Besides, it was Friday. Fabulous Friday. Fucking Friday. At 5:00 pm on the Friday at the end of her very first week of her very first job, she had gone straight to the nearest Walgreen’s and bought a six-pack of Bud Lite. She had read that it was the number one selling beer in America, and she wanted to feel like an American. She’d finished college, gotten a job, and worked a forty-hour work week. She was staggered to find herself utterly exhausted from the seemingly straightforward task of sitting behind a desk for all of those hours. Jesus H. Christ, she had thought, how could I be twenty-two years old and be so f-ing wiped? From that day on, Friday was a day to go home, pop open a Bud, take off her bra, and veg out for a significant chuck of time even if she headed out later.
She savored a long draught from her beer, saying “Ahhhhhhh,” aloud. “Thank you, Friday. Thank you for coming,” and raised her bottle in a hearty toast to the empty space of her hallway. She detoured into her bathroom to pee, took a swig, and automatically turned to her reflection in the mirror to check her hair. She arranged the bangs that were forever in a state of indecision – hers – as to whether she was keeping them or growing them out.
Her boss had unexpectedly asked her to lunch that day. Awkward. She liked him fine, but he was her boss, and at least ten or fifteen years older than she was. He had a whole plan for his life, which both horrified her and intimidated her. Stodgy, but clear view ahead.
She was genuinely surprised to find herself having such a good time at lunch. Her boss was telling her about the remaining – and increasingly torturous – final details of his upcoming wedding. Though the seating charts, and place cards, and party favor bag ribbon colors were driving him completely insane, she remained fascinated, rapt with attention. Also, his fiancée still hadn’t decided if she wanted to change her name, he told her; and whereas he didn’t actually care one way or the other, he was exhausted by her continual deliberation, over the course of months, out loud and directed at him.
“Names are kind of important,” she had said. “They can really mean a lot, about how we think about ourselves, how we think about who we are.”
He looked at her as if suddenly remembering that she was there. “Really? You think so?”
“Yeah, I do. Are you ready for this? I actually changed my name. It used to be Vanya; that’s what my parents named me. It’s a pretty popular girl’s name in India, a forest deity. I just got really tired of everyone thinking I was a Russian guy. Russian. And a guy.”
“You picked ‘Ananya?’”
“I did. It’s a common-ish name in India. But wait til you hear this. Some say its origin is Hindu, and it means ‘unique, without peer.’ Others say that it’s Muslim and means ‘care and protection.’ Then there’s the group who says it’s from Sanskrit and means ‘terrible misfortune.’ How cool is that? I get to encapsulate a whole regional religious war with just my name! Plus, it sounds like a girl, and doesn’t sound Mexican. Oh, I forgot to mention that not only did everyone think that I was a Russian boy when they saw my name in print; then they assumed that I was Mexican when they saw me in person. So, yeah. Ananya.”
She reached up to shift her bangs off her forehead.
That was the moment. When her fingertips grazed her hair, and she felt the strands brush across her forehead. Oh my God, I forgot to go to the restroom when we got here; I don’t even know if I look ok. I don’t know if my hair is ok. I shouldn’t even be talking right now. What the fuck am I doing talking? What the fuck was I thinking? I’m drawing his attention to me. He’s looking at me, because I’m talking. Because I just had to tell him the whole name story. My bangs. I think my bangs felt greasy. I should have let him talk. Kept him talking. Then he sort of looks around the room and moves his eyes back and forth and doesn’t just stare at me. Me with the bad hair. Me with the shit hair that’s never looked right, never. And greasy bangs! FUCK. I can’t believe I didn’t check in the mirror. How can I be so fucking stupid? Stupid and shitty hair. I gotta get out of here? How much longer do we have to sit here so it won’t be even more awkward if I say that I need to go. How long have we been here? I gotta come up with some questions to ask him, keep him talking. Anything. Anything to keep him from noticing my hair.
Ananya regarded herself in the mirror, drank the remainder of her beer in one gulp and said to her reflection, “OK, this ends now. Or at least as soon as I pop open another brew.”
She often went to one of her favorite bookstores mid-Friday evenings, and browsed through the newest graphic novels. A lot of the stores carried esoteric ones that the artist/writer had given the store directly, so she rotated through a number different stores to see different comics. Plus, that meant that she wasn’t a serious regular at any one store, which would have made her feel like even more of a dweeb; and, none of the well-meaning bookstore folks got all up in her business too much.
It was a cool evening for summer; Ananya wrapped a long scarf around her neck and over her head. She was standing at a busy intersection when a waft of breeze whooshed the scarf from the top of her head. She had an immediate instinct to jerk her arms up and replace it, but she resisted. What good was her decision to end the tyranny if she just turned around and covered it up.
When she walked through the door of the bookstore, the girl at the counter looked up from her book. They always did that. But this time, the girl didn’t look back down again. She sat up a little straighter in her chair. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
Ananya was already walking toward the graphic novel section and didn’t even make eye contact when she said, “No, thanks. I’m good.”
She picked up a copy of Bad Girls, which she’d heard about. It had everything: a crazy pop art style, Fidel’s 1958 Cuba, murder, and well, bad girls. It also had a whopping $25.98 price tag, which was seriously steep. But this was a special novel, and it was a special day. She let out a little whistle under her breath, a mixture of sticker shock and celebration, and walked to the counter.
The girl, except that now that Ananya was closer, and actually looking at her, the bookstore person appeared to be maybe mid-40’s. She turned the novel towards herself and said to Ananya, “Oh, this is a great choice. Just a great choice. I’ve heard so much.”
“Yeah,” Ananya said, having no desire to share a lot of words.
“Did you find everything that you were looking for?” She scanned the book’s price into the computer, then replaced it on the counter and folded her hands. “And I can gift wrap this for you. If it’s a gift. Or I can just wrap it really nicely for you to take it home.”
“No, that’s ok. Just. Whatever. A regular bag is fine.” Ananya shifted from one foot to the other, a bit perplexed.
“I mean, if there is anything else that I can do for you. I hope you’re doing… OK.”
After a nanosecond of thinking that this woman was completely bonkers, Ananya figured it out.
Oh my god. She thinks I have cancer. She thinks that I’m totally bald because I’m in chemotherapy. She’s being extra fucking nice because she thinks I’m dying. OH MY GOD, I shave my head because it’s the only way I can think of to force myself to stop thinking about my hair, like every freaking minute, like the way my hair looks determines whether it’s even ok for me to talk, or to have people look at me, or just walk down the f’ing street, and this is what ends up happening? People think that I have fucking cancer and that I’m DYING, and now they’re just gonna look at me MORE? I seriously did not see this coming. Epic fucking fail. But hold it. Hey, I’m not thinking about how my hair looks. So, well, there’s that.
*My novel PUSHING THE RIVER will release in EIGHT days. THANKS for reading this, and for indulging my need to take a break from the endless and soul-killing marketing of a new book!