Quarter of an Inch

by Angela Griffin

Drill Sergeant Jones hesitates in the doorway, one foot poised over the threshold, boot hovering in the air. Eyes trained on the inhabitants of Second Platoon bay, she deliberately, ever so lightly, lets her boot tap the linoleum floor on our side of the doorway.

“AT EASE!” twenty voices bellow as one, eyes and shoulders freezing in place as DS Jones officially enters the room. Next to me, Guajardo wiggles almost imperceptibly, carefully easing her toes up to the edge of the bunk.

DS Jones stalks down the rows of bunks until she reaches the middle of the room. Then she pauses. “Room, attention!” Heels thud, arms straighten to sides. “About—” I try not to sway, try not to anticipate the command—“Face!

In two counts I pivot to face my bunk, baring the back of my head to the scrutiny of DS Jones. She begins to walk down the row, stopping behind each girl.

“Klamm, you need more gel. None of these flyaways.”

A long pause. “Mendez, did you even try?” The accused begins to defend her bun, but DS Jones cuts her off. “Asbell, your bun isn’t half bad. Take Mendez to the latrine and fix this ratty mess. You have five minutes.” Footsteps pound against the tile, and I hear the door to the latrine swing open.

DS Jones stalks closer. “Guajardo, you need another pin here—”

“Yes, drill sergeant.”

“—And here.”

“Yes, drill sergeant.”

“Go fix it.”

Guajardo scampers off and I straighten, mentally reviewing the effort I put into my hair this morning. Forty minutes today, and at least a third of the bottle of gel. I’d even asked Knight to check and make sure none of the sock bun was peeking through my hair.

“Griffin.” I hold my breath. 

“More gel.” I squeeze my eyes shut. She steps over to Gould.

I used to fantasize about what it would be like to shave my head. I had a companion on my mission who would wow members with the story of how she’d shaved her head on prom night and gone to the dance completely bald.

I wished I could be so bold. Whenever I was frustrated by the unpredictability of my curls, or the summer heat plastered my hair to my neck, I’d consider following her example. I joked about it with friends. I threatened it when I talked to my mom. But the Christmas before I shipped to Basic Training, my brother called my bluff. “I’ll shave my head if you shave yours.” I fumbled for an excuse, trying to justify my fear. But in the end, I couldn’t go through with it. My brother laughed. “That’s what I thought.”

“Drill sergeant, I heard the males are getting their haircuts next week when we get our dress blues from 95th . . .”

DS Jones blinks once and swivels her head to the wall, pretending not to have heard.

“And I was just wondering if—”

“Griffin.” Her eyes snap toward me, eyeliner with wings that would put the seraphim on the ark of the covenant to shame. “You are not getting your hair cut. You’ve made it this far.”

“Well, drill sergeant, if any of the drill sergeants left scissors on the fireguard desk one night, as long as they were still there the next morning, that wouldn’t be a problem, right?”

She takes out her phone and opens some social media app.

“What if I was shaving in the shower and slipped?”

She guffaws slightly, but continues scrolling.

I change tactics. “What if I had lice?”

“Then we’d send you to sick call and don’t—” She fixes me with a stare that could pin a bug to a board, voice icy. “—you go spreading no rumors about lice in our bay.”

I swallow. “Yes, drill sergeant.”

She returns to her phone. “Griffin, why do you want to cut your hair anyway?”

Because no one believes I will. Because I pretend to be bold but never follow through. Because my whole life I’ve been told to speak up and have a voice and not just let others dictate my decisions and this is a way—a small way—for me to prove to myself that I can do brave things. That I can act for myself.

I straighten my shoulders. “To save time in the morning, drill sergeant. I could be cleaning the bay instead of doing my hair.”

For a moment she stares at me, measuring something she must see in my face. I brace myself for push-ups, or at the very least some sarcastic comment on the cleanliness of our bay.

“Go away. We’ll see.”

Once we’ve been issued our gloves and berets—all the parts of our dress blues that don’t need to be tailored—we are sent to the bleachers outside of 95th to wait for the rest of the company. I settle onto the cool, metal bench, clutching the garment bag to my chest for warmth. DS Ramos paces back and forth in front of the bleachers, occasionally calling someone out for bad posture or a crooked patch on a uniform.

The steel doors to the main building open again as another couple of trainees come out. Even with their patrol caps on I can see the white skin on their temples where the barber has buzzed their hair.

Before the doors shut I peer inside. Just down that gray hallway, past the set of double doors and through the second door on the right, there’s a sign hanging above the otherwise drab interior.

Barbershop.

My heart is throbbing so loudly that I’m afraid if I open my mouth, instead of words, all that will come out is a frantic staccato. But the doors are closing, and before my brain can catch up to my mouth I raise my hand and call, “Drill sergeant.”

DS Ramos turns from his conversation with a trainee on the front row. “Griffin. What do you want?”

I swallow hard, but force my voice to be strong. “Drill sergeant, I’d like to get a haircut.”

“Griffin.” He folds his arms over his chest. “If you want a good haircut, wait till Family Day. They don’t do female haircuts here.”

“I know, drill sergeant. I want to shave my head.”

His eyebrows shoot up. “Shave your head. Like the males?” He points to Forester, whose freshly bald head is visible as he switches his patrol cap for his beanie.

I nod. Feel the heat rising to my cheeks. “Yes, drill sergeant.”

DS Ramos stares at me for a moment, then lowers his head. He’s not going to let me do it. He’ll say I don’t need to and we don’t have time, and it was silly of me to even ask again and they’re going to punish me and—

But he’s chuckling. “Sure, Griffin. I’d like to see that.” He beckons me down from the bleachers. “Grab a Battle Buddy. Any other females want to shave their heads?”

No one raises a hand. DS Ramos shrugs. “Alright, let’s go.”

The hum of the clippers is surprisingly relaxing.

The woman won’t turn me around to face the mirror until it’s over, so I must gauge the status of my hair in the eyes of Woodland, who sits across from me in a waiting room chair. She volunteered to be my Battle Buddy—trainees always have to travel in pairs—but she’s not the only other person in the room.

Besides DS Ramos, we picked up two other drill sergeants along the way to the barbershop. DS York was intrigued by the idea of a female wanting to shave her head. He was the one who suggested that we should probably call Senior Drill Sergeant for permission. When I’d heard that, I’d thought for certain she would forbid me from going through with it. But no sooner had DS Ramos hung up the phone than Senior Drill Sergeant herself had walked into the barbershop. She looked me up and down once, rolled her eyes, and then began giving instructions to the woman with the clippers. “Female regulation hair must remain one quarter of an inch long.” She’d turned to me then, eyes boring straight through my skull. “One. Quarter.” I’d nodded. Then proceeded to remove my sock bun.

There’s a faint click as the woman switches the clippers off. Then a pressure on the back of my chair as she spins me around to face the mirror.

Bald. I am completely bald.

Well, one quarter of an inch away from bald. I reach a hand from under the cape to touch the fuzz on the top of my head.

DS Ramos appears behind me in the mirror. “Wow, Griffin. You actually did it.” He sounds genuinely impressed.

“Yes, drill sergeant.” A rush of confidence floods through me. I did.

As I stand up, I realize I am still holding the sock bun in my hand. Grinning as much as I dare in the presence of three drill sergeants, I hold it out to Woodland.

“Want a sock bun?”

Originally from Southern California, Angela Griffin is a senior in her final semester at BYU. After graduating, she hopes to use her education in linguistics, editing, and Japanese to help preserve and revitalize endangered languages around the world. She enjoys spending time outside, reading, playing the piano, and making up impromptu haikus. Her accomplishments include breaking into a Japanese fish market and swimming across a river to dunk her head in a waterfall.