Here’s a story that turns into a curious preamble. Back in December, when my extended family was gathered around our dinner table, I posed this query: “What’s your favorite holiday memory of all time?”
There was the classic tale of sneaking down at 4AM to see what Santa had brought. There were romantic memories, and a remembrance of a snow fort that got built on foggy Christmas day and lasted until April. What I shared was the story of the Christmas Eve when we kids got to pick one package to open before bedtime (not our usual Wait Til Morning deal, so that change in our family script, all by itself, was remarkable.) I chose a gift from Mimi, mother of a college friend of my mother’s. Why I was on Mimi’s gift-giving list every year is a wonderment all its own, and perhaps that was what made me choose her offering. Whatever came from her was sure to be more exotic than anything else under the tree. Mimi was from Philadelphia, after all!
I could not have chosen more wisely. Mimi’s gift to me that year was a Japanese doll, delicate and porcelain, and SO much more elegant than any Barbie could ever be. She had fantastic accessories: two kimonos, a shiny obi, a pair of hand-painted platform sandals, a hand-painted fan, and a stunning little handbag. In other words, little girl heaven.
She also came with three wigs, complete with helpful descriptors: The Monoware, for young teenagers 16 – 17 years old. The Shitajimage, mostly for man-actress in Kabuki play. And the Takashimada, for well matured girls, 19 – 22 years old.
I was not big on dolls when I was little, but this one slayed me. So lovely, so refined. And yet, what I remember clearly was my little-girl relief that her hair, her actual hair, was pixie-ish. Just like mine! She may have covered her head up with amazing feats of lacquer and bows and baubles, but underneath, she was just like me.
* * * * *
Fast forward to last Thursday. On a not exactly joyful outing, I found myself on Newbury Street, looking for an address that seemed invisible. Who knew that wedged between the upscale Vogue-worthy storefronts are portals to other worlds, a la Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, where you can buzz yourself in and find curious shops you never knew existed?
Like, for instance, the salons where they sell wigs.
This all seemed so cart-ahead-of-the-horse. I haven’t lost any hair yet, though I’m sporting a particularly flat look, due to an extra dollop of conditioner, the better to be able to rake out my little rats’ nests these days. There’s something particularly somber about combing your hair with the knowledge that any lost strands are gone for good. (Okay, apologies due to the love of my life. That was a “Welcome to Your World” moment. I get it. But you’re a guy!) Meanwhile, everyone kept telling me to go in for the wig ahead of time. Let them match your color and cut, have it ready to go when you need it. So, I buzzed myself in, and up I went.
The woman who helped me out could not have been more kind. We picked a style and a color, put in the order, and made an appointment for a final cut later this week. I suspect I’ll be looking a bit more Anna Wintour (on a bad day for her) than like me, when all’s said and done. But the place the kindly wig-woman got me to, psychically, at least, is exactly where I was looking to land: that is, in a world that resembles something approaching normal. All I’m aiming for is the capacity to stand in the grocery checkout or walk down the street and not have my head (or my headscarves or slouchy hats on humid days) announcing to the world, Oh You Poor Woman. I was so hoping to get away with not having to go down this path, but once the treatment plan was set, well, here we are. Anything I can do to make it feel like I’m still me, not damaged goods, not a cancer victim—that’s worth the weird embarrassment to my vanity that comes with buying a wig.
And so, on we go.
As you can see from the photos, I still have that precious gift from Mimi. My little Japanese doll has lost one of the wigs and both of her thumbs, poor soul, but her placid face shines on. And her pixie haircut is my new inspiration. I’m looking forward to sporting one of those of my own, come June.