Monday, February 19, 2007

Soft Suicide At The Barber's or: Another L Word

“I had a plan worked out and everything. I knew exactly how I was going to do it.”

Abe is in his 70’s now and has been cutting my hair longer than I can remember. My hair-cutting regimen consists of letting it grow long enough to become irritating, at which point I drop in on Abe.

He’s cut both my hair and my father’s for years now and he usually begins by telling me how he just saw my dad a week ago. “Good head of hair, you’ve got nothing to worry about,” and it’s true: the family hairline is, by and large, a solid and uncompromising follicular wall.

I can pick up some of the conversation coming from the other chairs and the subjects are usually benign: sports, family, the weather. Abe, on the hand, can be shockingly candid, offering up elements of his life that don’t usually come up in polite conversation.

“I was going to go to Sears and get this hose and then hook it up to the car.”

Abe lost his wife some years ago and moved in with his daughter’s family, not because he had to, but because he didn’t want to sit around an empty house. “I look at my friends and they’re all miserable, you know? And they think I’m crazy for moving in with my daughter, but I tell them, look at you, sitting all alone. At least I come home and it’s a house that’s full of life!”

A little while ago, however, the family started to wonder what was wrong with him. “I don’t know…I just didn’t want to see anybody, I couldn’t get out of bed…I didn’t even eat with them anymore. My daughter even said that my granddaughter, who’s my pride and joy, asked her, ‘Why doesn’t Zadie eat with us anymore? Doesn’t he like us?’ That just about broke my heart! She’s what I live for, my buddy, my best friend.”

“I couldn’t stand it. So I starting hoarding pills and making plans, you know?”

There was a woman in Abe’s life after his wife’s death, but he wasn’t interested in committing to another marriage.

“But then I thought, you know, the carbon monoxide, the gas smell, would ruin all the furniture and I hated the thought of that. And the pills, you know, just my luck, they’d only work well enough to turn me into a vegetable, which would only be worse.”

At another chair, I can hear conversation drifting by about a recent high school football game.

“I couldn’t do it. So I talked to my doctor about it and she prescribed something for me… it begins with an ‘l’, I can’t remember the name…and now from the moment I wake up until the time I go to sleep, I’m great. I don’t think about anything like that anymore.”

“You know,” he tells me, brushing the last of the hair off my neck, “after your father had that defibrillator put in, he’d come in here and walk around like an invalid, afraid to move. I’d tell him, ‘What are you afraid of? You aren’t going to hurt anything! What are you doing?’ I think he was afraid he’d hurt something. Mine woke me up in the middle of the night once, though, beeping.”

What, like a smoke alarm?

“Yeah, I had to get it replaced.”

Sheesh, I hope I can put that off.

“Hey, look,” says Abe, reaching into his wallet. It’s a list of his prescriptions. “I had the name of it here all the time.”

And with that, my father and I get out of the chair, not at the same time, of course, but as simultaneously as you can otherwise get.


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