He asked for my phone number. My father’s condition with cancer had taken a turn for the worst, so dating wasn’t exactly a priority for me. But someone had made me laugh for the first time in quite a while. It felt good to smile. He had done that for me on the few occasions when I stopped into the campus convenience store for a coffee re-fill. Instead of giving him my number, I took his.
Richard. 731—0580. I folded the piece of paper in half, and in half again, then stuck it into my coat pocket. I called him a week later. We spoke on the phone a couple of times, but my life was too busy for any kind of a social commitment. Fall turned to summer – summer to winter – winter to a new semester and I was busy on a different side of the campus where I re-filled my coffee elsewhere.
I ran into him again for the first time since last fall. He did a double-take as I handed him the cash for a bottle of water and a pack of Juicy Fruit. It must have been the dread-locks in my hair.
“Oh. Hey!” he said to me.
“Hello Richard.” I replied.
“So. Did your dad actually die?” He asked. I felt my mouth gape open so far that I recognized my teeth tingling from the cold central air entering my mouth. Did he really just say that to me?
“He… no, he’s fine. Well, not fine, but we’re all hanging in there.” I felt like I had taken a slug to the chest.
“How’s your mom?” His line of questioning was as though we had never met – and his eyes kept darting toward my hair.
I was still regaining emotional consciousness as I reeled in my bulging eyeballs and said, “She’s good.”
“So, they’re still together?” He asked as he looked at my hair – again.
“Yes. Thirty-seven years now.” I answered, staring at him as if he were suffering from amnesia. These were things we had already talked about.
“You have brothers and sisters?” he asked, surveying my hair and looking back at the cash register, randomly flipping the black, plastic money holders. Finally he handed me my change. I smiled at him, feeling a bit sorry for him and his uncomfortable behavior.
“Yes. Three brothers and two sisters,” I replied as I put the change in my coin purse.
“From the same parents?” He asked.
“No. But that’s a long story,” I said, putting my gum into my back pack and zipping it up, “it’s kind of a mess.” Just as I slung my back pack over my shoulder he said:
“Yes I can see that from your hair.” WHAM! The opening he was waiting for… and he ran me over again.
I stood there, frozen, in one of those moments in time that feel like a scene from the Matrix: just you and the idiot you’re facing off with and no one else exists –only silence and floating debris between the two of you. But when the moment ended, when the sound came back from the Matrix scene and I was grounded in reality – I had nothing, no idea how to respond, so I settled with:
“I’ll see you around, Richard.”
After I walked away…
I wasn’t sure how to react to Dick’s insensitive remarks. I already knew that having dread-locks would make people uncomfortable. I discovered this the first time my sister saw my new do. She had no problem making her disapproval known as she curled up her top lip and look at me through raised eyebrows:
“Well that outta narrow down the men that you attract,” she said with a sarcastic tongue. She was right. However, I wouldn’t appreciate the weight of her keen observation until that afternoon with Dick.
The reality is that some people are simply not fond of dread-locks for whatever reason. I respect and appreciate their opinions. I can even admit that I knew there would be a plethora of reactions when I committed to having them; reactions like those of my bold and honest little sister. What I didn’t expect was how someone could look at me and see only hair.
The encounter with Dick became clear: my dread-locks served as a filter… a filter for the caliber of individuals that I want to surround myself with – or at the very least filter out of my world. I decided that if I ever got another reaction like Dick’s, I will simply remind myself of the valuable time I could be saving by not investing in another dreaded relationship.