“I’m talkin’ to you, Thelma and Louise, where you two been?” Rene asked Bode and I as we stood speechless and frozen at the entrance of the room like we’d just stared into the eyes of Medusa.
The rest of the class looked at us with a mix of fear and relief. Fear that we were in Rene’s crosshairs, relief that it wasn’t them.
“You know how late you are?” she asked, shoving a handful of fries in her mouth.
I looked at my watch, 7 minutes late.
“They probably just lost track of time, it is their first day.” Charlie said from her sidelined seat.
“Charlie, I don’t care about excuses cuz I’ve heard ‘em all…
Rene, my alarm didn’t go off.
Rene, my car broke down.
Rene, my abortion took longer than I thought it would.
I’ve heard every bullshit thing under the sun when it comes to people being late and I don’t give a shit.” she said as she chomped down on her hamburger while Bode and I ran to our seats.
“You need to understand you have a certain amount of time to finish school and if you go past it I charge you more money.” she said with a mouthful of meat. “Just last month I had to charge a girl 4 grand cuz she went over her time and you know what she did to get the money?”
“Porn? Prostitution?” Jimbo asked with excitement.
“No.” Rene said with a look of ironic disgust.
“She had to sell her eggs to a fertility clinic. So unless y’all wanna be human chickens I suggest you be on time, every time, all the time.”
“I know you don’t want excuses but Bode and I got caught up at lunch, we’re sorry, it won’t happen again.” I told her.
“I saw them, they were on a man-date and it was so cute.” Denise said, batting her eyes at me.
“Yeah we kinda have a bromance going on.” Bode added, making the class erupt in laughter.
“Enough!” Rene yelled as she slammed her fist down on the podium. “I’m not here to play around!”
A tense silence fell over the room and we all wondered if Rene was about to snap and go on a rampage like a pissed off circus elephant.
“Rene, no one wants to upset you. Just let the class know why you’re here and what you need from them.” Charlie said with a soothing voice to calm the savage beast.
Rene let out a long, fry scented sigh then went on. “I know Charlie went over the rules and regulations in your binders but a contract got left out that I need you to sign.” she said as the two classroom assistants went around handing out papers that said:
I ___________________do solemnly promise not to engage in any type of sexually illicit activity with a fellow Future Professional. Should I violate this contract I understand that my status as a Future Professional can and will be suspended for an undisclosed amount of time resulting in late fees or that I may face expulsion without refund.
And so it appeared that all of us free-willed, responsible adults were being told to sign a purity contract.
I knew Rene was zealous when it came to students hooking-up but this was on a whole other scale of ridiculous fanaticism. This was something you’d be told to sign if you were joining the Priesthood, the Taliban or The Jonas Brothers.
The waif-thin blonde girl whose name I couldn’t remember from Charlie’s Pointing Game held her hand up.
“What?” Rene asked.
“I don’t think this applies to me because I have a fiancé and-“
“If you have a penis or a vagina it applies to you, end of story.”
“But I know I’d never cheat on him*.” she contested.
“You don’t know what you’ll do. In the time I’ve been here I’ve seen it all. Marriages and engagements broken up. Fist-fights, pregnancies and STDs break out. Straight people turning gay and gay people turning straight.” Rene said, resting her gaze on Jimbo.
“Never.” Jimbo hissed, recoiling like a vampire in the presence of a crucifix.
“Students come in as one person and end up being sexually reckless with 10 others. That behavior breeds jealousy, discord and drama that I have to deal with and I don’t wanna deal with that petty bullshit anymore. So it’s simple; you sign this contract and if you break it I break you.”
“Guys…” Charlie said as she walked over and stood next to Rene.
“While it’s perfectly normal to connect with someone physically, it’s caused problems here in the past. So we feel it’s best that Future Professionals keep their focus on hair and this agreement helps with that. This agreement also ensures you get the best experience while being here and who doesn’t want that?”
Charlie’s good cop speech convinced the class that chastity belts were fashionable prompting everyone to scribble their name on the dotted line. And as I signed away my right to party naked one question burned so bright in my mind that I had to spit it out.
“Rene?” I asked as the assistants came around collecting the contracts.
“What is it, Stuke?” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“What if someone is accused of hooking-up with another person but it didn’t really happen?”
“What are you saying?”
“Like let’s say I piss someone off…”
“I couldn’t possibly imagine that happening.”
“I know, but let’s say I did and so to get back at me that person makes an allegation that I hooked-up with another student just to get me in trouble. Has anything like that ever happened?”
“One person lying about another? I don’t think that’s ever happened in the history of mankind.” she said as the assistants handed her our signed contracts.
“Seriously, what’s the protocol for something like that? Is there a school tribunal that handles it or are you just judge, jury and Sexecutioner?”
She took a deep breath and then rubbed her temples.
“Here’s my advice to you to make sure nothing like that ever happens…do your best not to piss anyone off, starting with me.”
And with that Rene took her bag of food, stack of purity contracts and pungent personality and charged out of the room.
Charlie reclaimed her spot behind the podium giving us all a reassuring smile.
“In your profession you’ll come across difficult people that you’ll have to get along with. They can be clients or co-workers and your success will depend on how well you handle yourself and them. So remember, being nice to others is being nice to yourself.” she said, giving us all one to grow on.
Seconds later the assistants started hauling in one big box after another.
“Your kits!” Charlie screamed with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning. “Let’s open them up and go through them!”
Charlie left out the word ‘meticulously’ in her last sentence as in “Let’s open them up and meticulously go through them.” because we spent the next 4 hours going over every single item in our kits, that item’s purpose, its evolutionary history and its country of origin.
We had duckbill clips, two pronged clips and butterfly clips. Round brushes, wrap brushes and boar bristle brushes. Tension combs, barbering combs and detangling combs. Cutting sheers and texturizing / thinning sheers. Clippers, edgers and cutting capes. A blow dryer, curling iron and flat iron.3 doll heads, a partridge in a pear tree and 1 giant rolling suitcase to haul this shit around in.
We were also informed we needed to bring all this paraphernalia to school with us every day for the next 364 of them.
By the time we were finished getting acquainted with our kits my head was pounding from its lack of alcohol.
It was close to 5pm and I was ready for a few drinks and a few cigarettes but what I and the rest of the class got instead was another box put in front of us.
I shuddered to think what was in it and how long THAT would take to go through.
“This is the second part of your kits!” Charlie said as if we were given a bonus prize. “It’s almost time to leave so I promise this will go fast.”
Based on how quick we were able to get through this box would determine if Charlie was a liar or not.
“Now keep in mind that what’s in this box you won’t be using on clients but you will use it on weekly face sheet assignments because knowing how to apply it is part of the cosmetology curriculum.”
No one has a clue what Charlie is talking about so we all just tear into our box to get to the bottom of it both figuratively and literally.
Upon discovering its contents the girls scream with joy and I even hear Bode yell out an ‘oh cool’.
As for me my heart sinks, my eyes water and a sadness engulfs me.
In the box are pallets of makeup and makeup brushes.
The same brand of pallets and brushes Gums used in her professional and personal life.
She’d had dozens of these things stacked in our room, so many in fact that I cleared out one of our closets and installed shelfing, a mirror and a chair so she could keep them organized and have a vanity to apply her makeup at.
Watching her sit at her vanity and do her makeup in the morning while I still laid in bed became one of my favorite rituals.
I ran my hands over the pallets like they were cursed artifacts capable of casting a dark and haunting spell.
And then I’d had enough.
“Here.” I said, giving them to Jimbo.
“What are you doing?”
“I don’t want these so Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah or Feliz Navidad. Whichever way you roll.”
“Shitbrick, did you not hear what Charlie said? You’re gonna need these for face sheet assignments.”
“I’d rather use magic markers.”
“Yeah, give ‘em to your ex, maybe you’ll get her back.”
“I can’t come within 500 feet of her but I can break into her complex and leave them at her door.”
“Now you’re thinking like a true romantic.” I said, ready to get the fuck out of this room.
“Alright everyone, great first day! See you all tomorrow morning and for the love of god, don’t be late!” she says as we grab our massive kits and disperse.
“See you tomorrow, brother.” Bode says, holding his fist out for a bump.
I force a smile on my face, bump him back and then head to my car.
As soon as I get in my car I scan the parking lot to make sure no one is around.
Once I see it’s just me I take a deep breath and SCREAM at the top of my lungs until my ear drums rattle, my throat burns and I almost pass out.
Then I do it again, and again, and again. Trying to exorcise the demon of hurt, anger and sadness that just demonstrated it can possess me at any time and be triggered by anything.
I look in the rear view mirror and wonder if I’ll ever feel better, if I’ll ever feel normal, if I’ll ever be free.
In the first few days of our break-up the thing that scared me the most was knowing that one day I would feel indifferent towards Gums, that one day I wouldn’t care about her. Knowing that all the love and adoration I had for her would eventually evaporate terrified me.
But now I’d happily welcome that indifference the way a burn victim welcomes morphine. I’d do anything to have the opiate of irrelevance pumping through my veins and delivering me from the pain and anguish that pulverized me every time I thought of her.
I wanted to get on with my fucking life and get on with not caring about her.
But until that medicated relief of indifference came I’d have to keep medicating myself.
*After this student was married and before she graduated school, she ended up banging one of the school’s Learning Leaders (who lost his job as a result) and also a fellow female student. Go figure.