cycles into chemotherapy, my hair is falling out in clumps. Rising
from bed, there’s enough hair on my pillow to coat a calico
cat. The bus stop moms turn a polite eye, pretending not to notice my
burgeoning bald spots, except for Caireann.
torturing yaself and lemme shave ya head,” she implors.
it really that noticeable?”
really,” Beth said.
beautiful no matter what,” Kristen said.
huh,” Caireann confirms. “Time to rip off the ol’
band aid instead of just thinking ‘bout the pain.” “Whatevah,”
I sneer, attempting to mock her Boston accent.
one to contemplate the obvious, Caireann is direct and truthful to a
fault. How I envy her self-awareness and indifference to the
opinion of others. Bold to the bone, Caireann is not afraid to throw
a little wit in the face of an awkward situation.
guys come on over whenevah ya ready!”
stamped the dirt off my sneakers, pretending to be doing something
worthy of my attention. “I don’t think I’ll ever be
ready,” I mumble to the ground.
bus stop moms look at each other, unsure how to handle my pitiful
confession. Except for Caireann.
youze is coming with me!” She hooks her arm around mine and
leads me towards her home. Presumably to shave my head.
life, Caireann was a hairdresser. She and her husband, Jimmy, grew up
in Charlestown, an economically polarized neighborhood outside of
Boston, plastered in lavish brownstones or yellow crime scene tape.
Akin to the latter, they were raised in the Bunker Hill projects by
single moms drowning in children and the absence of trees. With their
unremarkable architecture and concrete yards edged by iron fences,
the cramped, brick apartment blocks were a postcard for the Soviet
Union Housing Authority that collected trash and air pollution from
the nearby expressway.
raising a brood of brothers and sisters, Caireann became a licensed
hair stylist and moved in with Jimmy. Through the 80s and
of the 90s, she slaughtered the fashion industry by winding permanent
waves and shaving mullets to support Jimmy’s budding musical
career. When his band rose to musical notoriety and financial
stability, Caireann and Jimmy seared their nuptials with matching
shamrock tattoos and Claddagh rings. With the dream of a land and all
things green, they bought 6 acres in NH and began popping kids out
like Tic Tacs. Jimmy still tours with the band while Caireann
is home with the kids.
hands me a shot of Jagermeister as soon as we walked through the
the hatch,” Caireann instructs. It’s 8:15 in the morning
and the daytime talk shows haven’t even hung out to dry.
a click of shot glasses, we’re two sorority sisters rallying
for a frat party, full of best intentions, but still liberating our
brains from both reasoning and judgement. The syrupy spirit
burns down my throat after dredging my tongue in the tang of black
licorice. If someone lights a cigarette, I’m sure to explode.
might want to ease up on the booze, considering there’ll be a
blade on my neck.” I noted.
waves a dismissive hand at my face. “Awe…relax. I’ve
been cutting hair forevah.”
in the comfort of her kitchen, I’m soothed by her willingness
to embrace the uncomfortable. Or perhaps it was the Jagermeister.
Regardless, for the first time in forever, I’m freed from the
perpetual state of worrying about what might happen next.
by an idea, Caireann snapped an index finger. “Have I gotta
treat for you!” Her eyes stretched wide with excitement before
she hustled to her bedroom closet. Moments later, she emerged with a
mischievous grin and a scarlet wig.
Roxy. She’s a helluva good time.” Voluptuous layers
glimmer a naughty glee as the wig is tossed in my direction.
plops in my hand like the delivery of my 3rd child. I examine her
with shy skepticism, impressed by her bounce and copper waves but
unsure if I can pull off her sexy appeal. I wish I were more
like Samantha from Sex
in the City, who
laid her body on the kitchen table, dressed only in sushi, as a
valentine’s gift for her boyfriend. If I attempted such a
stunt, Nick would graze down my nude body and ask, “So what’s
I suppose even Ruth Bader Ginsburg dared to dip in the playful waters
of stilettos and fishnet stockings, pulling off alluring appeal is a
tough sell when your body has been chopped tuna fish.
but I’ve got a wig. In fact, a humanhair
wig; they're all the rage.”
can always use another wig. Good excuse to spice it up in the
bedroom.” Caireann waggles her eyebrows and sends me a wink.
“Even got Daenerys Targaryen in the closet if ya feeling
cracks me up, though the idea is a punch in the stomach. During the
last six months my body has been more processed than a hotdog,
survival its only purpose.
secret slips out.
hasn’t shared a bed with me since chemo started; he’s
afraid all the drugs in my body will seep into his skin.” Damn
a loaded gun; a husband not wanting to share the bed with his wife.
After surrendering the fantasy of convincing Nick that I was not
radioactive, I found comfort in crying into my pillow alone at night
without pity or judgement. Still, I had never felt so
abandoned. The message was loud and clear; I was chock-full of
disease: an unwanted.
tsks her tongue and mutters a string of profanities not meant for
overwhelming for everyone,” I say in his defense.
overwhelming? Ya cancah? For him?” She’s ready to toss an
don’t have a response, nor does she have any intention of
listening. Instead, she insists on washing my hair, which seems
pointless to me.
she tells me. “I know what I’m doing.” And she
warm water soothes my soul when it trickles down my neck. The aroma
of spring and wildflowers elevates from the sink as Caireann massages
my scalp with lavender shampoo. I’m overcome by relaxation, not
even minding that the wad of hair in the drain could house a colony
Irish/Italian, your hair’ll grow back in no time,”
Cairnann remarks. “Maybe ya not destined to win a war but
you’re goin’ down with thatch hair.” She laughs at
her own joke and wraps my head in a towel.
to know,” I add.
have to get ya some falsies when your eyelashes fall out,” she
tells me. “False
boobs. False eyelashes. Not sure what’ll be left of the real
me,” I say, voice dredged in self-deprecation.
grabs my shoulders and digs into my eyes. “Cut the crap,”
she snaps. “You’re real and ya know it.”
taken aback by the strength and sincerity in her voice. We let the
silence dry out as she combs out my hair and separates it into
just do ah pixie today,” she decides. “We’ll buzz
gets to work, maneuvering my head with stick shift ease. She pulls my
hair, angling it between her fore and middle fingers, and snips the
scissors. I sit upright and still, perhaps receiving a consequence in
the principal’s office, as my coveted locks fall dead on the
floor. As I tap on the threshold of misery,Caireann redirects my
offense, but at first I kinda didn’t like you.”
I’m surprised. “Why not?”
Hahvahd shirt of yours. Figured ya were a snob.”
little hairs on the nape of my neck stand up, prepared for battle.
“It’s a t-shirt! That I wear running. And I don’t
even use the damn degree!”
clips away, undeterred. “That’s a lie. Ya wouldn’t
have that high paying job without the Hahvahd rubber stamp.”
that’s pointless since I don’t have that job anymore,”
snipping ceases. Caireann points a pair of scissors at my face,
threatening to poke out an eyeball.
was a lousy thing for ya boss to do. But ya job will be waiting when
this is ovah. In the meantime, might as well play dress up …poke
a little fun at the misery.” Cairenn returns to clipping as I
contemplate her comment.
thing is…” I confess. “I never felt like I
belonged at Harvard. I was always thinking an FBI agent would show up
at a lecture hall to call me out as an imposter. Or an alarm
would scream “not that smaht!!” when I scanned my ID
convinced most hairdressers deserve an honorary degree in psychology;
they know the dirt. Someday, some unknown hairstylist from a tiny
town in North Dakota will be plucked from obscurity after she pens a
little tell-all book revealing the secret formula to Frosted Flakes
or US nuclear launch codes. Our couchless therapy session unpeels me
to the core.
know…I was supposed to be smart but never quite got there.
There was this ‘accelerated group’ in middle school for
high achieving students. All my friends were picked to be
of the club, but I wasn’t. The teachers thought I had poor
confidence, so I’d be better off as the brightest kid in a
mediocre class rather than a normal bulb in the shiny district. One
teacher told me that I suffered from low self-esteem as if I caught
it by sticking my tongue on a flagpole. Their plan backfired; I was
excluded from all accelerated conversations and my seat at the lunch
table was overturned. And on the school bus. Kids I’d known
since kindergarten, whose parents ate in my Nana’s kitchen,
wanted nothing to do with me; I wasn’t good enough.”
you proved them wrong,” Caireann remarks.
I’m over it,” I jest.
snipping here and there, without apparent thought or strategy,
Caireann takes a couple steps back to admire her work.
da!” she exclaims, handing me a mirror.
new pixie cut pops my eyes and highlights my cheekbones, but it’s
not me. I swung a ponytail before I lost my baby teeth. Now
it’s gone. Perseverant thoughts of losing my hair have stripped
every ounce of energy and peace from my being. I’m done;
prepared to rip off the Band-aid and confront the inevitable.
beautiful,” I tell Caireann after she hands me a mirror. “I
can’t thank you enough…” my voice trails off.
can’t do this anymore. Thinking and worrying about what I’m
supposed to look like. Or be. I’m done. Will ya just
shave it off?”
I tell her.
sparks up the shaver, which hums with the strength of a Craftsman
lawn mower as it vibrates across my scalp. Everything I understood
about being a woman transforms into dust or dirt, waiting to be swept
away and tossed in the trash. Yet the absence of worry
ya ready to take a look?” Caireann says.
I grip the mirror with both hands, prepared to go down this
rollercoaster head first.
bald woman stares back at me, a stranger it would seem. But she
isn’t. I look into her eyes and see a determination exceeded
only by grit.
I say to myself. Nice
to see you; it’s been too long.
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