The journey began with one sentence: “I’m moving out.”
It wasn’t the type of New Year’s resolution that I, or the man I said it to, had anticipated. We hurled profanities and accusations onto it, but nothing could wash away the truth — we were over. And that’s how I came to drive 2,130 miles for a haircut.
When it comes to hair, I have long been the trusting type. For most of my life, upon entering a salon, I would hand over control to the stylist, saying, “Do as you think best.” They were the experts, right?
This approach translated into many, many bad haircuts.
And then I met Anne. A friend with similarly difficult hair had referred me to her. From the first moment, Anne seemed to know how to shape me into my best self. Maybe she could help again?
Not that a new haircut is an unusual response to a breakup. But in my case, there were six states between my place in the Rocky Mountains and Anne’s Manhattan salon.
On the second day of the new year, I waded through the haze of grief that comes with all endings. I repacked my car with the items I had unloaded one year earlier, when “happily ever after” seemed a possibility. I climbed up and down, up and down, up and down the stairs that had led me home so many times. Listening to “Clay Pigeons” on repeat, I harmonized with John Prine, vowing to “Get used to bein’ alone.”
I had been alone before, I reminded myself. I had spent most of my adult life alone. At 36, the closest I had come to marriage was a proposal from a man who couldn’t commit to a dinner date. It’s not that I didn’t want lasting love. I did. I do. But after decades of trying to find him, I still wasn’t sure what he looked like.
Maybe that’s because I still wasn’t sure what I looked like. There were so many possible versions of myself, I could never choose just one. And so for me, men appeared in chapters, but they never stuck around for the epilogue.
With my car bloated from imprecise packing and with whiskey in my veins, I closed my eyes that night, waiting for sleep, waiting to turn the page.
The next morning, Jan. 3, something urged me east, toward where I grew up, toward my family. And so I drove away from my home in southwest Colorado as the sun crept above the mountains and Prine counseled me to “get along with it all.”
I drove past the trailhead where my last chapter had begun and saw myself standing there 14 months earlier, a woman who had shed her identity as a suit-wearing Manhattan lawyer for another, still-forming persona.
Completely rejecting my former self was the only way I knew how to embrace the version of me who didn’t want to drink martinis, work 70 hours a week and wear Jimmy Choos for the rest of her life. I knew that other me existed because of the sinking emptiness that had been a constant presence in my New York life.
So two years ago I quit my job, moved into my car and drove west. It was a wholesale break from the world I had inhabited for more than a decade.
In my new, itinerant life, I rarely showered. I washed my clothes once a month. I traded 70-hour workweeks for 40-mile trail runs. And I never cut my hair.
It worked. After almost a year on the road, I had fully unearthed that buried part of myself. A part that now shone so bright with autonomy and independence that it had blinded me from seeing how the isolation of my new identity also haunted me.
The days were shrinking, the nights growing longer, and I was alone. Then, I met him.
Gazing out of my car’s passenger window, which framed the snow-battered mountain ridge I had crested 14 months earlier, I glimpsed his tall silhouette.
The man moved over rocks with a slowness I envied. When our eyes met, I saw a face that resembled my first love. A love founded on the ideals of my youth. And I was closer in this new life to the ideals of that 15-year-old girl than I had been since I had left my rural hometown almost two decades before. The youth of his face pulled me in.
That day I followed him along the ridge, through a meandering valley and up a rock-scattered slope. When we reached the summit, I looked at his face against the looming peaks as he reached out his hand.
“It’s great to meet you,” he said.
“Great to meet you too.” I placed my hand in his. Was it possible to collide with love like this?
Now, as the mountains melted in my side mirror, I coaxed my car along the curves and wondered whether I would have fallen in love with any man who had been standing on that ridge at that moment. But I think it was more than just the longing bred from loneliness and isolation.
It was the partnership I’d found in the wholesale rejection of my past life. With him at my side, I hid in a town with fewer people than had resided in my Manhattan high-rise.
I derided Manhattan as consumptive, overambitious and soulless. I declared that money was of no importance to me. I grieved for those who were less enlightened. And a year slipped away.
But inhabiting the extremes demands self-discipline that borders on self-delusion. Near year’s end, the voice of the woman I thought I had left behind began to stir.
I fed her a martini. I let her watch “Sex and the City.” I dug a sequined dress out of storage. But every time she emerged, I would try to shove her back into the past, where I thought she belonged.
It had been her, I reasoned, who pushed me onto a path molded by others’ expectations — a path that muffled the creative, the imaginative and the simple in me. But we can only suppress aspects of self for so long. Sooner or later, there will be a rebellion.
My New York self never would have fallen in love with the man on that ridge. And he never would have fallen in love with her. It wasn’t fair to either of us to be in a relationship with only half of me.
The day I drove away, the sky was so blue that it didn’t seem real. Two hours later, I came to a stop before flashing red lights and a clattering bell. I looked down at the golden tangle of ringlets cascading over my right shoulder. I missed my bob. I missed the woman with that bob.
I closed my eyes and drifted back to New York City. I saw myself on gum-flecked sidewalks among skyscrapers, sliding my hands into the pockets of my crimson coat, my right finger poking through the familiar hole in the silk lining.
My nose scrunched as the charred air mixed with stale remnants of the city’s inhabitants, and horns and sirens blared around me. If I could have caught the noise’s current, it would have carried me from West 48th Street to East Houston Street. The grunge, the grind and the grit were still in me and always would be.
I opened my eyes. As the train thundered by, I reached for my phone.
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I knew who could help bring back that rejected part of myself: Anne. I hadn’t seen her since I was last in New York, two years earlier. But it was easy to recall the trust I had enjoyed with her and the hours I had spent warmed by cups of tea and conversation at the salon.
I scrolled to her website. She had an opening at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Booked. I had three and a half days to get to East 11th Street and Avenue B.
I had spent the better part of my time away feeling afraid to go back to Manhattan, but by the time a roadside plaque informed me that I was leaving Colorado, I was no longer afraid of the person I had been there. Instead, I was afraid that if I kept suppressing that person, I would land back in the same place I had been when I moved into my car and fled. I would just be standing at the other end of the spectrum.
I wasn’t driving 2,130 miles for a haircut. I was going to retrieve the woman I had left in New York and bring her back with me. I didn’t know how the change would unfold or what it would look like, but I hoped I could somehow meet myself in the middle.
In the meantime, I was going to listen to some Sinatra.
Allison Snyder is a writer in southwest Colorado.
Modern Love can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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