It was true and a sore subject: My husband's hair was receding. Because Lee's hair would not lie flat on his head, I suggested we cut it shorter on top. "You wouldn't want to be accused of 'the comb over,' " I said.
"Not bad," Lee said later, inspecting his new "do."
"It's shorter, but such integrity," I added.
Soon, we invested in some clippers that came with an instructional video. For a while, I simply put on the No. 4 guard and buzzed Lee's hair every three weeks.
Then I decided that Lee needed to wear it even shorter at the bottom, but this style was a bit difficult for a novice like me.
"Why don't you have a professional cut it the first time?" I suggested.
Lee's youngest sister was getting married the following weekend. I didn't want to be responsible for a radical haircut when we were to see friends and relatives we'd not seen in years.
But Lee was sure I could do it. "You're so creative," he finally said. Who could resist this kind of innocent enthusiasm?
I watched the haircut video several times, until I could identify all the guards and when to change them.
I began, and all was going well. I put on the No. 3 guard and rocked the clippers upward to give a blended look. I cross-cut hair on the comb, wet down the top, and trimmed it by hand so it stood up straight.
My husband was eager to see my work, but I saw one spot that needed a little more definition. I popped off the No. 3 guard, and the clippers hummed in my hand. I was feeling so confident that Lee and I had begun to chitchat.
Without thinking, I took the bare clippers and zoomed them across the back of Lee's head - not once, but twice - before I realized my mistake. The clippers hungrily scarfed his hair to the scalp, leaving a gouge that looked like an ugly divot on a finely groomed golf course.
"What'd you do?" Lee asked, alarmed. He could feel the cool severity of my mistake on his bare scalp before I could answer. I knew that within seconds he would march to the bathroom mirror and view the damage for himself. My heart pounded. Lee kept asking, "What'd you do? Oh great, oh great."
I persuaded my husband not to look just yet. I quickly decided that the hair-comb cross-cut was the best bet and continued to cut his hair. I threw in what a great facial structure he had, and suggested the best solution might be to shave it all off and start over. Maybe people would think he'd intended to shave his head. Lots of men with receding hairlines were opting for this "in your face" style.
"Oh, great. It looks bad - really bad, doesn't it?"
"Well, yeah. It - it does, kind of," I said.
Our daughter Audrey heard what was going on. She circled her dad and saw what I'd done. "Mom, whoa!"
"We're done -that's it!" said Lee. He got up and unsnapped the plastic cape that came with the kit. Little hairs, short and sharp like needles, covered the floor.
"I'm really sorry! It was going so well - really, it was - I just forgot that I'd taken the guard off. I'm so sorry. It'll probably grow over that bare spot by next weekend."
By this time, Lee was looking into the hand mirror and could see the damage in the mirror behind. He didn't say a word.
"How about a little shoe polish? Just in that one spot," I suggested.
Quietly, Lee retrieved the shoe-polish kit from our closet. Carefully, I dabbed the polish on the large bare spot. Lee inspected the back of his head again.
"Oh, great, this is just great," he muttered.
"I think it'll grow enough by next weekend," I said again. But I wasn't at all sure it would.
All that evening, I kept staring at Lee's head. "Would you stop?" he asked. "You're making me self-conscious." So I tried and tried not to stare. The next morning, when I woke up, my heart sank when I realized that, yes, I really had done this horrible thing, and yes, the wedding was next weekend.
"Don't tell anybody I cut your hair," I pleaded.
"Don't worry," Lee said. "I don't think I'll have to." He left for work, hunching his shoulders so the collar of his shirt covered some of the evidence.
Surprisingly, when Lee needed a haircut about three weeks later, he asked me to do the cutting. At first I refused, but a couple of months and a couple of haircuts passed. Time diminished my memory of the ravaged hair - until Lee's sister visited with her new husband and 260 of their wedding photos.
From the front, Lee's hair looked great in the photographs. "See, your hair didn't look bad," I commented with relief. But then, on the last page of the album, captured for all time, was the brutal reality. Lee is pictured from behind, dancing with his sister. Lee's haircut looked bad - very bad.
Lee was quiet. Finally, he said philosophically, "Well, someday this will prove that I once had hair."