Chapter 3

 

It was a Tuesday morning, I know this because this was back when I was able to keep track of my days.

My fiancé and I had just gotten home from mailing out our wedding invites and I couldn’t have been more excited about the future. In a few short weeks I would be marrying a woman I was madly in love with. She was charismatic, funny, artistic and covered in tattoos. It seemed there couldn’t have been a more perfect match for me.

Before I’d met her I’d spent my life under the belief that weddings were ridiculous. The notion that anyone would pay thousands of dollars so their free-loading friends and family could spend an afternoon eating and drinking on their dime was beyond me.

But as with any belief, all it takes is meeting that one person you have all the feels for to throw it out the window and let it get run over by a parade of monster trucks.

This girl was that one person.

With her charm, beauty and humor people couldn’t help but be captivated by her presence, especially when she smiled because it was this big, warm smile that made you feel like the sun was shining on you.

“Oh my god your smile’s so big I see nothing but gums!” Jay yelled when meeting her for the first time.

I didn’t know if she’d take his words as an observation or an insult as is always the case with Jay but…

“I know! My family calls me Gums because of it!” she said laughing.

“And so shall I.”

It worked out fine.

And from that day on Jay and Gums were besties, spending countless hours shopping, brunching, gossiping and just being two magnificent Queens with one another.

So when Gums and I decided to get married and told Jay about it he insisted that the wedding be held in his backyard and that he would get ordained online so he could officiate the ceremony…while wearing a dress of his own.

And as our date drew closer we checked off our task list. She picked out her dress, we hired the photographer and the caterer, we made hotel arrangements for out of town guests and we booked our honeymoon.

The only thing left was to mail out the invites which had a song verse printed on the back of each envelope…and we had just done that this morning.

We were on our way to being married and our life was going to be full of adventures, growing old together and as she had said one night, dying together so we could share the same coffin (a little dark I know but let’s face it, death and romance have always been mutual partners).

Since Gums was a make-up artist her boss Lia was coming over later to help her figure out wedding looks so I decided to clean the place. Normally she liked to clean with me but today she kept herself on the couch texting non-stop like she’d been doing since we left the post office.

“Is everything ok?” I asked

She looked at me with a blank expression instead of the big, warm smile she usually gave.

“No. We need to talk.”

“Ok.” I said, taking a seat.

She sat there for a few minutes as her phone kept BUZZING with text alerts. Then she spoke.

“I can’t do this.”

“That’s ok, I don’t mind cleaning on my own. It’s in my Mexican DNA anyway.”

“No. The wedding. I can’t do it.”

“Like there’s something wrong with the date?”

“No…like…I don’t wanna get married.”

The air became harder to breathe and my heart started thumping.

She didn’t wanna get married? Where was this coming from?

Up until now she’d been just as excited about it as me, had even taken to using my last name with everything so what had changed all the sudden?

I tried to stave off my rising panic by running to the land of WHAT IFS.

Like WHAT IF she was feeling anxiety from all the planning? WHAT IF something was wrong with her health? WHAT IF someone in her family was against the marriage now?

WHAT IF?

WHAT IF?

WHAT IF?

I was sure that whatever it was it was something that two people who were in love with one another could talk about and resolve.

“Is the wedding stressing you out? Is everything ok with your health? Is there anything you need to tell me?” I asked, trying to keep a grip on my emotions that were trembling just beneath the surface.

“There is something I need to tell you.”

“Ok.”

She took a deep breath and…

“I’ve been fucking someone else.”

Ever been hit in the nose without warning?

It’s called a sucker punch and it leaves you stunned, hurt and pissed the fuck off which is exactly how I felt.

It had seemed in all the WHAT IFS I’d gone over not once did I think to ask WHAT IF she’s been cheating on me because the usual signs of infidelity weren’t there. Plus, our relationship wasn’t volatile, she never said she was unhappy in or out of the bedroom and barring the normal arguments couples have we never had a problem forgiving and moving on.

As I tried to wrap my head around it all a million questions were racing to get out of my mouth. The first one to escape was of course…

“Who is he?”

“It doesn’t matter.” she said, getting off the couch and going to the kitchen, taking her BUZZING phone with her.

“Is that him texting you?” I screamed, following her and allowing my anger to take control because…duh.

“No. It’s not.” she said as she opened the fridge, grabbed an egg and began cooking it.

I wondered how she could eat at a time like this and it reminded me of the serial killer Richard Ramirez who would murder people in their home and then make something to eat in their kitchen after he’d decimated their lives, hopes and plans.

And the plans. Jesus Christ the plans that were in motion, the invites that were on their way out.

MOTHER-FUCKER.

“Who is this guy?”

“You really wanna know?”

“That’s why I keep asking.”

“Fine.” she said, sliding the egg onto a plate we’d painted at one of those stupid pottery studios.

“His name is Rob.”

“How long have you been fucking Rob?”

“Are we really gonna go down this road?”

“You’re the one that steered us on it. How long?”

“Ugh. A month and a half.”

“A mon…WHEN?”

“Before or after work.” she sighed.

“Where?”

“His place.”

“How’d you meet?”

“My work.” she said, stabbing the egg with a fork and shoving it in her mouth.

“At the make-up counter? Does he do drag or something?”

“No, I was helping him pick out a gift for his sister.”

“How accommodating of you.”

“That’s my job!”

“Since when did your job include fucking the customers?”

“This is so dumb.”

“Why him?”

“Why? Because he’s someone that has a future.” she said, taking another bite of food.

“What does that even mean?”

She stood there chewing, looking at me like a defiant child in a power struggle with the parent.

“He’s in the banking industry.”

“So you’re into people who can count and talk dividends?”

“No, I’m into people who have a job, Stuke.”

“A job? Are you kidding me? I’m not some loser who won’t work, I just got laid-off, remember?”

“I certainly do.” she said with the roll of her eyes.

“Well do you also remember I got a fat severance and two years unemployment which means I’m still making more than you in my current situation?”

“It’s not about that. It’s about you not having a vison for the future, any career aspirations.”

“Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was expected to be J.P. fucking Morgan. Besides, YOU told me to take my time deciding what I wanna do next.”

“Yeah, well, it’s taken you too long and it’s become unattractive.” she said, finishing the last of her food.

“it’s only been a few–You know what? You’re just trying to justify your shitty actions. If this bothered you so much you could’ve told me some-THING instead of fucking some-ONE.”

She threw her fork and plate into the sink, busting that plate into pieces.

“HEY! It’s not my job to tell you what to do. I’m not your fucking mom and I’m sure as hell not ending up like mine, working in some flea-bag hotel because my dad never got it together. Unlike my mom I plan on getting what I deserve.”

“And what’s that?”

“Being taken care of.”

“Are you saying I don’t take care of you?”

“I mean financially.”

“Oh…which is why you’re fucking Rob the Banker. Makes perfect sense. No pun.”

“You know, I don’t have to take this. If you don’t like the answers don’t ask the questions.”

She brushed past me and over to the closet, stopping to check the text messages that’d been piling up.

“Who keeps texting you!?”

She stood there pecking away at her phone, ignoring me.

“Hello?”

“I’ve been texting people I invited to the wedding to tell them it’s off and they’ve been responding. Is that ok with you?”

“THAT’S what you’ve been doing since we left the post office? You let OTHERS know before me?”

“What difference does it make?”

“The difference is you could’ve told me BEFORE we sent the invites out! WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU AND WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

She stared at me and the hard exterior she’d been fronting started to crack under the pressure of the fight. Her lips started to quiver and tears trickled down her face.

“Who the fuck am I? WHO THE FUCK AM I? I’m someone who doesn’t know how the fuck they feel anymore, ok? I’m someone who isn’t sure about you, about us, about what I was doing, had been doing or how to tell you!” she screamed then broke into a fit of crying.

“The wedding, it seemed so far away, like it wasn’t real and I kept thinking there was time to figure all of this out, figure out how I felt about our future together. Time to fix it in some way. But once the invites went out something clicked. All that time disappeared making all the doubts I had about us solidify. Those invites were the nail in the coffin.”

“Mine or yours?” I said in a low, panting voice, trying to quell my temper.

“Ours.” she said softly.

When she said she wanted to share the same coffin I never imagined it’d be this way.

“So what are we supposed to do now? What do we do about all the wedding plans? What do we tell people calling to RSVP? What do we tell Jay?”

She regained her composure, wiped her mascara smeared eyes and looked at me like I was an injured animal she couldn’t save.

“I’m sorry, Stuke, there is no more “WE”. I’ve told everyone on my end, the rest is up to you.”

“Don’t you wanna at least talk to Jay?”

“He’s the last person I wanna talk to for fear of what he’ll say.” she said, opening the closet and grabbing a box we kept the Christmas decorations in.

“So I’m supposed to clean this mess up all on my own?”

“Do what you want, say what you want. Tell people I’m the asshole, its fine.”

She began dumping all the decorations on the floor.

“What are you doing?”

“Lia said I could stay with her until I figure out my next move so I’m grabbing some things.”

“That’s it? You’re leaving just like that?”

“Yeah. This is what happens when people break up.”

“I don’t understand how any of this is happening.” I said, the anger burning off as the grief started to creep in from all sides.

“I know, but you’re gonna have to accept it.”

I stood there helpless as she packed so many of her things I’d become accustomed to living with.

Her flat iron that would always burn me because she’d forget to turn it off. Her makeup that I’d watch her apply every day. Her clothes that made her look both stylish and stunning, and her bras and underwear, all of which I’d peeled off of her body countless times but would no more.

When she was finished she went over to a mirror and did her best to look presentable then she grabbed her box, car keys and purse and opened the door, her silhouette outlined by the bright, cheerful light of the day.

She was going to start her life over without me, leaving in her wake a trail of broken promises, broken dreams and a broken heart.

“I’m so sorry.” she said, turning to look back at me.

And then closed the door behind her, making me feel like I was being buried alive in a tomb and left to die.

I stood there shell-shocked from all that had just happened. In less than an hour everything I had loved about my life had been destroyed by the person I loved the most.

And then it came.

All the confusion, all the betrayal, all the rejection, all the sadness and all the darkness. All of it crashing down on top of me like a building crumbling in an earthquake.

I fell to the floor amongst the Christmas decorations and sobbed.

Not one of those quaint, graceful sobs you see in the movies but a violent, heaving, convulsing sob that contorted my face, pushed the snot out of my nose and made me moan sounds I didn’t think were humanly possible.

The wedding was over, my relationship was over, and anything that had meaning to me was over.

I was over.

After a while I pushed myself up off the floor and got a Xanax and beer to try to numb all the pain. A pain that was stinging me from the inside out. A pain that’d be shackled to me for months to come.

And as I washed the pill down with a beer, and another beer, and another beer I noticed something. Laying on the counter was an invite that had somehow gotten left behind.

One solitary nail left out of our coffin.

I flipped it over to read the words from the song we’d had printed on the back of it.

The Only Hope for Me is You

And then I drank until I could forget who I was, something that would become the new normal for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Walking across the intersection I couldn’t take my eyes of my shoes.

One was a black Vans the other a black Converse and while it wasn’t my greatest moment I told myself it could’ve been worse, it could’ve been a dress shoe and a gym shoe. Besides, it was an honest mistake anyone could’ve made with a Blood Alcohol Content higher than 10 times the legal amount.

Paul Mitchell was tucked in the corner of the Sherman Oaks Galleria which was a shopping staple of The Valley, an outdoor mall made up of shops and restaurants frequented by D-list celebrities, has-been musicians and local residents who had money but not enough to live in a nicer place like Beverly Hills.

When I first walked into the school I thought I was in the wrong place. With its high, exposed ceiling, lacquered concrete floor, Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” blaring and cute girls in skimpy clothes dancing around the entrance, the space looked less like a place of learning and more like a chic night club.

“Hi! Can I help you?” one of the dancing girls said as she flashed a smile as big as her boobs that were trying to escape from her low-cut shirt.

“Yeah, is this the hair school?”

“It is! Would you like a cut?” she asked, motioning her fingers like scissors while still dancing around. I didn’t know if I should tip her or give her my jacket.

“No I wanna learn how to do hair. Where do I enroll?”

She pouted and pointed to an office with the word ADMISSIONS above it.

I went in and sitting behind a desk was a girl that with her long dark hair, big brown eyes and compact face looked like an Anime character.

“Hi I’m Amy!” she said loud and bright.

“I’m Stuke.”

“Stuke?! That’s a fun name! How do you spell it?”

“Well, most people try to spell it every way but the right way which is S-T-U-K-E.”

“Got it!” she said as she jotted it down on a form.” What made you wanna do hair, Stuke?”

This was a question I hadn’t prepared myself to answer so she’d caught me off guard.

“Oh. Well. I wanna do hair because…because…”

My face started to burn and my balls crawled into my stomach. It didn’t happen often but I was at a loss for words and afraid that any second she’d tell me to leave and not come back until I had an answer.

Then a poster on her wall caught my attention. It said “Love what you do, do what you love.”

Bingo.

“I wanna do hair because I wanna do what I love.”

“Oh that’s great!” she said, coming out from behind her desk then freezing in her tracks.

“Uh, Stuke…”

“Yes?”

“Why don’t your shoes match?”

FML.

Do I play this off or act surprised?

“Ah, well…because it’s a new trend.”

We’re gonna go with playing it off.

“It is?”

“Yeah…in Tokyo. All the hair dress- uh, stylists are doing it.”

“No way that’s SO COOL!”

“I KNOW! I can hardly believe it myself.”

“Well, Mr. Stuke…”

“Stuke is fine.”

“Ok, Stuke what we like to do first with potential students is give them a tour of the school so if you’ll just follow me…”

We leave her office and go to an area called “The Floor”. It’s a huge space filled with hair stations and attractive women doing color, cuts and blow-drys all dressed in black like ninjas ready for a funeral.

Next we go in to the “Theory Room” which is a large classroom with a stage and podium at the front and a teacher behind it giving an intense lecture on the molecular properties of hair and the mathematics involved with coloring it. Every student looks stressed as fuck as they scribble down notes like their lives depend on it.

“Most people don’t realize it but doing hair requires a lot of math and chemistry.” Anime Amy whispers in my ear, sending a wave of panic from the deep part of my sphincter to the top of my spine.

“Wait, math and chemistry?” I said looking at her in horror.

Although I didn’t know much about hair what I did know was that it seemed like a profession free of annoying things like math and chemistry. Plus, in all the years I’d known Jay not once had he brought that shit up.

Traveling the world? Engaging in hedonistic sex? Doing so much blow that he lost his sense of smell? Those were the things Jay talked about when it came to doing hair. But never did he sound like Stephen fucking Hawking or Bill fucking Nye when I’d ask him how work was going.

I started to wonder if Jay had been right all along, that this was a HUGE mistake. That he’d known a secret about something I knew nothing about and that’s why he was against it from the get-go.

“Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it seems.” she said, no doubt smelling the fear on me as if it were Drakar cologne. “Once you’re immersed in it you’ll soak it right up.”

“The same could be said about vodka or quicksand.”

“Stuke, you’re so funny!” she giggled as she pushed me out of the room.

“Next up is the Core Room. This is where you’ll spend the first 6 weeks of school and learn all the basics of hair. Everyone loves Core.” she says like a game show host then opens the door.

The Core Room was a far-cry from the intensity and tension on display in the Theory Room.

Part adult pre-school part Zen retreat, the Core Room emanated safe, soothing vibes. The walls were filled with homemade posters that had motivational slogans or random facts about hair on them and spa-like music played in the background.

Students peacefully practiced on their doll heads under the gentle and calming guidance of a soft-spoken teacher. Everyone in the room looked and acted as serene as Tibetan monks who’d just 420’d and the mood was contagious because my pulse started slowing and my eyelids dropped to half-mast.

“What do you think?” Amy asked.

“It feels so…relaxing.” I said, having completely forgotten about the freak-out I’d had mere minutes ago in the Theory Room.

“I know, it’s the best place to start your journey.” she replied, taking hold of my hand and leading me out like a docile Hindu cow. “And speaking of starting, we can start your enrollment now if you like.”

“Yeah.” I tell her, still sedated from the tranquility of the Core Room.

We go back to her office and sit at her desk.

“Let’s start by having you fill out these forms.” she says, reaching across to hand me a stack of papers.

As she does this she knocks over a picture frame and I pick it up. Upon seeing the picture a cold, sick feeling sweeps over me, robbing me of all the inner-peace I’d been enjoying up until now.

The picture is of Amy and her husband on their wedding day.

And in that moment I’m taken away from the chic nightclub school and its blaring music. Away from Amy’s office and my mismatched shoes. Away from the pill-popping alcoholic I’d become over the past few weeks.

I’m taken back to my living room on a sunny morning 1 month, 3 weeks, 6 days and 23 hours ago.

I’m taken back to who I used to be and the exact moment this whole fucking mess began.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Not Who I’m Supposed to Be

CHAPTER 1

 

I was shitfaced.

TBH, I was beyond shitfaced.

After drinking a 12-pack of PBR and a fifth of Smirnoff all before noon it was a wonder I could still put one foot in front of the other. Yet here I was doing just that, walking down Ventura Blvd in all my intoxicated glory.

It was the spring of 2011 and for the past two months I’d been living my life in a cruel, chemical dependent loop.

Wake up, drink to kill the pain. Go to the bar, drink to kill the pain. Go home, drink and pop some Xanax to kill the pain. Pass out, dream of drinking to kill the pain. Wake up, repeat. Today was no different than the 60 or so days that had come before it.

Research has shown that on average it takes 67 days of doing the same thing over and over again for it to become a habit, good or bad. And while I didn’t know what day I was on I knew I had to be close to hitting that magical number that separates the part-time fuck-ups from the full-time fuck-ups. I needed to do something to turn my life around and I needed to do it fast.

So it was on this day (Tuesday? Saturday?) that I decided I was going to change the self-destructive course I’d been on. I had a plan to make everything better and that plan was simple.

I was going to enroll at the Paul Mitchell School for Hair.

Some people go to rehab to fix themselves, others turn to God.

Me?

I was so hammered I thought hair school was the answer.

Most stylists, when asked why they chose to do hair, will say something profound like they knew from an early age that they wanted to do hair or that hair had always been their calling.    

Yeah, not me.

In the 37 years I’d been on this earth NOT ONCE had the thought of doing hair crossed my mind. It wasn’t something I’d wanted to do from an early age and it sure as shit hadn’t called me.

So why the sudden interest?

Well, even though I’d never gotten the official call to do hair this whole idea did start with a phone call. Earlier in the day my friend Jay had called me while I was having a balanced breakfast of screwdrivers and cigarettes.

Jay had been doing hair his entire life and I’d met him years ago when he opened a salon next to a restaurant I worked at. He’d come in to grab some food, we’d talk and over time we forged a friendship that lasted long after I quit the restaurant.

Jay was vacationing in Thailand but was aware of the toxic binge I’d been on as of late and since I was supposed to be his ride home from the airport in a few days he wanted to make sure I wasn’t in the morgue, hospital or jail so I could still pick him up.

After I assured him I wasn’t dead, dying or incarcerated and that I’d be his taxi from LAX, he started raging about his time in Thailand.

“Stuke, there’s no way to describe it other than paradise. I can’t remember the last time I was taken by a country’s beauty, culture and people.”

As I sat there drinking, smoking and listening to him go on about how awesome his trip was an idea started to form in my head.

I should do hair.

I mean why not?

It had worked out for Jay. He had money, a house and was always traveling to some far-off exotic place to do whatever his gay heart desired so why couldn’t I do hair and have a life filled with money and fun?

PLUS, there was a Paul Mitchell School nearby. I could enroll today and be on my way to the good life tomorrow, not to mention having to attend school every day would be the perfect distraction from all the drinking and pill popping I’d been doing on a regular basis.

“The only thing that rivals Thailand’s splendor is its debauchery.” Jay went on with a longing sigh. “I’ve been all over the world and this place is hands on THE KINKIEST I’ve been in…or that’s been in me. Tell me, have you ever been part of a 12 man-gangbang? Wait, you’re not gay, forget I asked that. But sweet lord layin’ the pipe do they know how to party here…”

While Jay kept talking, going further and further down the glory hole of his X-rated escapades, the more I kept thinking that my idea to do hair wasn’t just a good idea, it was a fucking great idea. Sure, the decision was rash, impulsive and a little hasty but fuck it, fortune favors the bold, yeah? Besides, what else was I going to do with my life? Work at Trader Joes?

So I decided then and there that I would pursue a career in the hair industry and the first person to hear about this should be Jay because he was the one that had inadvertently inspired me to do hair while talking about how much his cock had been banged in Bangkok.

“You know they call Thailand the Land of Smiles? And seriously the only time I couldn’t smile was when my mouth was full of two big di-“

“I’m gonna be a hairdresser!” I screamed, interrupting him.

I figured he’d be flattered. I thought he’d be thrilled, but in the end…

“Don’t be a fucking moron.”

Neither.

“First off, no one in MY industry calls themselves a ‘hairdresser’. It’s not the fucking 50’s. We’re ‘stylists’ Ok? And if you were serious about becoming one you’d have known that small but important detail. Second, it’s a HUGE mistake. HUGE!”

“Dude, you’re supposed to be my friend, friends support one another.”

“I am your friend and friends don’t support stupid ideas.”

“What’s so stupid about it?”

“Everything.”

“Like?”

“Like in all the years I’ve known you not once have you mentioned doing hair. Not once.”

“So. People change…take different paths.”

“They do, but all you’ve been doing is drinking…a lot. Wanting to do hair comes from the heart, not the bottle. You have to have a passion for it and you’ve never, ever, EVER shown a passion for it.”

“Well I-“

“Not EVER!”

“Fine! Then I’ll be the most dispassionate ‘STYLIST’ the world has ever seen!”

“Are you even listening to yourself right now?”

“No because I’m too busy listening to you crush my dream.”

“Get over it, hair has never been a “dream” of yours. The only dream you’ve ever had was wanting to be a rockstar and fuck hot girls.”

“That was an admirable dream and after all this I’m surprised you didn’t try to crush that one too!”

“Listen, Stupid I have neither the time nor the patience to continue this conversation so make sure to pick me up from the airport next Monday…and don’t drink and drive!”

“Fine, I’ll drink BEFORE I drive.”

“You’ll do no such thing.”

Then he hung up.

I sat there stunned by his lack of support and enthusiasm in regard to my new career choice and in retrospect I may have given his fierce discouragement some credibility had I been sober.

But I wasn’t.

So despite his opposition to me doing hair I was gonna go through with it anyway. I was gonna show him and the rest of the world that I could do whatever the fuck I wanted and right now what I wanted was to become a ‘stylist’ even if that decision was based on nothing more than drunken impulse, reckless abandon and a complete disregard for unintended consequences.

So here I was on this bright spring day walking in a semi-straight line towards my new life. Today was the day that I would turn shit around, I was going to kick-ass and take names. I was going to become the biggest, baddest motherfucker with a pair of shears. And as I got to the intersection of Ventura and Sepulveda where the Paul Mitchell School was located I realized something I hadn’t noticed earlier…my god damn shoes were mismatched.