I’ve spent a fair amount of time lately, digging around my closet, looking for those cold-weather layers that haven’t seen the light of day in ages. That, plus I’ve been to a couple of fundraisers, the kind that send me scurrying and wondering where I last hung up my dressy wool coat and little black bag. In both the bag and in my multiple outerwear pockets, I’ve been surprised to find items that I have no use for anymore, or at least not anytime soon.
My very few male readers probably don’t know what I’m talking about here, but if you’re female, you know. It’s rubber bands and bobbie pins, barrettes and scrunchies, combs and brushes. It’s the accouterments that used to keep my hair out of my face, back when my hair got in my face. I have a drawer devoted to such things. I just hadn’t looked in that drawer for, hmm, ten months? In that time, I’ve been busy doing the post-chemo head-covering dance.
Here’s the short version of my hair story. It started when I bought a wig, before I’d lost a single strand of hair. I got it early, as I was advised, so the wig lady would know what we would be trying to replicate. (She thought I was Anna Wintour. I’m not.) Then I sat down for a “You can’t fire me, I quit” haircut, which made the hair loss episodes less dire on our plumbing, if not on my psyche. After that, I invested in ski hats, berets, scarves, bandanas. I snapped up headwear like nobody’s business. Then I watched and waited.
What happened next was an exercise in being the frog in the lukewarm pot of water. When the heat got turned up, I sort of noticed, but not entirely. My hair got thin, then thinner. But never fell out in whole blotchy clumps. It got a bit rubbed off on the side I most often sleep on, the same way my boys rubbed off the hair on the back of their heads when they were tiny babies. My sweetheart likened me to the Velveteen Rabbit, my fuzz loved away.
But it didn’t all fall out. I kept enough hair to fake it, a bit. I relocated my part. I worked the comb-over. I wore the one hat I actually liked, from that big shopping spree. I left the wig in the bag. I kept my head covered when I went out, and said, “Fine thanks, and you?” when people asked how I was. It was part of my armor, to shield myself from being defined by my appearance. I thought I had it covered, all buttoned up.
Which makes me sound like some proud, strong thing. I’m not, trust me, when it comes to accepting what I looked like, then or now. I will all but rip your cell phone out of your hands if you try to take my picture, whether I’ve got a hat on these days or not. There’s something about seeing what I look like in photos that’s oddly disconcerting. Seriously, that’s what I look like? What happened to my eyebrows?
I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s two of me out there. First, there’s the image I have, when I brace myself and peek in the bathroom mirror in the morning. Oh, hello. And then there’s the version I catch at odd moments, the sidelong view in storefront windows, or the extreme close-up, abruptly reflected back at me, on my laptop screen. There’s the one I get to steel myself for, before I brush my teeth, and the one that catches me unaware, all day long. Two versions of me, that I’m hoping to reconcile sometime soon.
Which is where I still am today, even though I’ve officially got hair—a whole headful, thank you very much. But here’s the part I wasn’t expecting: it’s not my hair that’s growing in on me. It’s my mother’s. It’s her shade of dark brown, darker than mine ever was, even absent my salon highlights. It’s tending towards gray all over, like my mom’s did, not just around my temples, where I was before. Oh, and it stands on end. I’m like a six-year-old boy who went to bed straight out of the bathtub, sporting a floppy crewcut and cowlicks by the dozen. I have no control over which direction my hair is headed these days. And I’m mostly grateful that the part that would be bangs seems willing to give me an extra inch or so by popping up at attention, and staying that way, night and day.
And yet, odd though my current coif may be, the hair on my head has definitely crossed the line in a good way. If I go for a walk without my hat on, I no longer elicit the “Are You Okay?” queries. Reactions to my current look have fast-forwarded to, “Oh geez! I didn’t recognize you!” And “Great haircut!” I’m convinced the “great haircut” comment is generally thrown in to make up for not recognizing me. When we had that hazy hot and humid streak late in August, I got a lot of kudos around what a good idea my summertime buzz was. Yeah, thanks! Global warming and tamoxifen drove me to this pixie, on account of hormones and the humidity! Right!
So, sports fans, here’s where I am. Still a little taken aback by my reflection, still a little oblivious to what the world sees when it looks at me. And yet, a whole lot more sensitive to other people’s hairdos and headwear, and more thoughtful to what they might be keeping under their hats, literal or otherwise. Like, for instance, the woman I saw at that fundraiser, for my hospital’s breast center. After the usual niceties and how’ve-you-been catch ups, she said what I was thinking: “So…is that a chemo-bob?” Yep, that’s what this is. Been there, done that.
A six-word story no where near as sad as Hemingway’s version, about the baby shoes.