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hile I believe that my life as the son of a marine brought me opportunities for enrichment I would have never had if my life were different, it also posed certain challenges others not in my situation didn't have to face. For instance, I was blessed with the chance to live in or visit different countries. I was also exposed to people from many different backgrounds. Not only did I meet and befriend people from the countries I lived in, but I noticed a culture gap that separated the civilian families from the military families.
It was not always easy for an introvert such as me to settle in to various social norms established by the local population. Fads were different from region to region. People listened to different music, they wore different clothes, and phrases meant different things. What was a pot-smoking socially troublesome group in one region may have been the upstanding charitable group in another - even if their visible appearance was roughly the same! Fights could break out if someone got one of these things wrong, so I had to learn to develop my own mores and differentiate between what was a universal truth and what was hearsay. I had to learn to keep an open mind about those I met. At the same time, I had to try to fit into their standards in order to be accepted.
Upon my entrance into the eighth grade, I had lived in North Carolina for a year. It was during the late summer of 1987. My brothers had adapted fairly well to their surroundings. My oldest brother was four years ahead of me. Denny was very popular in his high school but was practically worshipped in my middle school. This was the first exposure I ever had to being known as "Denny's brother" rather than by my own name. As frustrating as it was to feel like I had lost my individuality and identity, I didn't resent my brother for this. I admired him.
I wasn't as outwardly fond of my other brother, Gannon. We were far too much alike for me to admit my admiration of him. Whereas Denny was my protector, Gannon was my antagonist, and it wasn't until years later that we were able to rise above those roles.
My father, on the other hand, was feared and revered by all of us. During the previous four years, he had been home for about two. Otherwise, with his constant deployments and training, my mother had to bear the lion?s share of the physical labor with respect to my brothers and me. However, even in his absence, my father?s presence was still felt. When he was home, I could always count on him to cut my hair if I needed him to, but given that he was on a ship halfway around the world, I did not have the opportunity to ask. Therefore I left the task of cutting my hair to the barber - the closest of whom was on the other side of town - well out of walking range.
The beginning of school was quickly approaching. My head was a rag mop, and I certainly could not show up at school this way. My mother, who did not get home in time to take me to the barber, made sure we understood that with Dad away, we were always on a strict budget, and frivolous expenses needed to be curtailed. I remembered hearing Denny, whose driver?s license allowed him to drive across town to get a haircut and whose job allowed him to pay for one, telling me that he had recently cut a friend?s hair. Given that a haircut cost five bucks, I had the bright idea of asking Denny to perform the task. He enthusiastically agreed. In hindsight, I should have been more suspicious of his enthusiasm. For the next several hours, I became my brother?s guinea pig.
I may never know if Denny was being truthful when he said that he had cut someone?s hair before, or if perhaps I dreamt that he said it. I do distinctly remember that the preparations he made mirrored those that my dad made in the past. As a result I did not suspect anything was amiss. My trust lied in the seven year-old pair of clippers my brother wielded in his hand.
About five minutes into this experience, Gannon walked into the garage to tell us he was going to a friend?s house. When he first saw me, he burst out laughing and caused me to think Denny had somehow done something to my hair he had not intended. Of course Gannon was merely trying to antagonize me, but it was enough to briefly raise the hairs on the back of my neck. When he saw he had engendered the response he wanted, Gannon recanted, looked me over, and said that he was surprised at Denny?s skill. My fears waning, I calmed down and allowed Denny to continue. Gannon left, content that his mission had been accomplished.
I noticed that Denny was taking a very long time, but I didn?t mind; I had nowhere else to go on that particular day. There sure was a lot of hair lying around me, though. Two hours later, Gannon merrily strolled back into the garage. This time he laughed so hard that he was nearly reduced to tears. At first I thought he was teasing me again, but his persistence convinced me -Something was wrong!
Denny remained focused on the task at hand. Neither my verbal concerns nor Gannon?s annoying guffaws phased my oldest and most trusted brother. After joking amongst themselves a bit, I think they began to realize the severity of the consequences for me - that I would be ridiculed on the first day of school. Oh! The humanity! A wave of concern swept across Denny?s face. Gannon calmly and compassionately gave advice as Denny persisted. Now my only hope was that my mom would arrive soon to salvage whatever hair I had left.
They say that a mother can love her son regardless of his appearance. I truly still believe this, but when my mom arrived nearly four hours after this whole debacle began, she didn't even attempt to stifle her laughter for my sake. This normally polite and socially proper woman was buckled over with her arms firmly wrapped around her stomach as she made futile attempts to gasp for air between her uproarous, hiccuping laughter.
Upon looking in the mirror, I could understand why. It was terrible. There weren?t two patches of hair the same length. With Mom home, and knowing they wouldn?t be in trouble for something I had requested in the first place, both of my brothers cornered themselves in the garage, snickering and making fun of me under their breath. I think Mom probably realized how grave my situation was, because once she stopped laughing, she instructed me to sit down so she could "fix" me. I appreciated her concern, but there was no way she could fix my hair. I would have to endure the stigma of baldness on the first day of school.
In spite of this, I survived. My mother hid the clippers so I would not attempt to extract revenge on my well-meaning brother. I never intended to actually cut his hair, but I admit that for awhile I reveled in the idea that Denny felt the need to sleep lightly.
Years later, when my brothers and I were all in the Marine Corps, Denny had refined his hairstyling skills and had even successfully cut my hair several times. I eventually took over that responsibility for myself by cutting my own hair. However, to this day, despite the facts that he still keeps his hair short and I have become proficient at cutting hair, Denny has never allowed me to go near him with clippers. While I know that I would never intentionally shear Denny bald, I take comfort in the revelation that justice has many faces!
I don?t pretend to have always been successful in my efforts to not judge people by their appearance or anything else that may not have been indicative of their character. However, the lifestyle afforded to my brothers and me by my father?s military service has helped us overcome many self-inflicted obstacles - including prejudice. Not only did it give us exposure to a wide array of people with the common ideal of duty and service, it allowed us to pick up and start over. We were not bound by our past mistakes or past haircuts in each new place. Every time, we were accepted for who we were, not judged for who someone determined we should be.
In the end, the ribbing I received for the haircut was miniscule. All it did was serve the purpose of helping me shape the core beliefs I hold dear today - even if I have not always been perfect in applying them. Occasionally I ponder about what it would be like to have lived in one area my whole life, and I know my dad sometimes wishes he had chosen a different path for his kids. Then I remember the big gap between the two cultures, and I appreciate the opportunity to have lived on this side of it.