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I peered into the mirror as I had done so many times before. “Looks great,” I affirmed, trying to smile at my hair stylist’s reflection. She took off my drape, then followed me to the front desk as tears welled in both our eyes. A woman making an appointment glanced at us and I forced myself to smile and say, “Really, I love my haircut.”

The salon owner, Louis, sighed and said, “We’ve been going through this for three weeks now.”

Actually it all started almost 30 years ago, when my children were in preschool and I had some time to kill. I strolled into a hair salon across the street from their day-care center. A young woman about my age had an open chair, so I took a seat and crossed my fingers. A half-hour later, I was looking at one of the best haircuts I’d ever had.

Nancy, the stylist who had done such a good job, asked if I wanted another appointment. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Thus began a relationship that would span almost three decades. It’s funny how you collect people as you go through life. A chance encounter, and a stranger becomes an acquaintance. Time passes and the acquaintance becomes a friend, and the friend becomes someone you count on having in your life. Enough time goes by and one day, one way or another, that person moves out of your life.

It wasn’t just that I was losing my hair stylist. (Though when my boyfriend said off-handedly, “so find someone else,” I was aghast at his flippancy.) When I found out Nancy was moving to Florida I was stunned. I knew her husband was recently retired and they missed their only son and his family who, like many young people, had left New York for greener pastures. After another long, cold winter Nancy and Jim decided it was time for them to leave, too, and start a different phase in their lives.

I don’t know why I was so shocked. People I’ve known for decades are talking about retirement but Nancy, a lifelong Western New Yorker, was the first to leave behind the only adult life she has ever known. Maybe all those years went by so fast I didn’t grasp how many of them had come and gone.

When I walked into that first shop, both of us were young mothers. We both had our own sets of parents. Our husbands were settling into local manufacturing jobs. When she left that first shop, I followed her to another. Our sons got older, as did our parents. She left the second shop and I went right with her to the next, and last, salon.

My once dark hair started to gray. I went from a haircut to a “cut and color.” I became a single mother. The years went by and the mirror started to reflect an older me. I lost my dad and then my mom. A few years later, both of her parents were gone as well. Our sons grew up, went to college, moved out and on with their lives. Her husband retired. I looked in the mirror and noticed Nancy looked older, too.

Then came the news that she and Jim had sold their house and were moving. I went to our last appointment. Nancy followed me to the desk, where we hugged and cried and said goodbye. She left to start her new life a week later. I wish her well, and I think she would agree the mirror reflected two people who were better for having been each other’s friend.