own our own car, a kick-ass music collection – Sorry, I’ll put a dollar in the swear jar. – a puppy, AND we live 150 miles away from Mom and Dad!), writing to you today a warning of the utmost urgency, so you’ll excuse me if I dispense with the usual pleasantries.
(By the way, run quickly up to your room and grab your pocket dictionary from the bookshelf. Keep it close by and look up any words you don’t understand.)
God, there are some many things I want to talk to you – warn you – about. Like who will really want to be your friend in life and who just wants to take advantage of your naive, generous demeanor. Who to associate with and who to avoid. Pitfalls of high school. Tell you to stay on a better track in college. I could give you amazing stock tips and financial advice or at least sit you down and have a talk about the whole sweatpants phase in junior high.
But I’m writing to you today about one thing, one very important, crucial moment in your life and you must not ignore me!
A few days before the start of the fourth grade, Dad is going to tussle your hair and call you an “Ishcabibble;” that funny little Jew word from the old country that no one really knows the definition of, but Dad always calls you when your hair is getting a little long and could use a trim. I’m sure, by now, you’re more than familiar with it.
Hearing this, Mom – being Mom – will have that little money-saving light bulb flicker on above her head. What if she were to give you a haircut? And why don’t I let her perform my prostate exams as well, I should have asked, but didn’t, since I was only nine years old at the time and wasn’t entitled to having my own opinions yet or know what a prostate exam was.
Just because she can use a pair of electric clippers well enough to shave Dad’s neck and back doesn’t make Mom a barber, but try telling her that. No, really. Try telling her that. Stand up for yourself, man! Don’t just sit there and take it like I did! This is your future we’re fighting for!
You know what happens if you don’t?
I didn’t want to have to tell you this – I wanted to spare you the gruesome details – but maybe you need to hear it.
Two days before the start of the fourth grade, Mom is going to tell you to take off your shirt, sit you down in the kitchen chair, and then drape a towel over your chest and shoulders. Then, she’ll take out the electric clippers – the same ones she uses to shave Dad’s neck and back! – and actually have the nerve to ask you which kind of hair cut you want, even though you both know she’s just going to use one setting for the entire job.
But it’s your mother, you think. It’s not like she’s going to purposely try and fuck up your head — dollar in the swear jar — and especially not two days before the start of fourth grade. And you know what? You’re right. She won’t purposely try to ruin your hair, but she’s not a real barber and that outcome is just inevitable. You tell her you’d like a trim, anyway, longer on top and shorter along the sides and back.
She flicks the switch on the clippers to ‘on’ and they hum to life. Vvvmmmmmm. You worry as she brings them closer to your head and are somewhat thankful that there isn’t a mirror in the kitchen, so you can’t see the carnage being done. She runs the clippers through your hair in one swipe, two, three. Clumps fall onto the towel draped around your chest and shoulders before they fall to the floor, each cluster landing with a silent explosion of innocence lost.
She finishes all too quickly, quickly enough that you realize she couldn’t have readjusted the attachment sizes. You’ll remind her that you wanted your hair cut shorter along the sides and back and she’ll sigh as she lights up another cigarette. You feel slightly at ease after reminding her and a bit more as you hear her taking off the attachment. She tilts your head to the side and tells you to keep still, lest you want her to take off an ear or something.
The clippers zoom past your left ear, the vibrations tickling as it passes. As quickly as it comes, it goes, leaving behind the two scariest words in the English language.
You ask what’s the matter, but Mom denies anything is wrong. You tell her that people don’t normally say ‘uh oh’ – especially when cutting hair – unless there is something completely, drastically wrong. She tells you not to worry about it, she can fix it, just tilt your head to the other side and hold still this time, God damn it! (Dollar in the swear jar.) You do as you’re told and feel the same sensations as you did a moment ago.
Well, that’s as good as I can get it, Mom says, lifting the towel off of your chest and shoulders, taking one last long drag on her cigarette. You hop out of the kitchen chair and race upstairs. Mom calls after you – No running in the house! — but you ignore her. You leap up the stairs, two at a time, desperately needing to get to the bathroom to see what has become of your once glorious locks. You try to open the door but it won’t budge. Your sister calls out from behind the door – Someone’s in here! — and you plead with her to, please, hurry.
She finishes and, before she can unlock the door, you are already clutching the handle. The door swings open and she starts to yell at you – Wait your turn– but she stops mid-sentence. She looks at you strangely, for a moment, confused, perplexed, and then explodes into a fit of laughter. She starts to make fun of you, but you can’t hear her. You just push past her, towards the mirror. You close your eyes, step up in front of the bathroom sink, and then you open them.
Looking back at you is someone familiar but completely different. This person looks like you, sure — same eyes, same nose, mouth, skin tone, same patch of freckles sprinkled over your chubby cheeks – but something about him is completely wrong. You are so shocked by what you see that it actually takes you a minute to realize what it is that you’re looking at.
Your hair has been mowed down to a one inch length, all around your head. Every hair on your head, in every direction, is exactly one inch long. But that’s not what panics you, no. What has made you so anxious is the fact that there is a two inch C-shaped patch of skin circling both of you ears. There is not a single hair within TWO INCHES of your ears. Your hair looks sort of like a Mohawk that was unhappy with the inch wide strip that ran straight down the center of your head and tried to expand into a larger territory, like Germany did to Poland in WWII.
You have WORLD WAR TWO on top of your head.
You stare into the mirror for what seems like forever, mourning your loss. Your lips tremble, your eyes water. Finally, you let out a primal cry.
You trample down the stairs, back to the kitchen, where Mom is wrapping up the cord to the electric clippers in tight circles and lighting up another cigarette. You tell her that your hair is ruined. She assures you that she’s trying to calm you down when she says that it’s just hair and that it will grow back. It’s not that bad. It’s not the end of the world. No one will even notice.
NO ONE WILL EVEN NOTICE?!?
You mean that no one will notice that your hair looks as if it is completely and utterly terrified of your ears and is trying to get as far away from them as quickly as possible? You won’t even be able to get through dinner without your dad and sister making fun of you, how does she think that an entire school full of nine and ten year olds is going to react?
You find out two days later, on the first day of school.
I won’t going into the gory details of how the other kids laughed at you, teased you, called you names, but it was the first time you ever heard – or were called – the word ‘fag’. You don’t know what it means, when you first hear it, but it still makes you feel bad. You feel even worse when you get home, run quickly up to your room, grab your pocket dictionary from the bookshelf, and look up its meaning.
You’ve never felt as bad about yourself as you did then. Not even when kids teased you about your weight, or called you ugly or dumb. That horrible, hateful three-letter little word made you want hide and never be found.
As bad as it feels, though, it does get worse. Hair grows back and scars do heal, but kids never forget.
YOU will never forget.
The fact that I’m still writing this letter – that I even remember the incident – tells me that my little time-travel experiment has failed. But I hope, for our sake, that this letter finds you, so you can stand up to Mom and tell her to stop being such a cheapskate, spend the five dollars and take you to a real barber, dammit! (Dollar in the swear jar.)
Good luck and Godspeed.
Frank (Me), Age 27
PS – Seven years from now, when you’re sixteen, and Bridgette Owens asks you if you want to touch her bra area, say yes, and you’ll successfully avoid gay accusations for at least a few more years.