We always talk. It is that kind of hairdresser/eyebrow tamer - client relationship. I listen carefully, struggling to catch individual words, but always getting the essence of the story. A boyfriend with a muddle headed business plan, a sister who drives her crazy, a mother who means the world to her. She works long hours, one day off a week.
"I told mom that I would take her on a cruise," she says as she applies the wax. It wasn't the first time she had talked about planning a trip away with her mother. "But she said, 'why do I want to go on a boat when I came here on a boat?'"
"You came here as a child?" I ask, trying to recall earlier conversations. "Were you refugees?"
And so her story unfolds. A child of nine, living in an Indonesian refugee camp after escaping from Vietnam, waiting and waiting until it is their turn. At first, her family is locked in what she calls a warehouse, slowly upgraded to 'family accommodation'. They live on a serving of rice and noodles per day, anything beyond this bought with money sent by relatives who have already "arrived". They remain there for five years.
Her father abandons his family for another woman. He takes her older brother with him and when that brother turns eighteen he begs his father to do this one thing, to send for the family he has left behind in the refugee camp. He is already in America, so according to the rules of the time this is where they must go too. Sydney would have been closer, easier. I don't know the details of how all this unfolded but at around age thirteen she arrives in America.
"What was it like? To come to this place after all that time, the waiting?" I ask.
Her answer shocks me. "My mother was depressed. I can't tell you how many times we had to cut her down." Her mother survived multiple suicide attempts. Today she walks each morning with her friends to the local gym, decked out in her all white tracksuit. She is a firecracker. Now.
Through all this she keeps plucking. I pinch my hand to relieve the pain.
"How is your boyfriend?" Normally she would have mentioned him by now, something about his business, her worries about how he is going to stay afloat.
She has left him. He still has her money, the money she put into his business, that is all in his name. She no longer has her furniture. The furniture she bought with her own money, that he smashed to pieces. The lawyer told her not to fight for the money, just to escape.
I want to hug her. Instead I tell her she has done the right thing, moving away, staying with her mother. I tell her I used to work for an agency, wanting to let her know there are places she can get help if she needs it.
I had been thinking about trying out a new hairdresser, one closer to home, cheaper. I have a recommendation. Not now.