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Rated: 13+ · Essay · Biographical · #2212211
Getting behind the driver's seat.
An Upheaval of Self-Perception

At nineteen, my self-perception felt as if it was set in stone. It was instilled in me before I ever had a say.
My life revolved around having a degree, a career, and a long-term boyfriend. I thought I was on track, meeting the expectations of others around me. My happiness didn't matter; once I achieved what everyone else wanted of me, happiness, too, would come. Or so I hoped.
I was stuck as a passenger, watching as autopilot drove my journey before my eyes.
I didn't know it at the time, but I craved an upheaval that would shake the very course I was on so that I might finally sit in the driver's seat.
I was six credits shy of finishing my online associate's in Business, a field I didn't care for. I had a boyfriend who I was more excited to label as my high school sweetheart than date, and I started a career - as new as it was - as a hairdresser.
I couldn't figure out what was missing and why I wasn't happy.
I tried to pin it on not having a child - when my two best friends already had children at ages 16 and 17 - and not having bought a house yet.
Being a young parent and owning a home was all the rage. I lay part of the blame on the show, Sixteen and Pregnant, which everyone I knew, watched. In a study performed by the University of Arizona researcher, Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, a "greater perception [was] that the benefits of teen pregnancy outweigh the risks."
I didn't want an early pregnancy, but everyone else did.
What was wrong with me?
I felt like somehow I was defective and unfeeling for thinking the way I did.
The first time I felt my hands actively reaching for the driver's seat was when I got a new client at the salon. I broke two major rules; it was liberating.
It was the 1st of May, and a Tuesday, when I arrived at the salon, I worked at in Stockton, California. I was covering the receptionist's hours at the front desk since I didn't have any clients of my own; I hardly ever did. It was harsh breaking into the industry if you didn't have referrals or a large family to fill your time slots. And it was even harder if you looked too young to be working, which I did.
I was the youngest hairdresser at the salon, and no one ever let me forget it. I tried everything I could think of to make myself look older, from: long hair extensions to short hair cuts, blond hair dye to red, stiletto shoes to sandals, tight clubbing outfits to baggy boyfriend jeans.
I was working through a process of trial and error.
This particular Tuesday, I was me. I wore fitted jeans, sandals, and a grey top with black floral embroidery. Grey and black were my two favorite colors; they allowed me to feel unseen. I didn't think I'd have any clients that day.
Everything was happening according to routine. The veteran hairdressers had clients back to back. I made a few pots of coffee and offered them to the clients I wish were mine. The phone rang almost constantly, but only for me to make appointments for other hairdressers.
The receptionist arrived, signaling the end of my three-hour shift. I glanced at the mostly full schedule of appointments for the week and saw I was the only hairdresser who didn't have anything booked. Oh well.
I sighed. It was going to be a slow week.
I immersed myself in tidying my locker when the receptionist walked into the break room to tell me I had a walk-in client.
Finally! "What is it? A color? Haircut?" I managed to breathe out.
"A men's haircut" was the reply.
My heart sunk. I wasn't allowed to cut men's hair. I would be in big trouble if my boyfriend found out. My inner voice tugged at me; he wouldn't find out.
I grudgingly agreed to the haircut. Rule one was broken.
I was nervous, clumsy, shy, and excited. This was forbidden and quite the rush.
My client was foreign. He had soft dark brown hair with a splash of grey for a charming salt and pepper look. His eyes were a piercing hazel that seemed to dance between green, blue, and grey.
I nervously recited my hairdresser introductions and consultation questions. I was transfixed when he replied.
I learned his name was Neil, and he was from Cape Town, South Africa, which made him the first South African I had ever met.
My heart began to race, but not with fear.
Oh boy…
We spoke effortlessly back and forth for the duration of the haircut, and I clumsily dropped everything in sight. He told me all about his profession as a deckhand on a superyacht, docked at the harbor of Stockton.
I listened with fascination as he told me about what that meant, sharing where he's been, and where he's planning on going.
"That sounds amazing," I sigh, beginning to fantasize about a very different life.
I'll probably never see him again after this.
Once the haircut ended, he settled his bill, and I fidgeted.
He watched me intently. Reaching for my business card, he says, "for my next haircut."
As soon as he said it, my cheeks flushed bright rosy red.
Before I could reply, a guy I hadn't noticed called out to Neil from the entrance of the salon. He, too, had a thick, well-spoken accent.
"Yeah," Neil replied to his friend. "Well, thanks. See you next time."
I nodded and waved, unable to say the word, goodbye. I watched Neil leave the salon with his friend, wishing he'd take me with him.

What I now wanted was to take the wheel and see where the open road would lead.
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