One Year Later
The following featured entry was originally written and published by Ree on her weblog, My Life As a Hotfessional. She once had a pet skunk named Blossom.
I stood in the shower - watching the hair that I had just rinsed from my fingers drop to the floor and slide in the soapy water between my feet and to the drain. I raised my hands back up to my head and bent into the spray, combing through the tangles that were coated, slippery, with conditioner. I felt more strands come loose. Hair landed on my back and slithered, like so many tiny snakes, down to the small of my back. I shivered. Not with cold - but with fear.
I turned my face to the water and cried. I knew this time was different. Worse. Oh fuck, how much worse? Wasn’t there enough going on in my life at the moment?
My fingertips went to my temples and traced the shiny smooth skin around to the back of my head. Splaying them, I lifted the longish hair, parted the shower curtain and looked into the mirror over the vanity. Bald. All the way around. Not too noticeable - yet - unless the wind blew the top around - but even as I dropped my hands back down to my sides, more hair came with them. I rubbed viciously at the bald area on the left side of my head. I was used to quarter-sized spots. Even, once upon a very shitty time, a couple of half-dollar sized spots. I’d lost my bangs in 1998 - showing more of my forehead than any woman dares - but even then, EVEN THEN, I could fake it. What hair I did have was so thick that the fatness of it all gave the illusion that it covered all parts of my head.
Turning off the water, I stepped out of the shower and bent to pick up the clumps that had gathered around the drain. Looking at what I was holding, mindlessy rolling the strands - matting them together - they became the size of a golf ball. A golf ball sized ball of hair. From one shower.
Goddamned mirror. I sat on the toilet so I couldn’t see myself. I thought about the week ahead. A retirement party for my mentor - a man I adored. He wasn’t retiring of his own volition - the company that had bought ours had started their upper management “reductions in force”. It was only a matter of time for the rest of us. All of my friends. People who were like family.
I was exhausted. I’d just spent fifteen months completing a project that had its own share of losses. I had laid off all of my staff a month earlier - my clients sold to a competitor. I had given up my office and started working from our tiny extra bedroom. Full time. I no longer dressed for work. I had lost that piece of my identity. The successful businesswoman piece.
My family was counting on me - the sole wage earner - to hold things together. We’d moved from where my son had grown up so that I could take this position. Promises of growth and fun and vacations and … we’d bought a house in the middle of nowhere, where we knew nobody. Twenty four months into a thirty year mortgage and I was facing unemployment.
Then I remembered one more thing. While I was saying goodbye to the career I’d built, my husband’s son was moving 300 miles from where he’d grown up to live in our basement. He, my stepson, was running away from a bad breakup - and into a family that he hadn’t wanted anything to do with for more than 18 years.
And now, I was losing my fucking hair. My head dropped into my hands. I sat, staring at the hair spiraling towards the floor. Just that little movement had loosened more strands. I watched them until I could stand up and walk out. It took nearly an hour.
That was a year ago this week. By my birthday in May, I had to wear a scarf in order to go out of the house. I had my first appointment with my dermatologist. She injected my head with cortisone. Thirty shots right into my head.
By June, I asked my husband to shave what little remained off. My stepdaughter had walked in my office while I was working and had seen me. I hadn’t realized I wasn’t alone and wasn’t wearing anything to cover my head. The look on her face said it all. No one had prepared her. I looked like a radiation victim.
By July, my eyebrows were gone. My legs didn’t need to be shaved. My armpits? A razor no longer touched them. Every place on my body was devoid of hair - all except my eyelashes. My eyelashes were still there. They ARE still there.
I prayed they would stay in. I’m an atheist. Don’t tell me that some god saved them, though. It was my refusal to wear mascara or rub my eyes that saved them. I prayed at the pink and green altar of Maybelline Great Lash dammit.
In September, I broke down and bought my first wig. I hated it. It was the wrong style - the wrong color - the wrong every-damn-thing. It still sits on my dresser. I stopped seeing my dermatologist. She said, with tears in her eyes, that the treatment wasn’t helping and she felt badly - putting me through that pain and taking my money. I hugged her on the way out.
In October, I found a wig I liked better. It looked more like the hair I had BEFORE. I have 4 of those now. All exactly the same. I justify the expense because when I got my hair colored every 8 weeks, I spent - on each visit - the same as one of these wigs. Four visits. Thirty-two weeks.
Through the holidays, I survived. In January, I started back to work - traveling - always with an extra wig stashed in my suitcase. Just in case. In case of fire. In case of wind. In case of bad luck. What-the-fuck-ever. I don’t care. It’s there. Under the pajamas I only wear when I travel. Just.In.Case.
And now, we’re back in April. My right eyebrow has partially grown back. My left brow has six hairs. I have to shave one patch on my left leg and my right armpit - but only every other week. Just above where my head meets my neck - the only place there was still hair when I told my husband, “Shave it. Please just shave it off - I can’t take it anymore” - is growing back in. But no place else. Not on the top of my head. Not on the sides.
Picture Michael Jordan. Telly Savalas. Mr. Fucking Clean.
I have good days. Days when I’m grateful that rain doesn’t bring the frizzies. When I look at myself in the mirror and notice my fairly wrinkle free skin and the eyes some people have called beautiful. I tell myself that I should be grateful it’s not cancer. That my family is healthy and that the ONLY thing this disease has taken from me is hair. Hair that can be bought.
And then, I have bad days. Really shitty days. Days that turn into nights like last night. When my husband and I were making love before, once again, being separated for three long nights, he reached up and rubbed my head. And I snapped. “Don’t touch my head. I hate it. I fucking hate my head. Just let me go to sleep.” I rolled over and held still. Perfectly still. I wanted him to feel the anger emanating from my back so that he wouldn’t dare touch me. And finally, I fell asleep.
This morning, when I woke up, I apologized to him. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t you. You did nothing wrong. I’m just tired of feeling so ugly. I just want my hair to grow back.” He’s forgiving. He hugged me and told me that he loved me. He drove me to the airport in the pouring rain - when he could have stayed, snug in our bed.
There will be more good days. There will be more bad days. I have no fantasies that someday, I’ll have my long hair back. I will continue to watch for sales on my wig style and hope that it doesn’t get discontinued. I will make friends who will never know that I don’t have fashionably styled auburn hair that is trimmed so religiously that it’s ALWAYS THE SAME LENGTH. I’ll make friends who I will be comfortable enough with to say, “Excuse me, do you mind if I take off my hair? It’s so damned hot.” I will laugh at myself as I walk through the wind with my head bent at just the right angle to prevent a gust from making off with it. I will cry as I open yet another magazine telling us how to have Shiny.Manageable.Beachy.Waves. I will rub my bald head as I’m thinking - sitting at my computer - writing a post. I will shape my eyebrows and pluck stray hairs - each time wincing - another perfectly good hair I’m voluntarily pulling out of my head. I will stare at my eyes and WILL my eyelashes to stay put.
I will live with this. But I won’t like it. I don’t have to.
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