It was the seventies and Mr. Perry was a very flamboyant gentleman with huge hair and an equally large mustache. He wore shiny, too-tight shirts with wide lapels, and brightly colored bell-bottoms.
Mr. Perry would coo and cluck and tend to my grandmother, always calling her Dr. Howard, never Laura. (She loved this.) She sipped a glass of champagne while he cut and set her hair. Meanwhile, his “girls” would take care of me and my brother. Whichever girl was doing my hair would always tease me, ask me how many boyfriends I had while she combed out the tangles, shampooed and cut, turning me from a wild girl of the woods into someone who might resemble a relation of the distinguished Dr. Howard. I hated the boyfriend questions, the teasing, the knowing winks the girls gave each other when my face reddened.
And my poor brother, twice as shy and sensitive as I was, had to endure the same harassment. How many girlfriends do you have, Tommy? (He was always a Tom and hated to be called Tommy.) I bet you have them lined up around the block. Have you kissed a girl, yet Tommy? Oh, you don’t kiss and tell, what a good boy.
On one fateful trip to Mr. Perry’s, the girl who was cutting my brother’s hair was struggling with the unruly tangles and teasing him about girls when she stepped back and let out a yelp. She called for Mr. Perry and my grandmother. My brother looked terrified. They stood over him, parted his hair and gasped.
I slipped out of my own chair and saw that there, under the mass of curls, was a dime-sized tick, head buried deep in my brother’s scalp.
A haircut was out of the question.
I’m not sure how to explain this, but at that moment, as we all peered down at Tom’s tick, I saw that the charade was up. My brother and I were not like other kids. We had a father we saw only once a week, a mother who loved us, but could not be relied upon. We lived with our kind, educated, dignified grandmother – but even she couldn’t tame us. We did what we wanted – crazy adventures in the woods and down at the pond all summer. None of the kids in my grandmother’s well-to-do suburb had divorced parents. They spent their days swimming at the country club pool, and getting their tick-free hair done at places like Mr. Perry’s.
I looked at Mr. Perry and his hair girls, all standing gape-mouthed, shaking their heads, saying things like “Well, I’ve just never seen one quite so…enormous,” and I knew, I just knew that at that moment, they saw all the dark secrets of our lives.
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