My hairdresser has been talking behind my back. She’s been doing it for years. This might sound strange, but I actually don’t mind. In fact, I welcome it.
It all started years ago when I was new to town and visited a salon looking for someone to do my hair. Simone—as I’ll call her—had an opening in her schedule and agreed to give me a “wash and set.” Pretty soon I became one of her regulars.
Not much is said between us until after she’s shampooed my hair. Simone swings me around in the styling chair so that I’m facing away from her. Then she combs the tangles out of my hair and reaches for her tray of rollers. That’s when Simone starts some of her best conversations with me. Behind my back.
It was behind my back that Simone saved me from spending money on a mechanic. The day after a snowstorm, I was sitting in her styling chair and told her that I planned to take my car into the shop. The vehicle bounced up and down as I drove. The faster I drove, the more herky-jerky it got, like a mechanical bucking bull. I was afraid that the shocks were worn out or the suspension needed an adjustment. But Simone informed me that her car was doing the same thing. She said that the problem was caused by frozen snow wedged between the ridges of my tires and that once the snow melted the car would return to normal. And it did.
Another time, I came into the salon excited about an estate I had visited as a possible site for my upcoming wedding. I was seriously considering signing the contract. The venue was elegant, with lush grounds and a colonial revival mansion. In my bride-to-be euphoria, I’d fallen in love with the place in spite of the fact that it had no air conditioning, and not enough room for all of my guests unless I spent $1,000 to rent a tent for an outdoor ceremony. As Simone tightly wound my wet hair around red plastic rollers, she cautioned me not to commit to it, stating that there were plenty of mansions across the state to choose from.
I reluctantly heeded her advice and made appointments to see several other venues. The estate I chose–which I fell more in love with than the first one–was closer to home, had air conditioning, and plenty of indoor seating for all of my guests.
Months later, Simone was excited for me when I told her that my husband and I had adopted a kitten. She chuckled when I held my cell phone over my shoulder to show her photos of Samantha clawing at the cord to my laptop, and scaling a window screen on our condo balcony. I heard her hum with concern as I later shared stories of the cat’s increasingly aggressive behavior—how Samantha periodically dug her incisors into our food on the dinner table when we weren’t vigilantly watching our plates, and slammed herself against the shut bedroom door when she’d hear my husband and me on the other side. After the cat began attacking us, sometimes drawing blood and leaving welts, Simone reassured me that we were making the right decision, surrendering her to a local animal shelter.
Some people need to be face-to-face to know that the other person is really listening. They need eye contact, a nod of the head, a smile, a mirroring of facial expressions or posture to know that the conversation is engaging. I’ve never needed those assurances from Simone. Much like the experience of hearing serialized stories on a podcast, listening becomes richer without distraction from the other senses.
I know from Simone’s words, her tone of voice, her laugh, her exclamations that she’s invested in what I have to say and I’m sure that I give her enough audible cues for her to know that she’s being listened to.
Simone is welcome to talk behind my back anytime she wants. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lisa Braxton is the author of the novel, The Talking Drum, winner of a 2021 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards Gold Medal, overall winner of Shelf Unbound book review magazine’s 2020 Independently Published Book Award, winner of a 2020 Outstanding Literary Award from the National Association of Black Journalists, and a Finalist for the International Book Awards. She is an Emmy-nominated former television journalist, an essayist, and short story writer.