Split Endings: An Ode to Mary

A couple of weeks ago, my hairdresser broke up with me.

I had been trying to find a way to end it myself, but she made it easy. It was the conclusion of a seven-year relationship, a relationship that was full of tenderness, sympathy, understanding – everything but monogrammed bath towels. We didn’t have the kind of transitory relationship you might have with your dry cleaner where one of you might move away or quit her job or change her shift or get militant about a lost cream-colored Anthropologie peasant shrug. No, what Mary and I had was an understanding. An understanding, and a shared love for conditioning treatment.

Tearfully, lovingly, she wrote down my color formula on the back of her business card so I could pass it along to my next hairdresser. It was just-so: the percentages, the brand, the color name — she was very precise — then she gave me a hug and the last of my special conditioner. I don’t know where I’ll be able to get it anymore, but I’m afraid I will have to steel my gaze and venture into the dark underworld of black market hair care. Which I can only imagine involves run-ins with the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, her Fructis cronies, and Muammar Gaddafi. Yea, definitely him too.

Had I been abandoned? Yes. Will this be the end of my once-marvelous mane? Time — and root growth — will tell.

My first encounter with Mary was when my mother brought me to her salon for a consultation for my wedding hair. Wedding hair must be planned, practiced and executed with the focus of a Zen master, and my mother believed that Mary had what it takes, which she did. Mary also did facials and microdermabrasion, and one of my first memories of her was her rant about the terrible way people treated their faces: “Their skin is people too!” she exclaimed, furiously painting a small section of my hair in its tin- foil tortilla, like she had given up on society altogether. Then she burst into laughter.

Mary was often scatter-brained. At one of my appointments I noticed her holding bottles really close to her face as though trying to read a label in hieroglyphics. “My eyes are messed up,” she said, laughing. “I just went to the doctor and I can’t see!” I chuckled politely, and then began to tremble.

Mary would frequently open her supply cabinet and a bottle or two would fall out like paratroopers waiting for the hatch to open. She talked a mile a minute, getting me up to speed on the red accent wall she had just painted in her apartment, or about the surgery she was preparing for or recovering from, all while throwing bleach and activator together haphazardly in a plastic bowl like a manic Julia Child. I wanted to stop her and ask that she concentrate. This would, after all, affect my appearance for the next two months, but I never could bring myself to speak up. It was like trying to leave a fun party early or interrupting a niece’s puppet show — you hated to be a bore about precision. Miraculously, my cowardice never backfired and I loved my hair after almost every single visit. (There WAS one time my sister Liz went to see Mary and came out with purple hair. “Dark plum” was the name I gave it, but in a certain light she undeniably resembled Grimace.)

Sometimes Mary would run late, or forget we had an appointment altogether. Sometimes she would forget that she had booked someone else only an hour after my appointment time — when mine required two-and-a-half hours. I would feel awkward and guilty as this other bushy-headed woman sat listlessly in the extra salon chair with nothing to do but watch her day slip away.

I nearly left Mary every eight weeks for the entire seven years of our relationship. And yet when Gordon and I moved to Fort Worth and the drive made our situation even more prohibitive, there was still something inside me that couldn’t quite let Mary go. After all, Mary had made me a red-head for my wedding, a blonde during my stint in advertising, and a chocolate brunette in my most recent mothering years. She was the author, in many ways, of my persona. And when someone helps with your persona, they somehow become a very special person indeed.

Or maybe it was just, well, Mary.

No one has a bigger heart. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, Mary gave him her juicer and a book of recipes. She was also always giving things away, mostly because she was always buying things. When she moved from one apartment to another — and she was always moving and redecorating — she drove by a local gas station where some Mexican guys were hanging out and told them to come take whatever they wanted out of her garage.

Mary finally decided it was time to move again, but this time much farther away, to El Paso. Her mother lives there all by herself, despite having raised 10 children and 890 grandchildren. For years, Mary had told her just to say the word and she would come back home to live; and this month, finally, she did. “So I just decided to move!” said Mary, me standing agape when she asked if I had gotten her text about leaving.

“No, I didn’t get your text! When are you going?” I asked.

“Tomorrow.”

Such a Mary-thing to do: work until 5 p.m. the day before, paint a wall for the heck of it, maybe, then adopt a stray puppy (why not?), go to bed, get up, throw her belongings into a Uhaul and leave town forever.

“Love you, Honey. Have a wonderful life,” she said as she hugged me close. She wiped tears from her eyes and laughed in that Mary-way. “I’m so crazy, right?”

“You ARE crazy, but you need to do this,” I said.

Of all the wonderful friends Mary had made throughout her years in the Dallas area, she was still isolated in many ways. She was fifty-something, unmarried, had no children, and had no real family to speak of in a 200-mile radius. It was time for her to go home, even if that meant leaving a host of loyal clients who just couldn’t seem to shake her, no matter how hard they tried.

So now it’s time for me to move on too. (Finally.) I’ll find a new Mary, someone who is organized, focused, deliberate, safe — someone who knows the ins and outs of text messaging.

Or, maybe I’ll just check flights to El Paso.

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4 Comments to “Split Endings: An Ode to Mary”
  1. Sarah Caldwell says:

    I really love this post Julie…I know I say that everytime but your writing is so witty and beautiful and especially poignant when you are waxing poetic abt. an obviously beautiful soul. Thanks as always for your words. What do I need to do to negotiate you a book deal?? Just sayin…. ;)

    • Julie Rhodes says:

      Thanks Sarah! I so appreciate you reading and responding. Writing is always more fun when done for an audience…kind of like singing, eh? ;)

  2. Liz says:

    I understand the magnetism held by those called Mary. My Mary is the same way. They’re quirky for sure, but preciously priceless all at the same time. Good luck finding a new Mary–and don’t let her dye your hair purple ;-)

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