Step One: Wash Your Damn Hair
By the time it’s over and the cops are done talking to you, the dye has been sitting in your hair for nearly three hours. You’ve heard the same songs on the radio three times over. Because they won’t let you leave just yet, you convince them to let you back into the salon through the rear door so that you can get to the hair sinks, even though they still have the front taped off, CSI guys photographing, coroners zipping. You sink down in one of the chairs, grab some shampoo and the shower nozzle, and lean back and awkwardly try to wash your own hair without flooding the floor. If you flood the floor, they’ll be mad because you might flood the floor so much that you mess up the blood splatter.
You can tell all of the cops and CSI guys are guys because none of them think to offer a hand. You could have asked willow for help, but one of the EMTs has her sitting on an ambulance tailgate with an oxygen mask. Without her, you get water down your front. They took your smock because there was blood spatter on it.
In a liminal sort of way, there is the murmur of evidence processing going on between you and the curtain wall. More assertively, there is the ring of a cell phone that nobody answers, over and over, and being perfectly honest, it’s okay, you can keep the water on for longer than you need to if it’s the only thing, other than the same top 100 songs, that your ears have going for them.
Step Two: Liberate Your Friend
willow gets herself disentangled from the oxygen and takes two alprazolam from the pill bottle in her purse, watched closely by the EMT, who thinks that she’ll what, not take her own panic pills?. You sit there for another twenty minutes before they really believe willow when she says she’s okay, and when you say that you came together they get rather insistent about you driving her car. So you do. You have no idea what your hair looks like, and you’re going to be thinking about that rather obsessively for hours and shutting your eyes when you use public restrooms and might see a mirror. You and your stylist had been going for deep dark blue roots that faded into teal by the ends, but it was only half done when everything started, and the side shave hadn’t gotten trimmed so you still feel shaggy.
You drive to a Steak ‘n’ Shake, flooring it every time you take off from a stop because you never did learn to drive stick well. You can feel it hurting willow—there’s some kind of psychic connection between her and her clutch—but she’s nice enough or stoned enough not to say anything. Before you go in, she takes a few hits off of a blunt she had in her glove box. She doesn’t offer you any.
Step Three: Combat Shock with Sustenance
Order in stages. First milkshakes. Then sides. Then, when you feel more assertive and less shell-shocked, you can order the main course.
Over the cheese fry course, willow asks you if it was a thing you’d ever been worried about. You tell her about the time you were teaching and heard screaming, how you’d poked your head out into the hall and heard nothing. When the kids and you heard more screaming, you went out again and discovered another teacher had been showing a movie. There had been a curious feeling then, of your blood becoming both oxygen and lead at once, and you remember that it was similar to how you’d felt in the salon, although there had been more lead there, with the oxygen coming only at the end, a sense that you might float away like a balloon because all of your more precious liquids had turned to gas.
“I never worried about it,” willow says. “Never once. Like, I seriously just thought it would never happen to me.”
“Because you’re not a teacher,” you say. “You haven’t been watching ‘Run Hide Fight’ for years.”
“What’s that,” she says, and sucks on her milkshake.
“Exactly,” you say.
Your waitress is a teenaged girl with more piercings than she’s probably supposed to have at such a tender age, and when she wanders by she stares at your hair like she’s never seen a dye job interrupted by a shooter before. She drops off your burgers and willow’s grilled cheese with bacon.
Three bites in, you think that this is a moment of choice—you can choose to be disturbed by the juices running over your teeth, their cut into flesh, the grainy meat that separates from itself. Do yourself a favor and choose not to be. After all, the bodies had been cutting hair, wearing black spandex and Lycra, not draped in fake cheese and nestled into chemical buns, and their blood was red, not the yellow-clear juice of fat.
“Your hair looks good,” you tell willow, because you’re more comfortable with your mouthful of meat if you talk around it. willow had just been sitting, waiting for your dye to finish, a patient companion on a lazy girls’ day, when it took you by surprise. Her hair was properly done. The stylist’s last cut.
“Is it bad to go get manicures still?” Her eyes are pure glass. You could ice skate on them, twirling around those black pools in the center, flirting with a slide into oblivion. You kind of like that idea. Think about telling her about it, but decide it would seem like you’re hitting on her. Instead say
“Are you really up for that?”
“You kidding? I could go all day now.” Assume this means that really she doesn’t want to be home, but don’t make a thing out of it because that seems like it would be mean.
Step Four: Deal with Unsympathetic, Bratty Teenagers
The waitress comes back by. She’s got a neck tattoo but has to be under eighteen. willow asks her for separate checks and she looks annoyed, and makes a comment that you take to be bitchy.
“Have you heard the news?” you ask her.
“There was a shooting. Down the road at the salon at Milwaukee and North.”
“Yikes,” she says, without much conviction. I don’t let her leave.
“We were there.” Tell her.
“Oh, that’s why you’ve got all that” she waves a fingernail at my hair “going on.”
willow smiles serenely and puts a cold cheese fry in her mouth.
“Yeah, well, we’d only really just gotten started when it happened,” you say. “It was another stylist, you know. Sounded like a bad work environment kind of thing. She shot all of the other stylists.” Tell her.
Waitress girl has stopped chomping away at her gum. willow just picks at the rest of the cheese fries on her plate. She hasn’t touched her grilled cheese and bacon. You find yourself staring at her food for a minute like it will tell you why you had to talk and when you look back up waitress girl is gone.
“I think you made her uncomfortable,” willow says.
Shrug. “She seemed pretty comfortable with herself. Can’t hurt.” You will keep finding your fingers in your hair. It feels dry, almost dead, and it’s going to keep feeling that way for days, until you take a shower. Your fingers will keep going back, though, like they expect to find something else, perhaps some indication of color development.
“I comped your milkshakes,” waitress girl says when she comes back. “The manager wouldn’t let me comp the whole thing.”
“Thanks,” you say, and pass willow’s check to her.
“Maybe you guys should go home,” she says. “Your friend doesn’t look so good.”
“Nah, I’m good. We’re going to go get manicures,” willow tells her. She pays with cash, but you have to wait for your credit card to process before we can leave. willow takes her milkshake to go, glass and all, and the manager doesn’t say shit to you as you walk out.
Step Five: Proceed with Your Day as Planned, and Make Additional Plans for the Other End
“You know, we should go out tonight,” willow tells you as she drives to get your nails done. “We haven’t gone out in forever.”
“You don’t want to take it easy,” you ask, but really you like the idea, because the alternative, drinking alone and watching FRIENDS, won’t really do it for you. You should pull your hair back into a ponytail, assuming that this will make whatever’s going on up there a bit less obvious. You do so, pulling it breathtakingly tight.
Step Seven: Get Blindsided. Recover Quickly So that Nobody Can See Your Weakness.
The woman will have just finished putting the undercoat on your nails—willow will be one coat ahead of you, this is the trend for the day, you just need to roll with it—when another nail tech without a customer will say “oh my god” while staring at her phone. You’ll know what she’s reading, but what you really notice is that her nails look like shit. This is the sort of thing that will be easier to notice for a long time. The nail tech will read aloud from the news story while you and willow look at each other.
You do some mental calculations. You’re far enough from the salon that they probably never heard the sirens, probably never saw emergency vehicles, maybe never had overlap in clientele, and yet you’re still in the same neighborhood.
You listen to the body count. Identities not being released. Shooter deceased. No comment on possible motive. You realize that you’re listening to the same radio station, you’re going through the same top ten songs.
Somebody says that it’s fucking horrible.
Somebody else says that they’re nervous. What if they’re wrong and the shooter isn’t really dead?
“She’s dead,” you say. “She was a stylist there.” Tell them. willow nods sagely. “It was her day off, I think. She wasn’t dressed for work.”
You hear silence and the nation’s number one song.
“She was wearing pajama pants,” you say. “But I know she worked there, because I’d seen her before. She had some big ass gun and she went from station to station and shot all of the other stylists.”
“What did she say?” one of them asks.
You look at willow for help on this one because to be honest there wasn’t much that you could remember aside from gunshots and a rap interlude. Your friend is no help. She is watching as her technician hovers a dripping brush over her fingers.
“Nothing,” you say. You’re not sure about this, really. But you feel like you’ve told enough for right now. There’s some pink nail polish on your cuticle now. You can pick at it later.
Step Ten: Pick Your Battles
“You should probably not go on Facebook,” you’ll tell each other. You still do. Both of you. You’ll find yourself sharing there, too. When you do, you want to strike the right tone of gratitude and horror. You share the local news story, specifically the video, but you add the details that they leave out. If you don’t, how will people know that you were really there? How will they know you are a real person, a real face with, you assume, bluish hair, with real eyes, which saw real things, even as you only heard a rap interlude and you’re beginning to not clearly remember the number of gunshots? Better give them enough details that they don’t ask about the number of gunshots.
Step Sixteen: Get Dressed at willow’s Place. Don’t Go to Your Place.
Borrow willow’s sexiest dress, the one with the mesh panels. Who cares that you’re only going to the bar down the road. Don’t let them question anything about you. Tell them what to think and know about you.
willow will wear something boho, which is fine, really, she looks stoned enough to be at home in all those extra inches of cloth, like she won’t care that her shoulders keep sliding out to say hey, but even without looking in the mirror you’ll know that there’s something too sharp about your eyes today—gotta be sexy instead.
willow offers to do your makeup and the best thing to do is to say yes, because otherwise you’ll have to go naked or look at yourself in the mirror. And you can’t wear a dress like this and go out with your face fucking naked. It’s bad enough that willow doesn’t have enough earrings for all of your holes.
Cram your toes into willow’s shoes. They’re very small, but that’s ok. Your feet don’t need to breathe. Summon an Uber. Watch willow take more pills.
Step Nineteen: Deflect Creepers. Or Draw Them In, Depending on How You Feel Like Coping
It really works the same either way. It’s all in the tone of voice. willow’s talking up the bartender, talking about her job, her friends, his job, but you’re a magnet for all the guys at the bar. Let them all buy you a drink. But if they’re fat, greasy, if they smell like alcohol rather than soap, you tell them the story and you tell it hard. If they’re tatted up, muscular (or skinny, if they can pull that off), if you can imagine sliding your hand under their belt in the bathroom, you tell it like this:
- You find a way to steer the conversation toward the shooting.
- Casually mention that you were there. “I was there, you know,” works well enough.
- Let him respond with a question. If you pile on all of the details too fast, it will just scare the poor guy away and all you’ll be doing in the bathroom is puking and trying not to look at yourself in the mirror. “Oh my god. That’s horrible. What happened?” is good. “How are you?” is also okay.
- Tell it like it happened, but rather than just the facts you gave to the sweaty guy, editorialize a bit. You were scared. You think that the girl with the first chair was sleeping with her boyfriend—you remember her screaming some dude’s name as she shot her like it was a battle cry. You’ll never be able to listen to that song again. You had blood all over your face. You weren’t able to move until the cops came and pried you out of the chair. They told you not to cry while they photographed your face. Don’t sweat, either, they said.
- You’ll look over at willow when you point her out to the guy to tell him she was there as well, that she isn’t taking it well, that she’s been high as fuck all day, and you’ll see for the first time some glimmer of calculation in her eyes, and you’ll wonder how much she’s heard you say.
- You’ll start to wonder if she’ll jump in. If she’ll tell him a different story.
This is where you should make your exit, in some way. “We were thinking about going down the road to the club, what do you think about joining us?” Here, you should lean in close when you say it, and maybe you look him in the eyes or you look at his red, red sleeves or maybe you look at both. That’s all fine. You get him to agree. He’s going to grab his friends and follow you. You grab willow and tell him you’ll see him there.
Step Twenty: Uber to the Club
In the car, you’ll hear them talking about the shooting on the radio, and you and willow will look at each other, and then you’ll start talking and correcting the radio.
“It was really two shooters, you know,” you tell the driver. “It was a stylist and her boyfriend. I think the woman who worked reception had been stealing her tips. They were being evicted. I don’t know why they’re reporting it that way on the radio.”
“Maybe they just haven’t released all the details yet,” the driver says.
“Nah, they’ve even got the number of people shot wrong,” you say. Tell it: “It was eight, not six. And two more were taken to the hospital. I watched them get loaded up. I watched them zip the body bags.”
“That’s fucked up,” the driver says.
“Yeah,” you say, and then grope for something else. “Fucking media can’t even get the story right.”
When the driver pulls up to the club, he passes you a ten. “Buy yourselves a couple of shots,” he says. “You deserve them.” willow smiles charmingly.
But outside she turns to you and says “stop fucking lying.”
And the best thing you can say to this is “why. It’s my fucking story too.”
Step Twenty One: Drink and Dance
You buy the cheapest shots you can, in the greatest quantity you can, and you and willow do your best to pound them. You’ll realize as the night goes on that there’s a level of tipsy you’ll need to avoid, a smeary, dizzy, heart-fluttery tipsy that reminds you of panic and fear, and you’ll have to deal with this fear for a while, so this will actually be the last drunk night for a long time that you’ll remember. This is okay. It’s okay to stay sober or drink so much that you can’t remember. Everybody copes in their own way. willow won’t judge you, and you won’t judge her—purposefully, carefully, you won’t judge her—when she refills her Xanax in two days, and then again in three days, and then again in two days, and then has to prostrate herself before her doctor for more refills.
And when she gets cut off, you’ll often drive her to meet a friend of a friend. You’ll steal a clean syringe from your old-school diabetic mother to keep your friend safe.
On the dance floor, you and willow dance together until the guys from the bar show up and encircle you. The guy you talked to wastes no time in grinding up against you, and because you’re starting to come down from too drunk to the slightly dizzy level of drunk, and because you’re still way past euphoric, uninhibited drunk, you will probably just spend the rest of the night letting him do this and turning around to kiss him when the mood strikes you. You try to nestle into the beat, so regular, purposeful, coordinated, but as the night creeps on you’ll find that even such a predictable thing has a touch of panic to it, and it’s only when you stop trusting it not to be erratic and random that you call it a night.
You should go home with the guy. You do go home with the guy. You find that he is a bad lay, with no sense of timing or coordination to go along with his abs and tats.
Step 23: Wake up.
Steal his newspaper and a bottle of rum on your way out the door and sit in the vestibule of his building. Stare at the picture on the front page, until willow picks you up and suggests that you get your eyebrows threaded.
Strip the front page from the paper and tear, over and over. Throw your confetti in the gutter. For a while, it’s all a party. It’s all a spectacle.