The Parable of Sam

Sam zipped up his Columbia as the back door of the salon slammed behind him. He normally loved the cold, but even he wanted this year’s winter to retire. It snowed. It melted. It snowed. It melted. It was in one of its melted phases, but the wind and temperature still formed an alliance that sent drill bits boring through exposed skin. His six-foot build and stomach pudge were helpless against the elements.

He came out for solace, but what he found instead was a creaky door smacking against its frame, a fluorescent sign that flickered Pson’s Salon, and a world that reeked of stagnancy. Sam laid his tall body against the door in order to find silence. He had forgotten why he put the sign up in the back anyway. His workers knew which door belonged to the salon; the sign had little purpose.

A bitter gust swept by and shook Sam off balance. He pondered the idea of being the only organism to be knocked around by the world in that particular moment. Pulling his chin length brown hair over his ears, burying his hands in his jacket, he bowed his head and shuffled his feet anxiously as he focused on his unspoken words. Empty wrappers played tag in the wind while he searched for how to tell her. He inhaled steadily to gain control over his body making it easier to stop shuffling. An ethereal void surrounded him, serenity was within reach when reality tore him back into his derelict surroundings.

“Sammy! Got a walk in. You okay for one more?” Angie, his receptionist, called in between mouthfuls of Kale Chips.

Sam peered down at his phone, 8:50, the salon closes at 9:00, but clients have been slow coming lately. Work always slowed down in the winter. Most people used long hair to battle the icy dystopia; Sam had it because of habit and an odd superstition of added strength on his hockey skates. He clicked the sign off and whipped the door open finding a replenished tank of energy. “Send them back. What’s the name?”

“Phil Stein,” a short, round man retorted as he turned the corner from the waiting room. “Can’t thank you enough. I can’t go to church tomorrow looking like this. You’re a lifesaver.”

“My pleasure. It’s my salon. I can close when I want to. Angie doesn’t mind staying late if needed.” Sam smirked; Angie rolled her eyes at the familiar line.

Sam focused his attention on the head of hair waddling toward him. A mess of bright red curls stemmed from the top and fell erratically over ears and eyes. Marionette lines covered Phil’s upper lip, his teeth were proof that he favored Scope over an actual toothbrush, and his double chin jiggled at the end of sentences. Phil’s dress shirt was unbuttoned at the top with aimless tufts of chest hair protruding. The shirt itself was one arm gesture away from untucking at the belt; the last button held in by the buckle alone. Stubby legs followed and ended in a pair of worn dress shoes. Sam digested all these visuals, but returned to the mop of hair that first caught his eye. I wonder what he expects me to do with–

“Wondering how to cut it I bet.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Every barber I’ve seen makes that face when I come in looking like this,” his lone chuckle bounced around the salon.

An awkward pause filled the space between Sam and Phil. “Well, since you know what I’m thinking, why don’t you explain what you’re looking for?”

“How about you Bic it?”

Sam smiled, “You’ve come to the right place then. There are only a few licensed barbers in town. I’ll buzz it with just the guard and then lather it up to shave it down. If you’re not in a rush, I can use a straight edge razor. It just takes a little longer.”

“Works for me! Praise the lord. You are so much more than the life saver you were a minute ago,” Phil declared as his mass deflated the chair.

“Let’s not waste any time,” Sam said filling his sink with steaming water to let his brush and towels soak. With buzzer in hand, he took one last look at the hellfire mane. Sam winced at every neglected strand of hair. It was apparent that Phil took little pride in his crown. Grease, knots, and loose ends billowed from every angle. “I can wash it first if you’d like.”

“Nonsense. I appreciate the gesture, but I don’t need to wash it as much as you pretty boys probably do,” nodding at Sam’s hairstyle. “Let’s get her over with.” Pretty boy, an overused insult that no longer affected Sam, flies on a pig’s rear end. Being a pretty boy just because of his long hair. All his life Sam was stuck between the dichotomy of having hockey hair which was admired among his fellow athletes (and girlfriends), a mixture of handsome and manly, and being a pretty boy because his hair did not align with another man’s standards. Part of him wanted to tell Phil to shave his own head, but the money meant more than protesting an outdated schoolboy term.

Sam took no pleasure in removing clumpy sections of Phil’s hair. Stroke after stroke with the buzzer revealed a much more pleasant view, but Sam couldn’t help but think he was removing a façade.

“Just be careful when you get to the top,” Phil warned.

“So Phil, what do you do for a living? You strike me as a businessman,” Sam inquired.

“I am indeed a businessman. Real estate is my game.”

“My cousin does real estate down in Missouri, long work days from what I’ve gathered.”

“I keep myself busy Monday through Saturday, church on Sunday.”

Playing interest, “Where do you work?”

“North Minneapolis for the most part. Been flipping houses in the area for a while. It keeps me afloat. I only get haircuts when I can afford them if you know what I mean,” Phil laughed as he did earlier.

Unable to laugh along, Sam caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror with a queasy look that came from both the hair he was touching and the vibe he was getting from Phil. He erased his expression just as Phil finished laughing and looked up.

Keeping the conversation flowing, “A fellow church goer. I go to United Methodist just up the street a bit.”

“I go to His Holiness Free Church toward the east end of town. Heard of it?”

“I haven’t,” Sam said as he finished buzzing the top of Phil’s head revealing an eye sore of a birth mark. “I see what you meant.” The patchy colored imperfection took up a hefty portion of Phil’s skull. A cogwheel with six teeth varying in size and dark in color, Sam was entranced by it until Phil’s voice snapped him back.

“Yeah. It’s a bit of a mistake on the Lord’s part, but at least people can’t see it most of the time. I rarely sit down.”

“You sure it’s okay to run a straight edge over it?”

“Most other barbers have used a razor, but I’m up for something new.”

“Got it.” Sam placed towels around Phil’s head to let it soak. Not wanting to bring the conversation back to real estate, “So what keeps you in the area of North Minneapolis?”

“I can tell you what makes me want to stop flipping houses there. Blacks. Sorry, minorities. Whatever we’re supposed to call them nowadays. I prefer the term riffraff.”

Sam paused with the razor on Phil’s scalp. He concentrated on the task at hand.

“They’re the reason some families choose not to rent or buy through me. People just don’t feel safe. I mean, I don’t blame ’em. The riffraff walks around all night jibber jabbering so that everyone can hear them. Equality this. Cops that. Blah blah blah.”

The razor shook in Sam’s hand as he pulled it back across the scalp.

“It’s a constant battle between them and myself. I want to drive ’em out, make a nicer living area. They want to stay and bring the economy down.”

Sam stifled a cough. This was the first time in his career that a barber tool had felt foreign to him.

“I mean…how hard is it to get a job? I suppose it’s a little more difficult when you probably can’t spell job,” Phil guffawed and Sam nicked one of the teeth on the cogwheel. “J-O-B! I don’t know why they don’t pay attention in school.” A crimson droplet fell onto Phil’s shoulder. “Did you–”

“I…I’m sorr–”

“Don’t apologize. It’s not easy shaving a chuckling mad man.” Phil saw the paper towels, tore one off, and pressed it onto his head. “Not the first time, just give me a sec.”

Sam rested his trembling arms on the chair, the blade placed delicately near Phil’s throat. Blood smeared onto his neck. A seismometer would have detected Sam’s arms from halfway across the city. He hardened his grip to stop the shaking, but the razor continued to bounce off of Phil’s neck leaving splotches of blood.

Removing the paper towel, “That should do it. Have at her! Now where was I? Oh yeah, you should really see how pathetic some of ’em can be.” Sam resumed shaving with even less control than before. “They say, ‘Mistuh Stein, ya gotta hulp us clean dis neighbahood up, suh! We can’t do it without ya!’ I’m standing there staring back at them like, ‘Don’t you know I gotta get rid of you in order to clean this place up?’ Of course I don’t say that, but I want to.”

Using his left hand to steady his right, Sam finished the job. He couldn’t bear to hear the stories any longer.

“You know what gets me? When they say ‘mistuh, mistuh’. It’s mister. M-I-S-T-E–”

Sam took the razor and sliced off the rest of the cogwheel from Phil’s head. Blood began filling the concavity like a kiddy pool that would eventually overflow due to the sputtering hose left inside.

“Mother fucker! What in the hell?” Phil grasped his scalp.

“Now you listen to me. I’m standing here listening to your oversimplified, ignorant opinions on people of color while my sister-in-law is watching both of us.” Sam motioned toward the picture of his sister-in-law, a tall African American woman whom his wife’s family had taken in at a young age. Sam adored her honest demeanor and ignorance detector; she would have called Phil out long ago. “Now you just so happened to catch me on a good day. All gentrifying bigots get their heads shaved free of charge,” Sam fumed.

“Trust me, I will never come back here aft–”

“I’m not done,” Sam froze. His thought process vanished as he tried to recall the words of his sister-in-law, Kourtney. He had heard her speak vehemently about the state of race in America, but in this moment he couldn’t muster her intellect and passion. Sam looked up and found Phil’s rancor growing exponentially with each silent second. Without Kourtney’s words he delivered some of his own, “People are much more than the little boxes that you shove them into. I doubt there’s a single person that actually fulfills your televised, evangelized perception of what you want them to be. I hope that one day you learn that.”

“Are you done yet?”

“Finished.”

“This is the first and only time I come to Pisson’s Salon!”

“The P is silent,” the door slammed in reply and Sam collapsed into the chair.

It took Angie a moment to compose herself after the bedlam she had just witnessed. She took a breath and walked over to Sam, plopping down on the tile near him, “Need a cigarette?”

“I don’t smoke. You know that.”

She smiled, “I know! That’s just my passive aggressive way of asking if I can smoke since tonight turned out to be a real nail biter.”

Sam laughed, “Sure. I suppose tonight is a good night for it.”

“Sure you don’t want one?”

“I’m sure. Thanks.”

Angie lit a menthol and inhaled the only way a smoker can inhale after a 12-hour shift, like jumping into a lake on a humid summer day. Angie peered at Sam. She was the only person who could look at him and actually understand. “Sammy, don’t let ’em get to you, man. Some people are just assholes. Fuck ‘em.”

“Your generation seems to live by that phrase. Mine, not so much.” Sam’s head hung loosely as he fixated on the circle of clumpy red hair around the chair. “I’m walking tonight. We’re all set to close?”

“All set. I’ll sweep up that asshole’s hair tomorrow, Sammy. Don’t you worry,” Angie paused. She was more than a receptionist to Sam. She was more to him than just some punk kid with various shades of pink in her hair. A flannel for every day of the week, a lip ring, a nose ring, an eyebrow ring, and other piercings that Sam probably didn’t know about. Her empathy outweighed her startling appearance. “Sammy, do you remember what we were talking about before? About Lyla?”

“Yeah, I do,” the smoke filled the air, but it also seemed to clear the air.

“Been thinking about it, man. And…she’ll understand. I know she will, you just gotta tell her.” Sam stood up and made his way to the door. “You can tell her. You know that, Sammy? Just like you told me. You can tell her. She’ll understand.”

Sam huffed as he cracked the door open. “Thanks, Angie, for everything.”

“No problem. And about Philly Cheese Steak Chest Hair Baldy Crusty Teeth Man, you can’t change a person, Sammy. They have to do that on their own.”

“I’ll remember that. You can lock up tonight, right?”

“Don’t I always?” But her answer didn’t make it out the door, for Sam was already making his way down the sidewalk.

It was a short jaunt home, just over a mile. Sam walked it nearly every day of his life. The walk gave him time to reflect on the day, on tomorrow, on the past. For now, he was reflecting on his wife. Angie’s right, right? She’ll understand. This is who I am. She’s been with me this long. She’ll stand by my side. She’ll accept me. Each square of sidewalk blurred by as Sam’s subconscious took over the monotonous walk home. This was his routine. He walked this route twice a day, sometimes four if he went home for lunch. He needed his pedestrian meditation. It helped him process reality. An icy rain drop landed on his head interrupting his personal reflection. Really? I should’ve just taken the car today. Why do you insist on taking away the one thing in life that brings me relief? I search for it at home, at work, on this walk, but I really only get this. Sam scuffed the sole of his shoe against the pavement. He peered down the sidewalk covered by trees on both sides. The dead branches wove in and out of each other making various mathematical shapes. At times the wind seemed to make the limbs form equal signs, but eventually the wind would pause and the view would return to chaos and disarray as the limbs intersected to make their usual plethora of unequal signs.

Trudging with heavy feet as puddles formed around him, the drippy winter weighed on him. His shirt became loose and droopy, his shoes dragged across the ground like anvils, his hands were just slick enough that his wedding ring slid off and rolled into the grass. Sam watched it stop just beyond the cement in a mix of mud and decayed grass. He walked over, grabbed it, and rubbed away all the earthly blemishes.

Without thinking, he sprawled out on his back in the grass, positioning the ring back in its rightful spot. The cold rain felt like a warm shower to him. A smile materialized on Sam’s face, his laughter spilled out toward the heavens. Sam covered his hair with his right hand and placed his left over his phallus. If only she could see me now, she would get it. Lyla, this is who I am. Closing his eyes, Sam allowed the refreshing droplets to form two adjacent pools. This feeling of serenity was alien to him, never had he felt this at ease with himself. This is who I am. Sam removed his hands from their former locations and opened his mouth to accept nature’s refection. Thank you, whoever you are. Just…thank you.

Sam leapt up jubilantly and darted home to see his wife. He could no longer feel the weight of his drenched clothes. Skipping, trotting, chuckling, the squares of sidewalk muddled together. As he approached his front door, Sam massaged the blissful pain away from his cheeks. Lyla, this is who I am. Sam fumbled in his pocket for his keys. As he placed the key in the lock, the door jerked open to reveal an unexpected guest with a bottle of Chardonnay in one hand and a nearly empty wine glass in the other.

“Shammy! Darling, do please come in,” she stammered as she fell in his arms.

“Carol,” catching her, “I didn’t expect you to be here. Allow me to refill that Chardonnay for you.” Sam grabbed the glass and bottle and freshened her drink.

“Shammy doll, you are an instigator. Have Ittold you that before?”

“Nearly every time you’re drunk, Carol. Is it just you and Lyla here?”

“Absolutely not! It’s girls’ night!” she said opening her stance and placing her arms akimbo only to reveal one other guest, Sherry, who had her eyes focused on the carpet.

“Girls’ night, party of three, watch out! It does smell like a winery in here though, I’ll give you that,” Sam gave Carol her drink back and placed the Chardonnay on an end table. “Sherry, could you please tell me where my lovely wife is?” Sherry’s eyes didn’t stray away from the carpet, an awkward silence revealed the mood as her nails clinked against the wine glass. Sam focused his attention on Sherry for a moment and then noticed some boxes packed up next to the end table, nonessential items with no labels.

“Oh don’t you worry about her, Shammy. It’s been a quiet night I tell you.” Carol placed her hand on Sam’s shoulder. “I think Lyla’s in Eddie’s room.”

“Yeah, she’s in there,” Sherry muttered coldly not looking up from her glass.

Sam’s cheeks flushed as he began to feel like a stranger in his own home. “Well…thank you…Sherry…Carol,” Sam nodded as he disappeared behind the living room, shortening the unwarranted walk of shame he was sensing. He placed his fingers on the door gently only to hear the soft whimper of his wife on the other side. What happened? Was there a fight tonight while I was at work? Is she cleaning out old stuff? Don’t worry Lyla, I’ll make you smile. He turned the handle and eased his way into the room. He couldn’t control the grin that grew across his face once he saw her. He loved every inch of her: her platinum blonde hair, her long nails, her tan skin, her cherry red smile. In his eyes, she was crafted by God. Sure, she loved to spend money on flamboyant jewelry, but she looked dazzling with all of her piercings and gemstones, and he loved to show her off like a cowgirl in a Mercedes. “Lyla, you wouldn’t believe the bigot we had in at work today. Seriously, h–”

“Stop, Pson. I ain’t in the mood.”

Pson? She hasn’t called me Pson since before we started dating. “It’s okay. I can tell you tomorrow.” He paused to see what her reply would be. “How’s Eddie doing?” Sam tiptoed toward the bed and wrapped his arms around Lyla’s waist.

Accepting the embrace with cold distance, “Sam, I just ain’t in the mood right now.” She broke from his hands and walked to the door, eyes dancing everywhere except at him.

“What’s going on? Something going on with the girls? Why’s Carol so drunk?”

“When ain’t Carol drunk? And no, it ain’t that,” pressing her fingers to the bridge of her nose, “It’s just…”

“Lyla, you can tell me.”

Suspended breathing began to separate them.

“Okay. If cheering up is what you need, you really need to hear about this brainless skunk that came in today.”

Lyla exhaled and shrugged her shoulders.

“I won’t tell you if you honestly don’t want to hear.”

“No,” she exhaled again, “I’m listenin’. Go ahead.”

Picking up on her apathy, “Long story short, after some tasteless jokes early on, he makes some offhand comment about how people of color ruin his real estate business. I couldn’t let it go. I pointed right to Kourtney’s picture and told him that he didn’t know the first thing about diversity. You should have seen his face. He had no idea that his barber had a sister-in-law wh–”

“I get it. Ya defended my sister.”

“Hey now! Don’t get chippy with me just because girls’ night isn’t turning out as expected. I’m sorry about that, but I’m only trying to cheer you up,” Sam said taking a couple steps toward her.

Lyla brushed past Sam toward the bed. “Sam, ya remember our wedding song?”

Turning to face her again, wondering where the question came from, “Um…I remember that you picked it out. It was a country song, right?”

“Just wish it were true,” she muttered to herself.

“What do you mean, Lyla?” Sam finally noticed that Lyla had been clutching something in her hands the whole time. What is that? A…dress? A dress. My dress. Where’d she find it? I thought I put it away in–

Lyla read his face as if it was the front cover of one of her Cosmo’s, “In the unmarked box by the St. Patty’s Day decorations?”

Sam didn’t reply.

“The lights were off, couldn’t tell what box I grabbed,” Lyla ran her fingers over the stitching on the Batman comforter, “so I went to flick the switch and found this in the box,” she said tossing the knee length purple dress onto the bed.

“Lyla, it’s not what you think.”

“Make up, heels, pills, all in the box,” she inhaled slowly, “I ain’t stupid, Sam.”

“What are the boxes for?”

Lyla looked at him for the first time since he walked in. “Sam, me and the girls are going out tonight,” her eyes fell to the carpet. “Eddie’s with my parents fo–”

“You can’t just take him.”

“I dropped him off. And yeah, I can. I can for now. We’ll give ya space while ya figure out what ya wanna do. If ya want the song to be true, we can make that happen, but only if ya stay…normal.”

Sam hadn’t noticed that Eddie was in fact, not in the room. He had just assumed that Eddie was tucked in the bed, but the bed was as flat as a map. No impressions, no creases. Closing the distance between them, reaching for her hands in an attempt to distract her from the dress, “Lyla, listen. We can make this work. I’ve always wanted to tell you. I just didn’t know how. Lyla, you of all people know that love is–”

“Please, Sam, stop. Ya know I love ya. Ya know I want ya, but I don’t want…this,” she picked up the dress and thrusted it into his grip.

Sam gathered his thoughts before he replied, “I know we can make this work…”

“Can ya put yourself in my shoes for a minute? Just imagine what they’d say about me! Oh that Delilah, her husband turned into an ‘it’. Oh Delilah, that poor thing just chose the wrong one. Poor Delilah, she’ll never live life like–

“Enough!” Sam pitched the dress to the ground. “Why do you care about what other people will think? Why do they matter?” The floor creaked as Lyla shifted her stance. “It’s just you, me, and Eddie. That’s all we need to worry about.”

“Life ain’t that simple, Sam. Ya know that,” she stepped toward him, picked up the dress, and gave it to him again. Without thinking, she leaned in to kiss his cheek, but stopped herself.

Wanting her to come the rest of the way, “You’re better than this. I know you are.”

“We’re gonna head out. Call me when ya figure things out,” she made her way toward the door hoping for the change to happen right away. She longed to hear him admit he was wrong, that he was mistaken, that it was all just some sort of misunderstanding.

“I’m still the one, Lyla.”

“I think he can be, but she can’t,” Lyla said pointing at the dress. Sam stood there alone, empty, and lost in his own home. His eyes projected a scene into the room. Lyla’s wedding dress sashaying about the floor, her arms wrapped around a figure. A cliché country song buzzed in the background, a myriad of blithe faces focused on the couple. Lyla’s eyes twinkled as she pressed herself against the figure. Putrid chest hair and a bald head accepted Lyla’s touch. A hoarse, familiar laugh assaulted Sam’s ears. He cringed as he thought about their dancing, their smiles, their ignorant, blissful lives spinning together in one moment; a perfect American couple. The slam of the front door brought him back to reality. Sam slapped his palm to his temple once, twice, a third time, hard. This is not how it was supposed to happen. I shouldn’t have kept the dress, the E2, and the make up all in the same box. Way to go, Sammy! His eyes shifted from the empty bed to the dress, a purple wad being twisted by his cement fists.

He looked up once more and noticed the pills and cosmetics on Eddie’s dresser. One forceful swipe and the foundation, lipstick, and mascara tumbled to the carpet as Sam grasped the pills. Estradiol was meant to be his ticket to self-actualization, now it felt like poison as he rocked it back and forth in his hand. Sam turned to face the bed one last time. I love you. I’m sorry…I can’t be… the thought dissipated from his mind.

Setting the pill bottle on the nightstand, Sam rambled out of the room. The strength he had upon his arrival home was diminishing. His arms lugged at his sides and his head drooped loosely around his neck as he concentrated on moving his feet, gravestones which he dragged through this moment. He looked up momentarily to find that he was in front of his recliner. Collapsing out of instinct, he faced his television. He peered into the depth of the darkness before him.

The television was the first big purchase he brought in the house. He needed it, or so he thought. The guys would come over every Sunday to watch football all day while Lyla and the wives served up lunch and dinner. Sundays were times meant for guttural growls and masculine chants. Aged boys reclaiming their youth, living vicariously through sports that their bodies could no longer endure. This is what it meant to be a man, or so he thought.

Renewed with vigor and displeased with his current train of thought, Sam stood and marched through the kitchen and onto the deck. Pride surged within him, forming a biochemical coat of armor to block the wind, as he took his first step onto his creation. The football crowd had built decks for each of their houses over the summer. The group of men worked together every evening as they achieved some sense of gratification from constructing what the guy at Home Depot said their houses were missing. Sam ran his hands along the metal of his Grill King Deluxe with seven adjustable burners. A smile quickly formed at his lips as he remembered the Saturdays that he had charred perfect lines into burgers and steaks for friends and family. This is what it meant to be a man, or so he thought.

Eventually succumbing to the wintry wind, and now mildly accepting of his current thoughts, Sam lumbered back into Eddie’s room where he sat on the Batman comforter. He placed his hand on the pillow, remembering how he had kissed his son’s forehead the previous night. Sam sat suspended in a space devoid of all the previous troubles of the day. In this space, he saw Eddie aging before his eyes. His first day of Kindergarten became his graduation ceremony. His bike with training wheels became a BMX bike. His time playing outside with friends became dates with girlfriends.

Sam’s reverie was interrupted by one disturbing thought: Will Eddie accept me if I embrace who I am? Sam picked at the stitching on the bed as he reassured himself. Of course he will. He loves me now, why wouldn’t he love me later? People are becoming more open minded with each generation. A boy needs a fath–

Sam’s dream took back over as he realized the fault in his logic. He saw Eddie come in the front door of the house snickering wildly to himself, no, not to himself, a girl came in behind him, a girlfriend? Her beauty was astonishingly familiar to Sam. Golden locks that fell to her shoulders, radiant skin that burst with color, a short skirt that teased Eddie just enough to keep him interested, and crimson lipstick like she had walked out of a Marilyn Monroe film. The dream became more lucid as Sam switched his focus back and forth between Eddie and the girl. Eddie and the girl. Eddie and Lyla. Sam and Lyla. The dream dissolved, and his eyes focused back on the bed. He’s just like his mother! Sam clutched his chest as tears formed in his eyes. His breaths shortened as his airway began closing. Laying on his back, massaging his chest for air, Sam reached for the pills he left on the nightstand. Once the bottle was in his grasp, his breathing returned to normal. The tears came faster and faster as Sam began bludgeoning himself on the head.

“No,” he shrieked. “No! This isn’t how it works!”

He erupted from the bed and stampeded into the master bedroom where he bashed the E2 onto the vanity and savagely rummaged through the drawers for his journal and pen. Where is it? Did she take that too? She knows I need it. Every empty drawer brought on a vicious slam. There! Sam ripped the journal and pen from the bottom drawer and placed them methodically next to the E2. The pills stole his attention for a brief moment until he turned toward the bed and stared at the mismatched floorboard.

She didn’t find that. Did she? I don’t need it.

Yes you do. It’s an escape. Get it. They won’t accept you, don’t you understand?

Stop! I don’t want to listen anymore.

Exactly. Follow through. Follow through to finally accomplish what’s always been there. Get it.

I don’t deserve this.

Yes, you do. You did this to yourself.

No! Stop! Leave me alone! It’s not true.

Sam crumpled toward the floor board. The wood flooring shot a cool feeling up through his knees. His neurons weren’t cooperating as his hands fumbled again and again around the board. Beads of cold sweat rolled off the bridge of his nose and landed on his target. His shaky fingers turned into fists assaulting the board and leaving scuff marks on his knuckles. On the seventh hit the board flipped open, a .38 caliber revolver just where he left it. Pulling it from the floor, Sam’s heart sent tremors through his body as if it wanted to hide itself where the gun had been, away from the horror this gun brought, away from what was to come. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slipped his finger into the trigger guard; it had to have been years, probably since the day they moved into this house, before Eddie was born. Sam put it in his mouth, but immediately ripped it back out as tears cascaded off his cheeks onto the wood. Unconsciously, he placed the pistol next to the pills.

He gazed into the mirror only to notice his hockey hair flowing like a pristine waterfall.

What a girl.

I like it like this!

No you don’t. Chop it off.

Stop! I need this!

No you don’t. Do it.

He yanked open the right side drawer, grabbed the electric clippers, and before he could comprehend his movements, he was slicing off clumps of hair. Straight back. Front to back. Locks discarded without emotion or thought. He hated what he was doing, but he couldn’t stop himself until it was over. The clippers dropped to the floor with an echo. Sam stared at the damage he had done. Jagged red tributaries made their way south from where the clippers had been moving too fast. Rugged patches of hair were leftover in the small indentations of his skull. Blood, hair, and tears formed a triad of misfortune at his feet.

A shudder overcame his body as he felt vomit creep its way north. Dashing to the bathroom, Sam heard his acidic projection splash into its destination. A second heave overcame him and then no more. Propping his head against the rear of the seat, he began to sob into the mess he had made.

He felt his phone vibrating in his pocket; Angie was calling. He let it ring briefly, but then opened it and placed it on his right ear.

“Hey Sammy! Did you make it home okay?”

“She knows Ang, she knows.”

“Sam, what happened? Talk to me.”

“She left…she’s gone…I quit.”

“I’ll be right ov–”

But Sam had already dropped the phone onto the tile. All he could hear was a muffled voice increasing in decibels. He pushed himself off the floor and stumbled back to his bedroom with conflicting purpose.

He found himself frozen in the door frame before he could reach the vanity. Placing his hands on the wood, Sam thrust his palms against the frame. He pictured the removal of all the Phil Stein’s of the world, all the hatred, all the ignorance, all the Lyla’s, but he was not strong enough. The pillars wouldn’t topple. They pushed back against him, and he felt powerless. The tension vanished from his palms, and Sam slumped into the chair in front of the vanity. His nearly hairless scalp reflected back at him as if to say, why? His eyes deviated from his lack of hair to his puffy eyes, to the bottle of Estradiol. Gripping and twisting the cap, he began to gobble down clusters of pills until no more came. The bottle hit the floor while he hovered his hand over the revolver.

Sam chose the pen instead and opened his journal to a fresh page. The ink which matched his blood scribbled itself onto the paper…

Or so I thought…

This pain will subside, or so I thought

My hair will help me hide, or so I thought

Boxing them away will cover it up, or so I thought

This grill will make me whole, or so I thought

My wife will be there for me, or so I thought

My son will make it stop, or so I thought

Or so I thought

I thought…

Sam peered at his words and his face became hot, his chest heaved, his hands shook. In one swift motion he tore the page from his journal and thrust it from his sight; the page fell from his grip and fluttered to the floor. He could look at it no longer. On a fresh page he began…

Lyla,

I’m not who you want me to be. I can’t live this lie anymore.

Still Yours,

Sam

Tears began to form again in his eyes. The pen crashed tip first onto the desktop. Hysterically and without much thought, Sam undid his belt and tugged his jeans and underwear to the floor. He gripped the .38 firmly in one hand, shaft in the other. The cold metal sent a shiver through his midsection as he pressed the barrel to his penis. He hesitated. A second guess forced him to refocus the barrel on the base of his scrotum.

This will make me whole.

You won’t do it. You don’t have what it takes.

Watch me.

I’m waiting…

Tears splashed onto his bare skin. He couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. The barrel found its way to his mouth.

She closed her eyes and suddenly her tears stopped, her shaking subsided, her fear vanished. In its place came a serene sense of peace. Her finger contracted and the world let her go.

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