But don't try to convince AJ that her life has been lived in a classroom in the School of Hard Knocks. She sounds like she has spent her life outside on a playground of good times - and has had a bunch of playmates.
Where some people would look at her life and say she has been cursed, AJ takes the opposite tack. "I have been blessed," she says.
AJ counts family, friends and faith as her main blessings. Those things, along with a work ethic, have helped her absorb the hard knocks.
And she counts many of the hundreds of people whose hair she has trimmed, shaped and permed over the last more than a quarter of a century as both friends and family.
"I like to cut hair and I think I do a pretty good job, but it's the people under the hair I care about," she says. "Many of them aren't just clients. Most are friends, some even are like an extended family."
Her real family - the one she was born into and the one she married to create - and her faith in God have combined with her many friendships to overcome tragedies and see the sun peering through seemingly ever-present clouds.
"I have been able to enjoy a life I never imagined I could have," she says.
Growing up in Lincoln County, AJ did farm work, pumped gas, worked as a waitress at a small restaurant, and cut the hair of her brothers and neighbors.
Worked in an office
"My phone was always ringing with calls from people wanting haircuts or wanting to know gas prices," she says.
After graduating from Memorial High School, AJ landed a series of office positions. She got married and had a son, but after her husband died, she found it hard to make ends meet as a single mother.
A high school friend, barber and stylist Jim Garner, encouraged her to get barber training and eventually hired her for his downtown Danville shop.
"When I was cutting my neighbors' hair, I didn't do it because of some dream to become a barber when I was older. I never woke up one morning and said, 'I want my career to be sticking my hands into someone else's hair," she says. "It was just something I did to make some extra money, and that was pretty much my attitude when I got the job with Jim."
"But I was pretty good at it (cutting hair), at least Phil thought I was doing a good job and Jim noticed that," she adds, referring to cuts she was giving her then-boyfriend, Phil Clark, a UPS truck driver whom she married in 1980.
AJ attended barber school from 1978 to1980 and received her barber and styist licenses. After working for a while for Garner, she struck out on her own. She's operated shops on Main Street, Stanford Avenue and for the last several years in her and her husband's home on Goggin Lane.
AJ has seen hairstyles come and go, and two styles she's glad are long gone are the mullet and the tail.
"I can pretty much do a hairstyle just based on a picture, but I always dreaded it when the picture had a mullet in it," she says.
While AJ believes she is a good barber and stylist and can handle almost any request, she insists that her attitude about cutting hair has not changed with time.
Big customer base
"It's still a job, one I'm good at, but it's still a job," she says. "Hair is not my life. People are."
AJ has at least 75 regular customers and has reached a point in her career where she only takes new clients based on referrals.
"Some of the best friends I have in this world have sat in this chair," she says, standing next to her barber shop-style chair.
"Many I love like family, and now I'm doing their kids' hair as well.
"We laugh together. We cry together. We even pray together."
But she and her clients don't gossip together.
"If someone starts putting someone else down or tries to pass on rumors, I tell them I don't want to hear it," she says. "By the same token, if the client is someone I've known for a long time and is sharing personal information, what they say never goes outside this room."
AJ's husband was music director at Immanuel Baptist Church until his recent retirement, and AJ has been active on several fronts. She has taught Sunday school and is involved in outreach programs, especially those those help down-on-their-luck families and children.
Her brother, Mark, who died a couple of years ago after a long battle with cancer was her hero. "The way he lived and the way he died were an inspiration that made me grow even stronger in my faith," she says.
AJ sums up her 55 years not in terms of the trials and tribulations she's endured, or the trims and perms she's done, for that matter, but the people and God she loves.
"If I don't clip another head of hair, it really wouldn't matter. What I would miss is the fellowship."