Lacy offered Kim faith, friendship, and regular haircuts, during her time of need.
- Posted on May 22, 2015
What do I love most about my job as a hairdresser? The friendships I form with my clients. I own my own salon near downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin. When customers come in, they see walls painted fun colors, framed art and Mad Men-style furniture. They settle into a styling chair—and there we are, talking like old girlfriends. Which, often, we are, because I’ve been a hairdresser for three decades.
I’ve heard every detail of my clients’ lives. Marriages, breakups, kids, graduations, jobs, love, heartache. Sometimes I feel more like a therapist than a stylist. My husband, John, and I don’t have kids. My customers are my extended family. I pride myself on the wisdom I can offer them, no matter what they’re going through.
One day, one of my favorite new clients came in. This was only Kim’s third appointment, but we’d hit it off. She had curly strawberry-blonde hair (I always notice the hair first) and she really liked how I styled it—a little less fussy than her previous hairdresser used to. Kim and her husband, Gordy, had recently moved to La Crosse from Green Bay to build their dream house.
Kim was an accountant, smart and funny. We both loved the natural beauty of the area. The woodsy hills rolling away from the Mississippi River are perfect for hiking and winter fun.
I knew something was wrong the minute I saw Kim’s face. She sat down in the styling chair without a word. I draped her with a purple cape. Silence.
“How are you?” I finally ventured.
She paused, as if gathering strength. “Gordy died.”
The story came out in a rush. Gordy had gone cross-country skiing one morning and never came back. Some hikers found his body. He’d had a heart attack on the trail. “I’m still sorting through everything,” Kim said. “Our house. His things. He was only fifty-six! Lacy, this is where we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. Close to our families. In this beautiful place. It’s all...gone.”
I stared into the mirror. For once, I had no idea what to say to a client. Kim and Gordy were churchgoers, but not even praying felt right. What words could I possibly come up with that didn’t sound trite compared with Kim’s devastating loss?
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.
Kim nodded. We didn’t talk much as I worked. Afterward, Kim scheduled her next appointment.
“See you later,” she said listlessly.
“You’ll be okay,” I said. Trite!
I wished I could do more. But I didn’t know how. Two months later, Kim was back. She sounded a tiny bit better—but only a tiny bit. She’d started a new, demanding job, which was a blessing because both her kids were grown and out of the house, and work kept her busy. I didn’t press her about Gordy and she didn’t bring him up. I could only imagine the pain she was experiencing.
I invited her to watch a Packers game with me at a sports bar later that week—John was out of town. It wasn’t much, but I couldn’t think of anything else. For some reason, all my instincts for connecting with clients just flew out of my head when I saw Kim. She was so smart—she always mentioned books I’d never heard of. Everything I thought to say sounded so conventional, so...inadequate.
Kim perked up a little watching the game, but I couldn’t help wondering if she was just going through the motions. A noisy sports bar full of Cheeseheads wasn’t the best place for a personal conversation.
She opened up a little at her next appointment. She said she’d decided not to go ahead with building the house. She’d find someplace else nearby, so she could still be close to family. Her kids had been supportive, visiting and calling a lot. “And guess what?” she said. “I’m going to be a grandmother! My daughter and her husband told me just last week.”
“Wonderful!” I said, hugging her.
“Yeah,” she said. Then her face clouded. “But Gordy will never get to meet the baby. He would have been such a wonderful grandfather.”
I winced. I shouldn’t have reacted as if everything was going to be okay now. I’d blown it. Still, I suggested we go out somewhere after her next appointment.
“We could go for tapas at Four Sisters,” I said—a nice restaurant in La Crosse, overlooking the river. Kim’s next appointment was in December. The Christmas lights would be up in Riverside Park.
“Sounds great,” she said, like she meant it.
Kim came to her next appointment after work. When her hair was done, she changed into a rose-colored sweater and I fixed my makeup. Then we each got in our own car to drive to the restaurant.
It was dark and snowy. I pulled into the restaurant parking lot and waited for Kim. Ten minutes later, she still hadn’t arrived. My cell phone rang.
“You’ll never believe this,” Kim said. “I’ve lost my car keys. I opened the car door, then somehow dropped them.”
“I’ll be right there,” I said.
I hurried back to the salon. Kim was in the front passenger seat of her car, feeling around the wet floor mat. I climbed in on the driver’s side. “You’re sure they’re in the car?” I asked.
“Positive,” she said. “I was in the car when I dropped them.”
We searched everywhere. Between the seat cushions and under the seats, around the cup holders. Was our evening about to be ruined? I couldn’t let that happen! I turned to Kim, who’d climbed in back to go through her gym bag. “We have to pray,” I said. She looked at me with a strange expression.
“No, really,” I said. “We have to pray.”
An instant later, a car came down the street with its brights on. They shone through the windows. I noticed a brief gleam near the console by the driver’s side of Kim’s car.
“Aha!” I cried. There, in a small cleft to the left of the gearshift, were Kim’s keys. I snatched them up just as the car passed and dangled them with a smile. Kim didn’t smile back. She just nodded and took the keys.
A little mystified, I got in my car and drove back to the restaurant, making sure that Kim was behind me this time.
We sat down at a table by the window. Kim gazed out at the festively lit park, still looking unsettled.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
She was silent a moment. “Back there in the car,” she said. “When you said we should pray. You know, Lacy, I haven’t been talking to God at all since Gordy died. I don’t even feel like I know how to pray anymore. Hearing you just come out and say that so spontaneously...opened something up for me.”
“I don’t know where I’d be without God in my life,” I said quietly. For a second I wondered if I’d said the wrong thing yet again. But then, somehow, I knew—the words didn’t matter so much. I wouldn’t have been in that car with Kim if I hadn’t asked her to come out for tapas. And I wouldn’t have asked her if we weren’t friends. It was my friendship that was helping her. Not some perfect combination of words.
We had a good long conversation at the restaurant about Gordy and grief. Kim said it would take time for her to rebuild her relationship with God. “But for right now I’ve got friendships like yours,” she said. “That means a lot.”
Not long after, I got a Christmas card from Kim. At the bottom, she had handwritten a note: “Lacy, you’ve been one of my angels this year, and I really appreciate your friendship. Kim.”
I could have said the same thing.
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