DENVER—Thirty-two-year-old Illsia Novotny has had a hard time making the rent. Illsia is a single mother and a hairstylist. And the last thing on John Q. Public’s mind right lately has been getting a haircut. So Illsia’s rent has been late.
Life can be unkind to single mothers. I was raised by a single mother. I know what it’s like. Day-to-day living is like sprinting through a giant gameshow obstacle course while IRS agents chase you with chainsaws.
I remember my mother sitting at the kitchen table, paper bills scattered around her, her hair frazzled from a long day. She would be punching numbers into a calculator. And there was that look on her face. Fear. But she didn’t let on, not around us kids.
“How are we gonna pay our bills?” I would sometimes ask her.
She’d smile and say, “Little miracles happen every day.”
“Little miracles happen everyday?” Really? That was the best she could do? I thought this was ridiculous. “Give me a freaking break,” that was always my motto back then. How could one woman maintain such a Pollyanna attitude when the ship was going down? What planet was she living on?
But getting back to Illsia. Until recently, the salon where she works has been closed due to the coronavirus quarantines, just like the rest of civilization.
Thus, many of us guys have been forced to let our hair grow so long that we now resemble large skunk apes who wander around rural regions subsisting on a diet of whatever we can find in the woods. At least I am speaking for myself here.
I caught a glimpse of my own reflection yesterday during humid weather, my curly hair looks like a Chia Pet.
Still my hair complaints are petty compared to what Illsia has been going through.
A sole female breadwinner does not have it easy. If you ever want to know what it feels like to be a single mother, try this: Hold a crying baby on your hip and smile while the mechanic tells you your ‘89 Nissan needs a new alternator. Got it? Okay. Now set fire to your wallet while simultaneously cooking Hamburger Helper on a hot plate.
I don’t know how my mother did it.
So it was good news when the salon where Illsia works announced that they were opening again after months of closure. And even though Illsia wasn’t scheduled to work on Saturday, she went to work anyway.
It was an average weekend. The sun was shining. It had been a steady day of clients. Customers in the salon were more than ready to get their long hair cut.
One of the last customers of the day was a guy whose hair was a little shaggy over the ears. Illsia gave him a trim. They made small talk about this and that.
The man said he had just moved to Denver from Chicago. He was nice. Amiable. Chatty. He said he was a Chicago Cubs fan, but, hey, nobody’s perfect.
After the man paid his bill, he approached Illsia one last time, to thank her for the haircut. Before he left, he said in a serious voice: “Just so you know, it’s not a mistake.”
What a strange thing to say, Illsia was thinking. WHAT’S not a mistake? Did he like his haircut? Was he speaking in code?
After the man left the salon, the receptionist told Illsia that the man had left her a tip. So Illsia and her coworkers inspected the receipt. The guy left a tip, all right. He left a $2500 tip with Illsia’s name on it.
“I was crying,” Illsia said.
If I were a betting man, I would bet that a few of the other stylists were crying, too. After all, they weren’t just happy for Illsia. They were happy because he’d left more money. A lot more.
The mysterious Cubs fan left $500 for the receptionist, $1000 for the general manager, and $1800 for the salon’s 18 employees.
I imagine it was a regular weep fest inside that barbershop, with uncontrollable happy tears bursting from various inanimate objects. And I wouldn’t blame anyone whose mascara started to run that day. In fact, I almost cried while writing this. But I didn’t.
I would never do that.
“I’m a single mother,” Illsia explains. “It’s been a rough last few months, not knowing what’s going to happen. Not knowing when we might reopen so I could go back to work.”
Illsia admits that during this quarantine, her son has been frequently asking things like: “If you don’t have a job, Mom, how are we gonna pay our bills?”
I can relate to this boy.
But, Illsia says something else I can oddly relate to. She says something that sounds a little familiar to my ears. Something I swear I’ve heard before. She says that small things have been happening along the way since these hard times began. Things that have helped her family get through.
Her landlord, for instance, worked out an arrangement with her for her rent. Also, the utility company said they would be lenient with Illsia’s bills. Then, recently, some of her regular clients started sending money electronically, simply to show their support.
And just when the world couldn’t get any more unpredictable, some nameless Cubs fan stops in and leaves the mother of all tips.
Illsia’s rent is paid up until June.
In other words: Little miracles happen every day.