I was sitting at my favorite coffee shop, drinking an iced latte and reading a great book my friend Forrest sent me, when I felt an itch on the back of my scalp and reached back to satisfy it. When I pulled my hand away, at least 50 short brown hairs came with it. They fluttered down over my shoulders and down my cardigan like so much confetti.
“Oh, shit,” I said aloud, causing a couple of other patrons to turn my direction.
I couldn’t help myself: I reached back and pulled out another handful. And another. It was coming in huge clumps. I’ve brushed long-haired cats that shed less than this. No matter where I tugged, I could painlessly pull out massive tufts of hair and hold them in my palm, staring down at the fearsome chemotherapy side effect I’ve dreaded since my diagnosis. There it was, my feminine comfort blanket, the hair I’ve spent so many hours blow-drying, curling, coloring, forcing into updos I found on Pinterest that never turned out like the pictures. Just laying on the floor of a coffee shop. I’m sorry, Zeli’s. I know your janitorial staff is going to be baffled by this tonight.
I immediately texted Katie Bo to let her know that It Was Happening.
Me: I feel sorry for the next person who sits in this chair. It looks like I invited my personal hair stylist in here to give me a trim while I sipped on this coffee.
KB: Don’t worry, it’ll probably be a hippy. Hippies are cool with hair.
Me: What do I do? Should I shave it? Help. HELP.
KB: The scab theory. Go home, watch some TV and pull on it compulsively. Or stay there and hand it to passersby.
Me: Maybe they’ll just assume I have a very sheddy invisible dog.
KB: Go up to the cashier and ask for a bowl of water for him.
KB: Go up to the counter and be like, “Excuse me, do you mind if I have a bowl of water for my dog Bertrando? He’s getting parched in the California heat and he’s starting to molt.”
Me: Then I’ll pull out a tuft of my hair and hand it to him as payment.
KB: “You operate on the barter system, right? I trust these strands will be enough.”
KB: Then start singing Les Miz.
Me: Honestly I don’t see a flaw in this plan.
Reeling from the realization that I was actually going to lose my hair (denial is a powerful emotion), I wandered across the street and into a TJ Maxx to see if I could find any cheap skullcaps to cover up my brand-new deformity. Unfortunately, this being winterless California, they had nothing but trendy fedoras and big, Kentucky Derby wide-brimmed sunhats. C’mon, guys! Some of us still need knit beanies even in the off-season. I am not Bruno Mars, so a fedora was out of the question, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t entertain the possibility of sporting nothing but genteel, floppy Southern hats throughout this whole ordeal, going everywhere in a dress, speaking like Paula Deen and carrying a mint julep everywhere I go. But alas. All I really wanted was a cozy cap.
Truth be told, my hair and I have always had a tumultuous relationship. When I was about 14, the whole thing exploded into a thick mass of curls so extreme, I was once featured in a before-and-after ad for the hair salon I went to. A hairdresser who blow-dried my locks straight said to me, sweat dripping down her face, “I don’t want to see you again until your wedding!” I hated my curls, and it took me years to figure out how to style them in a way that didn’t look like I’d dropped a toaster in the bath.
Whatever unknown forces caused my ‘fro, they calmed down when I was about 18. My hair settled into manageable waves that I started dying blonder and blonder until one day I looked in the mirror and realized I’d somehow gone Gwen Stefani platinum. I felt unique and sexy that way, so kept it blonde through most of college, before dying it back to brown just before graduation. And that’s how it stayed for the last few years – long, brown, often curled, sometimes straight, but always there for me, ready for a quick twirl to alleviate boredom or an alluring toss to attract the attention of some cute guy.
We may have had our differences, hair, but I never wanted us to part this way. I’ll miss you.