Seeing Myself

Clara Barnhurst remembers seeing herself for the first time; her first day.

We were up early one cloudy but dry morning in Liverpool to hit a wig shop. Becky, Jenni and myself - we arranged a little coming out party. The makeup kit was purchased the evening before, but I needed hair. Becky ordered me some as a coming out gift, but it hadn’t arrived so there we were.

Jenni tried on a couple while I stood there a bit stunned. I like to think I was outwardly relaxed, but I can’t imagine my companions saw a relaxed person looking over the various types of hair. I had certain things in mind: medium-length softened the jaw; my hair was fairly dark. Fringe or no fringe? Fringe softened the brow but wasn’t a look that suited everyone.

None of the ones I liked had a fringe, so that was that worry dealt with. I tried two on. Both dark. The first with a slight curl. I fumbled with it in the cramped fitting area and finally turned to inspect myself. Straightening it a little… not happy. Went out. Some feedback - not quite resting right, looks good. Try the next. This one straight, side parted, flipped inward. Matched my natural hair better. I liked it immediately.

The others agreed it suited me and we handed it to the shop lady for boxing. She didn’t have a price and had to ring it in. My heart sank when she said it was human hair as she gave the details to the office. Some confusion on the phone. I tried to keep a smile on my face. The lady gave the box another look and realised her mistake - synthetic. She exclaimed that she’s not often fooled, agreed it was an excellent wig for its class, and gave me the price: £45. I was relieved. When she had said human hair I expected to pay a great deal more - but I would have.

We stopped at another shop to get tape and a set of brushes for it. I wasn’t entirely present at this point; I wanted to get back and get myself ready. We were all hungry for breakfast so Jenni went over to Subway while Becky and I went back to the apartment she had rented for the occasion. We got in, and first thing I did was try the wig on again. The netting along the front needed trimming and so I did - improperly - with my leatherman. “You can take the girl out of theatre…” I remember Becky saying when I produced it from my bag for the scissors. I’ve used that line ever since.

"JENNI LOOKED AT ME, CAME OVER, PUT HER HAND ON MY SHOULDER AND SAID, 'WELCOME.'"

Despite the chop job I did on the netting, it still looked good; quite convincing. I was nervous, but happy with the result. I smiled into the mirror for the perhaps the first time in my life. I was doing my makeup as the sandwiches arrived. Jenni looked at me, came over, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Welcome.” I didn’t know quite how to respond, but I was feeling pretty good with my face full of sandwich. Chewing saved me. I might have tried to smile through it.

I took my time with my face. Blending everything, using different light, priming and wiping away extras. But it didn’t take me very long. I just enjoyed putting myself together in that careful, unhurried way girls do when they know they have time. I went and changed into my outfit for the day, a sleeveless mustard swing dress with embroidered hem, grey cardigan, blue jeans and sandals. Nothing more was said, but I could tell Becky and Jenni were impressed. I felt good - free. Ready to go out into the world.

Things felt a little unreal as we left the apartment and made our way to one of the market areas of the city. I kept expecting someone to stare or double take but none of that happened in my view. Aside from those minor butterflies, I was perfectly at ease wandering through the busy streets of Liverpool to the Simply Be, our first stop.

I wanted everything. We went along and I picked mostly dresses, some PJs and tops. Bottoms I left; they were very hard to find with the right fit. After gathering some twenty articles, I went to the fitting rooms. Exploring how to get clothes on wasn’t a chore but it was a thing I had to learn. There was an initial shock when Becky told me to take my jeans off to try things on - I wasn’t ready for that - but I went ahead and did it.

The next hour or two went in this way: I would try things on, come out, they would say yes or no and make general suggestions about the fit and colour. Future reference. The choices were whittled down to ten, and then further down to eight. Many observations: my tits were big (‘It’s your tats!’ Becky exclaimed at one point helping me with one item). Wrap fits were great but I was too nervous with my chest hair, plus the breast forms were still a point of anxiety for me - they were left despite the positive comments. I left with a bag full of new things to wear, confident as ever.

"I ASKED BECKY TO TAKE MY PICTURE. PROBABLY THE FIRST PICTURE I ASKED ANYONE TO TAKE OF ME, CERTAINLY THE FIRST IN MEMORY."

The wig was a point of concern, but Becky and Jenni assured me it held up really well considering I was taking things on and off all morning. We stopped at a coffee shop - Costa I think - and as I was sitting there I had a brave moment. I asked Becky to take my picture. Probably the first picture I asked anyone to take of me, certainly the first in memory. I then put it on Facebook - another first. I added Jenni to Facebook as well - Becky didn’t use it - and she was incredulous that I didn’t have my name on there, “You’re Clara! It should say you’re Clara.” I changed the first name on my profile but left the rest of the alias.

With those three firsts on top of a long list of firsts, we wandered towards a MAC shop to look at lippy. Becky started to look unhappy, and said she felt a bit poorly. She sat outside as Jenni and I went in. I bought a purple lip that is still one of my favourite shades. I was worried about Becky so I went out to sit with her for a while, and she didn’t seem well, but also was determined to not cut my first day short. In the end, Jenni and I both encouraged her to call it a day. I still had to train it back to the South, and I had the time of my life just out with the girls. She was worried that her being poorly put a damper on my day, but nothing was going to - I wanted her to be well.

We made our way back to the apartment, packed my new things into my bags, and gave the room a once over before we left. We loaded everything into Jenni’s car, and they took me back to the station. Hugs and good byes, smiles and well wishes. Urging Becky to take care of herself. I wandered into the station. Looked through Boots and grabbed a tangle teaser that I thought might be good for my wig along with a couple of snacks. After I ate, I pulled out my new purple lipstick. I fished a mirror out of my bags and, after wiping away the old one (mostly worn away at this point), applied it. I then went into the ladies - another first - for a wee. I stood in front of the mirror fussing over my hair, and checking my makeup over a little too intently, semi aware of those around me. Nobody seemed to give me any notice.

I came out of the loo and fiddled on my phone as I waited for my train, content to simply be there. Once I got settled on the train, I took a selfie - never did that before either - posted it with the status, ‘Still smiling on the train.’ The journey back went largely as the journey up went: quietly, me on my tablet playing old Mega Drive games. Except I was also checking my phone and watching the responses to my various uploads. I sent some thank-yous to Jenni and Becky, chattered to some people - I don’t remember exactly whom - but mostly passed the time in solitude.

Same old me, but not.

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