Photo credit: Harlan Seymour
"The most important thing a woman can have -- next to talent -- is her hairdresser." ― Joan Crawford
I have an intimate relationship with a man who is not my husband.
This man hears secrets that I tell no one else. When life seems tangled, he gets to the root. His hands make me tingle in ways that are head and shoulders beyond what anyone else can do for me, or what I can do for myself.
I'm talking, of course, about my hair stylist.
Shortly after moving to San Mateo, Calif., I walked into Tamer Mickel's salon. I needed to find a hair stylist close to my new home, and Tamer's salon has a lively, welcoming feel that drew me in. At the time, I was growing my hair long for my wedding, and over the following months Tamer kept it hair trimmed in a shape that I loved.
When I asked Tamer to cut my hair short in preparation for chemo, he was one of the first people to learn that I have cancer. With kindness in his eyes he set briskly about his craft. Half an hour later, piles of wet hair at my feet, I had an adorable, sassy, short 'do. As a gift, Tamer gave me two pairs of dangly earrings from his accessories counter. He would not accept payment for the cut. He advised that he would never again let me have long hair because short hair suited me so well.
Three weeks later I was back at Tamer's salon. I had started chemo and my hair was falling out in clumps, but I wasn't yet ready to shave it all off. I thought if Tamer could cut it even shorter then I might salvage a bit through my treatment.
I have always had thick, healthy hair. Feeling it fall out and seeing my scalp in patches, I was vulnerable in a way I had never felt before. Apart from my husband Harlan, Tamer is the only person who touched my head during this phase of my illness. In the mirror's reflection I watched Tamer pull away handfuls of my hair as he gently snipped and clipped. I don't remember what we talked about that day, but I do remember that Tamer made full eye contact with me throughout, telling me that it would be ok without saying it in words.
After that I didn't see Tamer for nearly a year. I lost all of my hair and it took a quite a while to come back. For months it was just soft, patchy fuzz. Then it started to grow in earnest - thick and healthy, with a natural curl for the first time in my life, and a pretty sprinkling of gray.
I was so thrilled to have hair again that I couldn't bear the thought of cutting it, until the morning I woke up and realized that I looked like a dandelion ready to seed. I booked an appointment with Tamer that day. When I entered the salon Tamer's wife and brother (who both work there) greeted me with hugs and smiles. As I settled into Tamer's chair he beamed at me and said, "A trim today, yes? But we're keeping it short."
Over the years I've had a lot of hair stylists, but the long and short of it is that Tamer Mickel is a cut above.