Hello, Again

Maureen Moynihan

© Copyright 2023 by Maureen Moynihan

Photo by Alina Skazka at Pexels.
Photo by Alina Skazka at Pexels..
Three 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.

Stop torturing yaself and lemme shave ya head,” she implors.

Is it really that noticeable?”  

Not really,” Beth said.

You’re beautiful no matter what,” Kristen said.

Uh 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. 

Not 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. 

 “Youze guys come on over whenevah ya ready!” 

 I 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. 

The bus stop moms look at each other, unsure how to handle my pitiful confession. Except for Caireann.

Then youze is coming with me!” She hooks her arm around mine and leads me towards her home. Presumably to shave my head. 

Pre-suburban 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.

After raising a brood of brothers and sisters, Caireann became a licensed hair stylist and moved in with Jimmy.  Through the 80s and most 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.

She hands me a shot of Jagermeister as soon as we walked through the door. 
Down the hatch,” Caireann instructs. It’s 8:15 in the morning and the daytime talk shows haven’t even hung out to dry.

With 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. 

We might want to ease up on the booze, considering there’ll be a blade on my neck.” I noted. 

Caireann waves a dismissive hand at my face. “Awe…relax. I’ve been cutting hair forevah.”

Sitting 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. 

Lit 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. 

Met Roxy. She’s a helluva good time.” Voluptuous layers glimmer a naughty glee as the wig is tossed in my direction. 

Roxy 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 for dinner?” 

Though 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.

Thanks, but I’ve got a wig. In fact, a human hair wig; they're all the rage.”

Ya 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 domineering.”

 She 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. 

A secret slips out.

 “Nick 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 Jagermeister.

It’s 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. 

Caireann tsks her tongue and mutters a string of profanities not meant for ears.

It’s overwhelming for everyone,” I say in his defense.

What’s overwhelming? Ya cancah? For him?” She’s ready to toss an axe. 

I 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. 

Relax,” she tells me. “I know what I’m doing.” And she does. 

The 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 of rats. 

Being 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. 

Good to know,” I add.

We’ll 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. 

Caireann grabs my shoulders and digs into my eyes. “Cut the crap,” she snaps. “You’re real and ya know it.”

I’m 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 sections. 

Let’s just do ah pixie today,” she decides. “We’ll buzz it latah.”

Caireann 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 attention.

No offense, but at first I kinda didn’t like you.”

OH,” I’m surprised. “Why not?”

That Hahvahd shirt of yours. Figured ya were a snob.”

The 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!”

Caireann clips away, undeterred.  “That’s a lie. Ya wouldn’t have that high paying job without the Hahvahd rubber stamp.”

Well, that’s pointless since I don’t have that job anymore,” I countered.

The snipping ceases. Caireann points a pair of scissors at my face, threatening to poke out an eyeball. 

 “That 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.

 “Funny 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 card. 

Uh-huh,” Caireann hums. 

I’m 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. 

Ya 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 part 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.” 

Seems you proved them wrong,” Caireann remarks.

Clearly I’m over it,” I jest.

After snipping here and there, without apparent thought or strategy, Caireann takes a couple steps back to admire her work. 

Ta da!” she exclaims, handing me a mirror.

My 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.

It’s beautiful,” I tell Caireann after she hands me a mirror. “I can’t thank you enough…” my voice trails off. 

But?” she prompts. 

But…I 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?”

Sure?” she asks.

Absolutely,” I tell her. 


Caireann 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 consoles me. 

R ya ready to take a look?” Caireann says.

Yes.” I grip the mirror with both hands, prepared to go down this rollercoaster head first. 

A 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.

Well hello again, I say to myself. Nice to see you; it’s been too long.

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