Shorn Free

By Arlaina Tibensky


Tibensky: Had to do something

I was a fourteen-year-old freshman. My parents were about to get divorced and my dad just moved out of the house. It was a bad time, no one was paying attention to me. I had to do: something.

I wore a cheap leather motorcycle jacket onto which my artist uncle had painted a giant white skull with side flourishes of red and blue roses. This was not enough.

I wrote Sylvia Plath poetry on white tights with a black Sharpie “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” and wore them to school under my uniform skirt. This was not enough.

I was heavily and exclusively making out with the closest thing my suburban Chicago Catholic Co-Ed College Prep high school had to Sid Vicious. This was not enough.

I listened to the Dead Kennedys, KMFDM, the Cure, The Violent Femmes, and Soft Cell non-stop. This helped, but still, it was not enough.

All the while, I insisted I was the opposite of cliché. I was original, angry, too intense for this beige world. I wore safety pins in my ears and dog collars around my neck. I dyed my hair black and was on the honor roll. No one in the history of teenagerdom had ever had such ridiculous parents as mine. I was a one-of-a-kind rebel and no one had ever been fourteen like this before. No one knew how I felt, but no one was asking.

Besides, my boyfriend was going to fall crazy in love with not only the depths of me but also my outlandish and up-yours behavior. I was his Nancy Spungen. I thought about it. I chose a day to do it. It was only hair. And I knew better than to shave it  all  off.  I was no Sinead O’Connor.

But what was I really? I felt like a smear of a girl, like nothing defined me. I floated from my divorcing parents house to high school and back again in a depressed haze. I wondered what love meant and forever and family and what was the stupid point if we were all going to die an anonymous nothing anyway?

I rode my bike through miles of forest preserves to my sullen boyfriend’s house where we’d make out in his attic bedroom until our mouths were so raw they burned if we ate potato chips. We drank his mother’s lemon Crystal Light and watched his treasured VHS of Gary Oldham’s Sid and Nancy over and over again until he told me I had to go, because I was annoying him. I rode home through the woods in the dark, thinking of ways to make myself feel better, different, stronger. Like someone else.

I don’t remember where I got them exactly, but the clippers were electric and heavy like something that belonged on a 1950s Cadillac. After school on a weekday, no one was home, just the ghost of my parents’ marriage slipping around the corners and my constant shadow of white-hot ennui.

I started at the nape, pulling the machine down in small nibbling swipes. An inch more. An inch more. It felt so good it was hard to stop. Where there was once hair there was now none. The scalp beneath was brand new, pale and soft as baby skin. As I lifted the black hanks with one hand and shaved with the other, I thought of Siouxie Sioux, Robert Smith, Joy Division. Rebellion. Catharsis. Becoming.

I had never tried so hard before to make my insides match my outside. Finished, my hands shook when I pulled the plug from the wall. I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror.

Oh dear God.


Louise Brooks!

My look was going to be Louise Brooks slash Winston from 1984 slash existential post-modern Weimar Germany meets Echo and the Bunnymen fierce. I was going to look exactly like what I thought I was supposed to look like, tough, dangerous, awesome, worthy of attention.

I looked like Emo Phillips.

But fat.

With thick black eyeliner and red lipstick.

And three chins.



Although I was depressed before, at least I didn’t feel hideous. Now, not only was I still a confused mess but I also looked like La Grange Park’s answer to Divine.  I felt obvious, greasy, fraudulent. The worst version of myself possible.  Barrettes, gel, a bowler hat- nothing made a dent in the ugly.  The only thing that gave me comfort was running my fingers over the newly revealed skin, the new bump of a birthmark I hadn’t known was there, as I wept for an hour on top of my bedspread.

When my mother got home she asked if there had been a lice outbreak at school. She was furious and blond, a grown and heart-broken flower child of the 1960s. What had I done? Why didn’t I talk with her? How could she help? Did this have something to do with the divorce? My boyfriend? I couldn’t answer her because there were no answers.

“It just needs to grow,” she said. “Give it time,” she said.

And she was right.


Arlaina Tibensky is the world’s oldest teenager.  She is the author of  AND THEN THINGS FALL APART a novel about how Sylvia Plath and an old typewriter usher a reluctant virgin through the worst summer of her freaking life.  Some of her short stories have appeared in One Story, The Madison Review, and Inkwell. A recent New York Foundation for the Arts grant recipient, she lives in New York City with her husband and sons and face paints in her spare time.  Follow her, if you dare, on Twitter @ArlainaT.


One thought on “Shorn Free

  1. Oh I dare to follow her! I dare you not to! Funny, Arlaina has the insight to see that today she is not, nor does she look like Elmo Phillips. When will I ever stop thinking that I do look just like him? Don’t leave home without reading Arlaina Tibensky!

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