Introducing Sarah Steinberg

If only I hadn’t left my fur hat on the 97 bus six years ago, I’m sure we would have been in love

By Sarah Steinberg

Even though my stupid roommate Cindy said it made me look like one of the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. It gave me an extra three inches. More importantly, it made me feel tall. And when you feel tall, you act tall. And I was acting tall, for a while there at least.

I didn’t usually take it off my head, but my scalp was itchy. Cindy had decided to clean her cat with the last of my shampoo. I put it on the seat beside me and looked out the window. I thought about how much I do not like Cindy and before I knew it, I’d gone too far. On the street, my heart beating fast from the panic of missing my stop, my head suddenly felt more naked than it had ever been had in my life. More naked than if I was bald or if my head was just bone.

From the moment I tried it on at the Salvation Army, that hat completed me. It was cocaine without the nose bleeds; good deeds without the wasted time. It matched my hair perfectly and it highlighted my skin. It made my cheekbones higher. Sometimes I wore it while cleaning the house.

This was important during those difficult years between 22 and 25, when confidence is what matters most. Because youth — real youth — is when people expect you to be cocky and cock-sure and stubborn and stupid. No one actually expects you to know anything, but you need to be sure of yourself, to exude certainty. And it was when I was exuding certainty that I imagined myself meeting someone like you.

“What is that thing atop your head and why does it smell like vinegar?” you’d have said, and then: “Most of the things people wear on their heads these days are odorless. What a mystery!”

Confident. Mysterious. I’d have been both, and eloquent, too, telling you charmingly of the time my hat had fallen in some pickle brine at the Cracker Barrel off the 1-95. “Why, yes I do travel a lot,” I’d have said cockily, sexily, after you’d said whatever you’d have handsomely, seductively said. “I’m a very well traveled lady.”

But I don’t have you and I don’t have my hat, and now that Cindy has a boyfriend I don’t even have her. You would have hated her, too. We could have been under the blankets in my room right now, trying our best not to laugh too loudly at the stupid things she would be saying in the other room, on the phone with her stupid boyfriend.

“I love you so much,” she’d be saying. “Do you love me, too?”

It would be in those pauses, as she waited for an answer, that we would laugh the hardest, wondering what he could possibly be saying on the other end of the line. Wondering and wondering as we held each other tight.


 

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