Dan always asked about my hair.
Not the way other people at Liquid did. Not that other people asked in a bad way -- that people asked at all is quite flattering. But Dan was always so interested.
When I met Dan he was an assistant stylist. He brought me water or tea and cookies while I waited for my hair to "cook" beneath the foils. "How's the book coming?" he'd ask, then listen attentively while Jason explained the complicated chemicals he'd used to turn me into an Undercover Blonde.
Dan gave the best head massages, and he was the best at washing hair. Between the massage & the personal chatter, you always felt so welcome in his chair.
Then Dan graduated. Before I knew it he was on the floor, building up his own client base. I felt like a proud older sister watching him paint tiny little brush-strokes of bleach onto a client's hair, or snip away at their bangs, chattering away as thought he'd been cutting hair all of his life. Just look at him, I'd think, Is he really only twenty-years old?
The biggest difference between Dan and the other stylists -- the other people in this neighborhood who I know casually, for that matter -- is that Dan always listened to me talk about my book. Attentively. In great detail. It wasn't just small talk, or bullshit smiling and nodding. He wasn't just waiting for me to finish talking so he could talk again. And even though he was little more than an acquaintance when we met, Dan believed me when I spoke about my book idea. He believed my project was a good idea, and he encouraged me to pursue it. Even when Undercover Blonde felt like a weird dream I was telling people about, a concept that would probably never go anywhere, a forgotten goal like those had by so many failed artists.
Dan believed in me before I did.
I guess that's why he's right there in Undercover Blonde, right on page two of the first draft of the first chapter: asking me how the book's going; explaining to a regular that I'm a writer, working on a study of hair color. Because Dan's supportive, interested, honest belief in my project was a perennial part of every visit to Liquid.
Last week Dan died, just hours before I delivered that chapter to my agent. He was murdered, actually. The details are hazy. I don't want to think of them. They are too much like an episode of Law & Order. You can read about it yourself here, here, here, here, and here. I almost threw up when I found out, and have felt mildly queasy ever since.
I worked so hard on the scene where Dan appears on page two: shaping, editing, infusing it with as much vivid detail as I could muster, reminding myself all the while, show don't tell. I know this is just the beginning. There are edits from my agent to come and professional, wordsmithing copy editors and proofreaders in my future. And with their help, someday that scene will jump off the page, it will be so rich and full of life. You'll see Dan as a stylist again, forever twenty-years old, painting tiny purple ribbons of bleach onto a client's frizzy bangs, then pushing his dark-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose with the back of the brush.
"How's the book, Kitty," he'll ask, and listen to me. Just listen.
Someday, in that scene, Dan will come to life.