Sunday, August 30, 2009

A face only a mother could love

“Don’t be alarmed,” I said calmly, standing in the doorway of the living room.

My wife turned her head, and upon glimpsing the monster that I had become, jumped from her chair and took two steps back. Even the dog didn’t recognize me. Aroused from his slumber, he leapt to a sitting position, cocking his head perplexedly. Not until after he tentatively licked my face did he become convinced of my identity.

The reactions at work were no less dramatic. One person burst into laughter. Several didn’t recognize me until after I had spoken. “Who the hell is that guy?” I heard one say. Each acquaintance I passed in the lab stared, wide-eyed. Those with whom I don’t work intimately mistook me for a new guy on the floor and greeted me warily, but politely.

The truth is that, staring in the mirror after my metamorphosis, I was more startled than the others. The beauty-to-beast transformation was remarkable.

After nearly ten years, I had finally put razor to chin. The face that had spent a decade in hiding (and protected from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation) had been unveiled for the world to behold. The bush on my face was no more. An hour earlier, my wife had removed ten inches of hair from what was recently described as my “half Jew-fro” (my mother is a gentile). Hair that had most recently resided at or above neck level now overflowed a plastic grocery bag.

As I held the razor in my hand, memories swirled through my mind like cookie bits in a B/blizzard. My father had recently asked me, “How long will you be allowed to look like...this?" (“This” I gathered designated the furry mask and shaggy mane that I had borne for so long.) When I first met and wooed my wife, I had donned a stylish, trimmed goatee and well-trimmed locks. Over the course of our relationship, the goatee blossomed into a sweet garden of beardedness all over my face and the short locks into a tangled mop of ringlets. Indeed, until last Saturday, she had never laid eyes on my face. (“I didn’t know your lips looked that,” she told me after staring for several minutes.) I recalled the sensation of wearing a scarf during the dog days of summer, living under the oppression of matted tresses and thick facial hair, sweat rolling down my face, reflecting off of my hairs like a Plinko chip on the Price is Right.

Someone asked me if this reflected some kind of quarter-life crisis. In truth, my 30th birthday lurks around the corner. In less than three months, I will leave behind the rollicking exuberance of my late twenties and enter a decade of maturity and solemnity. I will be faced with the decision of what it is I actually want to do when I grow up.

But, this molting was no quarter-life crisis, nor was it a more realistic 39%-of-life crisis. I simply decided that I would like to know what I looked like. Now I know. I’ve taken a good hard look at myself, and I’ve decided: It’s time to grow my beard back.