A curious thing happened along the way, somewhere between my January chemo appointments and those June commencements. I lost a lot of my hair, but not all of it. Like the velveteen rabbit, it didn’t exactly fall out. More like, it got rubbed off, worn off, perhaps a little bit loved off. But mostly, it just let go. And no amount of knowing you’re about to lose your hair can truly prepare you for that first sad shower-drainful. It really is like losing a bit of armor. With hair, you look like a normal person, and no one seeing you would know otherwise. Without it, you’re a marked woman, and you can practically read the thought bubbles over perfect strangers’ heads. Oh. You. Poor. Thing. A woman without hair, or with an odd lack thereof, is to be pitied, whatever the cause may be.
Sometime after the ski-hat season was over, I came to the abrupt realization that I’d drifted into the zone of needing to keep my head covered when I went out in the world, or expect to court unwanted concern for my well-being. It happened on a warm spring day, on one of my reservoir walks. The thing about walking on a designated loop is that, if you run into someone along the way, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see that same person, somewhere on the other side. Which gave my acquaintance half a lap to figure out what to say, when she ran into me again. Here’s what she decided on:
“Are you okay?”
Which, honestly, wasn’t half bad, so far as concerned salutations go. It was a greeting that she had 20 minutes to let percolate, and I suspect she ran through all the possible scenarios: is she sick, is it cancer or is it some other non-chemo hair loss, should I say anything, or is it weirder if I don’t say anything? But, being my first “Oh You Poor Woman” moment, it felt like a sucker punch, intended or not. Ah. So that’s what I look like. The Donald Trump-ish comb-over is not fooling anyone. Time to find some warm-weather headwear.
I now have a designated baseball cap for all my outdoor adventures. I wear it when I run errands, stand in line at Starbucks, etc. I bought a whole stash of more lady-like summer hats, straw and otherwise, for such things as, oh, yeah, that commencement that I was so hoping to have grown back a headful of hair for. Truthfully, only one of my girly hats works for me, the same way that my pile of fleece and wool winter hats boiled down to the one I kept wearing. That seems to be how it always goes: find the solution that works, and stick with it.
Back to that wig I posted about, oh so long ago. It’s a very nice wig, it really is. But it’s just not me. I mean, it looks like the me I used to look like, but it’s too much trouble to keep up that facade. It’s hot, it’s heavy, and it wants to frame my face without letting me push the hair behind my ears, which drives me nuts. I cannot even imagine being in some situation, formal or otherwise, and having a hot flash, and not wanting more than anything to tear that wig off my head. The funny thing is, I thought I’d care so much about my appearance that wearing a wig would be a no-brainer. Turned out, I guess I both didn’t lose enough hair fast enough to make it an obligation from the start, and then slowly, over time, found that I didn’t care enough about how I’ve been looking to reconsider my “Nope, not going there” decision.
Maybe if I’d gone bald, all in a flash, I’d have gone the wig route. As it is, perhaps I’ve been like one of those theoretical frogs, dropped in the pot before the water was put to boil, and I just haven’t noticed the outcome. Oh, that’s what I look like? Well, huh. Okay. Fine. Where’s my hat?
What it comes down to is this: I really don’t know what I look like. I mean, I see myself in the mirror every morning, but I get to steel myself for that view. I see my silly bedhead hair, standing on end, and I think of my boys when they were babies. I wet it down, I comb it back, I ruffle it up a bit, I plant a pair of reading glasses on top of my head, and I go on with my day. I truthfully don’t have a clue what the back of my head looks like (though the fact that my beloved has offered to give me a trim speaks volumes.) Occasionally I catch a view of myself, and trust me, it only happens by mistake. I mostly avoid my reflection, wherever it may appear.
As for my long-ago concern for how I’d look in those obligatory family photos on Ian’s commencement day, well, I’m the one in the hat.