I found Bill right around the corner from where I was living.
Bill was on 20th Street near my first-ever grown-up apartment, a tiny studio on Park Avenue South in Gramercy Park. I was in a bad way and Bill took care of me. It was scary for me to trust again, but with time, I grew to give Bill carte blanche.
At least with my hair.
My hair adventure started just prior to graduating from Cornell.
“I need to look like a grown-up,” I told Julie, the woman who cut my hair during most of my time in Ithaca. She nodded in seeming understanding and yet I left her salon with a triangular bob that suited neither my face nor my hair’s texture. To this day, I wonder why she did that to me.
The situation worsened once I settled into my new life in NYC. I told my friend Sarah, a Manhattan native, that I needed to do something to my hair. She sent me to her French hair stylist on the Upper West Side.
“I need a hair cut,” I told the guy adding “maybe some layers.”
“But not too short,” he replied.
I thought we were on the same page. But that encounter is how this happened.
I had nightmares about this haircut.
Then Bill walked into my life. Or rather I walked into the Marie Bove Salon* and into Bill’s life.
Bill was a bit older than me – probably facing fifty – but he had a cheeky way about him that kept me smiling. He was gay, but had been married. In fact, he was both a father (to Nicole) and grandfather (to Peyton). Bill was sober. He was happy, or mostly happy. I liked him from the start.
To rehab my hair, the cut and the color, I visited Bill often and with time, I came to believe that he would never mess with
me my hair. During my appointments, we talked about dating and our families and my jobs and his clients.
While I’d had gay friends before, I still had a lot to learn about life – gay and otherwise. Bill helped open my eyes. He grew up poor, lonely and gay in the South. By the time I met Bill, he had lost too many friends to AIDS and I think he felt lucky and maybe a bit surprised to not be one of them.
Even when I moved to DC for a job, I remained a client of Bill’s.
That is, until he disappeared. One day I called the salon to make an appointment to coincide with an upcoming NYC visit, but I was told Bill was no longer at the salon, and they didn’t know how to reach him. I questioned friends who had become Bill’s clients at my recommendation, but they too were stumped. When I later called the salon again, they told me the sad news that Bill was no longer sober. I was crushed and not for my hair’s sake.
*The salon has since moved to a new location.
Every once in a while, I google Bill. I try William, just in case. I add the words “hair” and “Nicole” and “Peyton” to the search. But there’s just nothing. Bill doesn’t appear to be on Facebook or LinkedIn, but I also haven’t seen an obituary, which I take as a good sign.
I have to let it go. I cling to hope that addiction hasn’t claimed another sweet soul. I try to picture Bill out in the world, living a mostly happy life again.
But I have to let it go.