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Handsome and Hairless, Now and Then

Bibbed and cranked up in the barber's chair, Tim considered for the last time whether to order a flattop or a full-blown buzz. His thick blond thatch had become a hassle and an embarrassment, and he'd suddenly made up his mind that he wanted it shorn.

On a recent Saturday morning, we headed at his urgent behest to the barbershop in Unionville. There, Mr. Stevens presides, and a battered old freezer houses the coldest bottled sodas in the country. That latter fact, I am convinced, has much to do with Tim's regular requests for a trim.

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But this time, we'd let it go too long. "A burr - really, really close," he announced finally and emphatically. I flinched but held my peace. By the age of 11, Tim had convinced me, a guy needs some stylistic control, some voice in how he presents himself to the world.

Mr. Stevens's electric razor responded deftly to my son's resolve. I watched from behind a magazine as swath after blond swath sifted to the floor. When it was over, Tim had been shorn down to his essence, his elemental Tim-ness. Indeed, he now stood before the world very nearly bald.

"Oh," was all he said to his startling new image in the mirror. The barber sent us away with a wave and our frost-coated sodas. We traveled several miles, just sipping, in silence.

"Do you like it?" I finally had to ask.

Tim stretched his neck, still faintly pink from the shearing, to peer into the rear-view mirror. "Yeah, I guess," he said. Then, "Geez, Mom!"

"It's what you asked for, honey."

"I know."

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We didn't dwell on it, the way you don't dwell on certain things that you can't possibly change. The hair was gone. Until it grew back, we could live without it.

After a brief rummage, Tim pulled out a baseball cap from under his seat. He grinned up at me from under its visor, already and characteristically adapting. But for the lack of stray locks around his ears, he looked very much like the pre-cut version of my son.

But when the cap came off, there he was again, the Tim without the softening that hair affords. His unframed features leaped out as if from hiding, his face emerging clean as a newly minted coin.

"It'll be low maintenance," I offered. This, we agreed, was the silver lining.

In the days ahead, I, too, adjusted to my son's new reality. But I had the dj vu sense of meeting him all over again. It had first happened when he was days old and his foster mother had slipped him slumbering into my arms. I had stared at the little stranger, knowing he was destined to become an intimate part of me. I'd soaked in his features with an all-absorbing thirst.

THEN as now, hair did not cloud the issue. But then he'd simply looked like the baby he was. As I look at my son today, I see with clarity who he has become, the person he is still forthrightly becoming. Every naked curve of his face bears witness.

The hair is growing back, slowly. In this first spell after the shearing, I find it difficult to keep my eyes off of him. The curves of his mouth, nose, and brow seem poised between the bold and the vulnerable, his whole face expectant, like newly cleared land.

"What's the matter?" he asks, catching me staring. His hand brushes quickly, half-apologetically over his head.

"Nothing," I assure him, meaning it. I've fallen for this new look of his. It reminds me that he came to me fully made and will leave me one day complete in himself. The hair might come and go, but Tim will ever be elementally Tim. And just for a little while, he belongs to me.

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