The last time I got cheated on by a white dude, I did this creepy thing where I’d skirt around his old Castro stomping grounds hoping and simultaneously dreading I’d bump into him again.
I walked into a random barbershop with wide windows and sat at the barber chair facing the street, hoping to be seen but eyes kinda glossing in a way that could have been looking straight at someone without looking at them at all. An Asian man who looked like he’d seen some shit in his life cut my hair, and did so tenderly. The kind of tender that knew I’d been through some shit recently, and at times like this that tenderness is worth its weight in gold. Or maybe just the 50 bucks that Castro haircut cost.
Something new, I think I said.
He sighed, smiled tiredly, and began cutting.
Only a couple months into dating the white dude, I guess we were already in love because he said I love you and that to me meant we were in love. We were at least more in love than the first time he said it one misty night in Japantown, only a few weeks into dating; but at that time, I didn’t know amateur shit like that was a red flag. Nor did I know that nonchalantly confessing how much he really-really liked Asians was also a red flag. But I guess when you don’t care too much about yourself, you kinda ignore the signs because you don’t know your worth just yet.
Many of our nights were spent in a drunken haze, but there’s one I’d say was most formative. He had an annoying habit of trying to make friends with other gay couples even if they’d just wanna be left alone. Playing shuffleboard against one such reluctant gay couple, he insisted on one-sided smack talk that made them visibly uncomfortable. When he left us to go to the bathroom, the gay couple pulled me aside and said: your boyfriend is obnoxious. You’re much, much more attractive than him. I agreed on some level that he was obnoxious, but my gut said to defend him. In my eyes he’s the cutest guy ever, I said, perhaps in a cute boyfriend way. One of them put a parental hand on my shoulder, looked straight at me, and said no, listen to us. You’re gorgeous.
They left in a hurry and I was left bewildered, having such a hard time accepting that they didn’t think he was cute, and not realizing that they weren’t even centering him like that. Not like I was.
When you cry during a haircut it’s safe to say you’re probably not okay. It had been a couple weeks since I found out about the cheating. Those who’ve played the game know that you can keep playing it as long as you want. But eventually, begrudgingly, you’ll realize there’s only one way it ends. You gotta decide to end it.
I can’t seem to let go, I poured out vulnerably to the barber, in the way dejected folks in movies confide in a bartender near closing time. At that point he gave me a pill that took three years and four months to swallow. He paused mid-cut and motioned a clinging gesture with both his hands.
And what? he asked. Do you hold on forever? Until you’re 80? Until you’re 90? Until one of you dies?
He shook his head and kept cutting.
Who will you have then?
A bittersweet comfort came from this patronizing questioning. It had an eerie acceptance to loneliness that horrified me at the time. It took me a while to unpack that self love ain’t all about seeing yourself as beautiful and whole. Sometimes it starts with not being averse to being alone with your own sickening thoughts for five minutes, let alone eternity. That self-love ain’t just about freedom from others who’ll probably disappoint, because they’re people and that’s what they do. Self-love is also, in a way, a willingness to condemn yourself to your own company. And maybe that’s why these journeys have only come for some folks begrudgingly: they know deep down that it’s not just a headfake to the happy ending that their parents dreamed for them originally. That, in actuality, it ends with you riding in on your own damn horse, to your own damn castle, and being okay with that.
I’d like to say that haircut changed me, but that work didn’t come until three years and four months later. For the meantime, I knew I could place some trust in this Asian man who was seemingly trying to massage my naivete away while rubbing my new hairstyle into place. Without yet knowing all he’d given me that day, there was one thing I did realize staring at my own reflection as he turned me around. I knew that this was a damn nice cut and for maybe the first time throughout all this, to myself, I looked alright.
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