WE HAD BEEN together 18 years, through the good times and bad, through sickness and health and headed (or so I figured) 'til death do us part.
Then something happened. Don't ask me why, but all of a sudden we just didn't seem right for each other. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was too much of a perfectionist, unwilling to tolerate the obvious flaws I saw in the two of us.
Anyway, it's all over now. Splitsville.
I went one way.
My mustache went another.
Shaved it off the other day.
Those of you who have never worn a mustache or beard are no doubt thinking: Big deal. So he shaved off his stupid mustache. Why's he making a World Series out of the whole thing?
But those of you who sported facial hair for any length of time (a three-day growth while lost in the woods doesn't count), you know. You know what I'm going through. The soul-searching. The introspection.
The constant forays to the mirror and the unspoken thought: Did I do the right thing shaving that sucker off? Or do I now look like Ernest Borgnine after a hellish night of tequilla and beer chasers?
God help me, but I'm not sure.
I grew the mustache my sophomore year in college. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Everyone was smoking dope and protesting the war and listening to the Grateful Dead and (in-between occasionally cracking a textbook) growing hair everywhere.
So I thought: What the hey, let's try a mustache. Originally I wanted something a little fuller than Xavier Cugat's pencil-thin mustache, but not quite as wild and luxurious as, say, Yosemite Sam's.
I settled for a mustache that looked for all the world as if it were grown by a prison escapee, who was now desperately trying to avoid looking like his police composite sketch.
That mustache stayed with me through five presidential administrations, eight job changes (including an illustrious two-year career as a bartender), 12 years of marriage and two kids. Occasionally I thought about shaving it off, but was so unnerved at the prospect of resembling a basset hound without it that I never did.
Then a couple of years ago, I awoke one morning and looked in the mirror and let out a scream of pure, holy terror.
Lord almighty, there was a gray hair in my mustache! No, check that. There were two gray hairs! So the same insidious process that was turning the hair near my temples gray (what do they call that -- aging?) was also at work on my mustache!
Uh-oh, I thought. Big trouble. And sure enough, little by little, the gray hair began to outnumber the brown hair, with the gray hair being bristly and about as easy to comb down as 10-penny nails.
Bristly gray and brown hair might look good together if you're, say, a fox terrier. But if you're a man of 38, the combination looks sort of goofy on your upper lip, as if a caterpiller had curled up there and died and your family and friends were too polite to call it to your attention or flick it off with a forefinger and thumb.
So the mustache had to go. And two days ago it did -- right down the sink.
Thus far, the reaction to my clean-shaven appearance has been mixed. My wife has handled the change rather well, continuing to greet me cordially although insisting I sleep on a cot at the foot of our bed. The first time he saw me clean-shaven, my 8-year-old son did a double take right out of an Abbot and Costello routine and went shrieking out of the house, assuming it was a burglar rifling through his dad's bureau.
My daughter, who is 5, has spent the last two days staring at me as if to say: "Buddy, I don't know who you are. But the other guy would give me piggy-back rides, tie my shoes and occasionally spring for an ice cream. Don't let me down, OK?"
Me, I can't decide whether I like being clean-shaven or not. As a clean-shaven freshman in college, I looked like a young Wally Cleaver, although slightly more sinister, perhaps a Wally Cleaver with more than a casual knowledge of the grand theft auto statutes.
Without a mustache 18 years later, however, I look vaguely like Fred Flintstone gone to seed. Sort of the way Fred would look if he lost his job at the quarry, Wilma left him and Barney had joined the priesthood.
Understand, I don't really have a problem with that sort of look. In many ways, it's a step up.
It just takes some getting used to.