The Zoloft seems to be working now. Sometimes I’m actually, well, happy. I look around the living room. My beautiful Calliope is jumping up and down in her Jolly Jumper, with her one-tooth grin. My adorable Phoenix is cooing and babbling a story to the room with her big, pretty eyes wide and sparkling. And my oldest, my serious and funny and goofy and intense Morrigan, is flying her Paw Patrol toys around in the air. Through all this, my husband is taking care of me, and my parents are here to support us.
And I wonder, how? Why? Happy? Don’t I know–
But of course I know. Being upset about it doesn’t change it, does it? Take every moment, hold onto it like the precious gift it is. If I can remember that, then I can get through this.
In the car on the way to the hairdresser, I take a selfie with my hair streaming from beneath my hat. It’s a hat I don’t wear very often, but I likely will now. How will my head feel when my hair is gone? Am I going to be freezing all winter long?
I take an Ativan before I get out of the car. Kevin and I walk into the salon hand-in-hand, and the receptionist knows me immediately. “Have a seat. Mark will be with you shortly.”
We sit in the corner. Another girl is sitting there, too. I feel like she has to know why I’m there, but of course, she doesn’t. Kevin and I take a selfie together. It’s a good one. We don’t have many of those. We met before the smartphone ten years ago. Or, at least, before either of us had smartphones. We don’t take moments like that together very often. We need to slow down more. We need to savor things more.
“Hello,” says Mark. “Come with me.”
He has me sit in his chair out in the open for a moment to explain some things. “We did some research into donating hair. There are a couple options. If you want us to take care of it, we can.”
“Yes, I’d rather you guys do that,” I say.
“Absolutely. We’d be glad to. Now, each pony has to be at least eight inches long, and it has to be freshly washed and dried.”
I nod. One final hair wash seems like a fitting way to end this round of hair. It’s just hair, honestly. It’ll grow back.
But in a way, it’s not just hair. It’s a symbol. Once it comes off, it’s like I’m really, truly declaring to the world that I have cancer. It’s like any other article of clothing or accouterments. Our decorations say something about us. And my bald head and scarves will say, “I’m in chemotherapy.”
I don’t pay much attention to the hair wash. I’m distracted thinking about whether I’m going to cry or if I’m already crying. I’m not–but maybe I’m about to?
“We have a room setup for you,” says Mark. He leads the way. I’m pretty sure it’s the same room I was in when I was attempting to do laser hair removal. It turns out you can’t do it while pregnant, breastfeeding, or up to a year afterward, so after I bought the armpit removal package, I never used it. Soon after that, I got pregnant with Morrigan, and I was in the in-between stage ever since. I did, however, have a test patch done when I first purchased the package, and it was in this very room.
Sort of ironic, I guess?
A box of tissues is sitting next to the chair. I figure I’ll probably use it. It’s very sweet of them to think of that.
Mark starts putting elastics in my hair. He braids each of the ponytails and measures each one. He and Kevin talk. I suppose I do, too, but it’s all a blur. Kevin is trying to keep things light. I want to get it over with. Not that I’m even dreading it, per se, but I’m on the edge of a precipice. I want to jump off, plunge it, move on with my life. I’m antsy. I don’t want to be here, in this crack in my life, I want to be catapulting into the next stage. Let’s get through the birthing part of the rebirth, and onto the living in whatever my new life looks like.
“Are you ready?” Mark asks.
He starts snipping away at the first pony. It takes so long that I think he’s done three in the time it takes to do one. He holds it out, and I look at it.
It looks like braided hair.
I asked Kevin to take pictures, so he snaps a few. I like the one of me once all the ponies are off. I don’t look too bad with a pixie cut. I thought I’d look horrible–when I was in junior high, I had a short cut, and I hated it. My mom kept “feathering” it, which I think was an eighties thing, and it was so not me. But maybe it won’t be so bad as it grows back.
The buzzing of the shaver tickles. I tense up when he gets near my ears. I totally trust Mark, so it says nothing about him and everything about me. About how feeling it near my scalp is grounding me in the reality of it.
I don’t look at myself in a mirror when he’s done. He shows me the bag of ponytails.
“My mom wants a lock of my hair,” I say.
“Here,” he says and hands me a small one.
I put it in my pocket.
“Do you want me to rinse your head off? That way you won’t have anything tickling.”
“Do you want to cover your head on the way to the hair washing room?”
“No, I’m ok.”
I pointedly do not look at any mirrors. I do not look at anyone sitting in the barber chairs or sitting at the color stations. I’m in a fog. I sit in the chair. I barely feel the water. It’s cooler than I expected.
At the front, I pull out my credit card, but the receptionist says, “Mark wanted to do this on the house.”
Tears well up in my eyes. It’s the first time I’ve come this close to crying. “Thank you,” I say.
He gives me a hug. “Whenever you’re ready, we’ll make sure that we shape it as it grows.”
Kevin and I leave. It’s cold outside on my head. I’m still in a fog. I can’t believe my hair is gone.
In the car, I pull down the mirror. I push up the plastic thingie and I look at my head.
I’m bald now. Tears drip down my cheeks. I sniffle and wipe them away. How can something so monumental feel so… quiet? Understated? I still look like a girl, with cheekbones and decent eyelashes. I’ve never thought I was especially pretty, but I do look pretty, even though I have no hair.
It’s going to be ok.
When I get home, I go into my closet and pull out a collection of about ten scarves that I never wore. I sit in the living room with my parents, the babies, Kevin, and Morrigan, and I go through all the scarves. When I google how to wear them, I discover that everything except the full head wrap looks weird when you’re bald. I also discover that the full head wrap reminds me of pirates–but that’s just going to have to be how it is.
Getting the hang of wearing the scarf doesn’t take long. I go to take it off and automatically shake my head like one does when one has hair.
My mom sees me. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know how to react. But it’s funny–so I laugh–she laughs–we’re laughing, and it’s a good thing.
I don’t have hair, but things are still funny. And maybe, secretly, somewhere deep inside me, I always wondered what it might be like to shave my head. Do all girls wonder that at some point?
Maybe not. Maybe it’s just me.