Two weeks ago, I shaved for the first time.
It feels odd to be saying that. For most, I presume, shaving’s something that comes much earlier; a cumbersome but welcome addition to one’s daily routine. I remember seeing those first whiskers appear above my lip–thin filaments long enough to be visible, yet not quite enough to be irritating. They were a sign that I was growing up…that a new world was imminent, and that I’d be doing new things as I entered into it. The only razors we kept around the house were cheap, disposable, brandless wonders, left over from the days of business class vacation trips. Sometimes, I’d find a double-blader in the bathroom cabinet. I’d run its blade across my finger, wondering how something so tiny could make me bleed. My love of band-aids failed to justify that sort of experimentation, and I eventually stopped fiddling with those curious little pieces of metal and plastic, leaving me to wonder if I’d ever actually have a use for them.
When that first peach fuzz started appearing, I picked one up again, if only because it seemed like the normal thing to do. I’d wet my face with cold water, stick my tongue firmly in cheek to get proper angling out of my skin, and run the blade up and down, like some sort of anatomical window-washer. Somewhere along the way, I noticed how thick those whiskers were getting; not yet irritating, but ‘yet’ was getting closer. It was a weird moment: the very symbol of age, of veneration, now so permanent an addition to my life. After a few times with the blade, I stopped, hoping instead that I could go for as long as I could without having the sort of stubble that characterizes the most weathered of men.
They say that in most plants, the stimuli for growth lies in the very tip of their branches. To make them grow faster, the best method is to cut them a little, and trigger their instinctive resilience. I guess in some sense, this was precisely what I wished to avoid. Facial hair would come eventually…why hasten the process? Why seek a beard, when doing so meant that I would no longer be able to hold a child up to my cheek? And why bother at all, in an age where everything is rushed for the sake of experience, with little regard to what traps befall a person in the process? Nay, I said. I would resist; I would enjoy what I had, and learn not to hate myself for not pacing the crowd. Admittedly, refusing to shave was a trivial way of defending my essence–but a fun one, nonetheless. For so many years, I would proceed simply to be myself; to dress however I felt was most comfortable, to speak whatever I thought was needed, and to bask in the subdued spotlight reserved for the marginal, appreciating the rare people and occasions that it brought, and paying no heed to those which it supposedly cost.
But after twenty-one years, it seems–so sadly, so imminently–that I will not be able to sustain this sort of youthful oblivion; won’t be able to ignore those peturbed glances any longer. Instead, it looks like I’m on the verge of joining everybody else in the world of the self-conscious, succumbing to those social norms that I, for so long, held in contempt. It’s a bit weird to be doing this now…so many people I know have lived by the rules of the majority so long that they will someday yearn for that innocence that I thought I held; will look at their children and wish that they had never internalized the many behaviors that the world expects of us, the many little elements of etiquitte we propagate not because we understand them, but because they are simply part of how things are.
Two weeks ago, I shaved for the first time. I cut myself twice.
I wrote this 8 years ago. Thankfully, what I feared hasn’t actually come true. I’m older, yes, but I’m still able to enjoy that great pleasure of finding things out.