Boyfriend/Hairdresser 8 weeks ago: “Come on! It’s always something with you. I can’t see anything!”
Sister 4 weeks ago: “Is it because you dye your hair too often?”
New Boyfriend/Hairdresser 3 weeks ago: “Ok, now I see what you’re talking about.”
A woman historically known for her wild, curly red locks is starting to part with them, at the ripe old age of almost 34. And with this development, wherefore goes the identity?
The summer I turned 13, I took a long look in the mirror and decided that with the natural attributes of ghostly pale skin, bright green eyes and a smattering of freckles, Mother Nature was in error when she doled out a head of medium brown hair. If I was going to be continually mistaken for Irish, I might as well go all the way with it.
Except for a brief 90s dalliance with black (a huge mistake influenced by Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana) and a foray into blonde highlights last decade (the things we do for love), my hair has held one fiery shade or another for over 20 years. As the tresses curled evermore with each passing year, I alternately cursed the frizzy, unruly mess yet gave silent thanks that I was gifted with a conversation piece, a physical manifestation of my personality: untamed, sometimes glossy, frustrating and colorful.
Though I fancy myself a believer in the overused “beauty is skin deep” maxim, I rarely applied that latitude to myself. It was never enough that I was a smart kid, decent at sports with other accomplishments. I wanted to be beautiful, the kind of gorgeousness that stopped people in their tracks. I wanted to ditch the huge Haray Caray glasses that acted as a screaming billboard for my near-sightedness. I yearned for the day I would have the independence to have my awful, crooked chompers corrected through the miracle of orthodontics. I wondered if I would ever grow big girls boobs (still waiting at 33). I didn’t want to be creative and odd. There was a time I would have surrendered everything that makes me, well me, if it meant loving the image reflected in the glass.
As I grew up, sought the services of a good therapist and did the painful work of looking inward, I accepted what I had known all along: you can’t have it all and it’s a pretty idiotic waste of time to moon over your personal aesthetics. So as I have alluded in other posts, I learned to kind of like and appreciate the rest of me. Until…..
8 weeks ago when I began to notice a spot near my left temple that was hairless. I’m not talking about short baby hairs that might reflect pulling, hairbrush damage, etc. I mean bald – like it had been waxed clean. My eye, long trained to zero in on real and perceived flaws, moved to the spot by the day, then the hour, then the minute. What the hell was happening and why?
Alopecia was the first suggestion offered by the doctor, maybe stress related. Even as it started to be accompanied by intermittent headaches and nausea, I was told I shouldn’t worry. Fretting could expedite the pattern, but asking me not to worry about an eyesore which I cannot control is like asking water not to be wet. So as the spot grew in the ensuing weeks, as topical steroids were doled, I started to consider that I might soon be without my signature physical attribute. Would my personality change without the aesthetic weapon that seemed to justify a “take no prisoners” attitude? The absence of my loud hair, an armor to hide the quiet, sad shame often experienced might leave me naked and defenseless in metaphysical and real ways.
A battery of tests this afternoon will shed additional light: autoimmune disease, brain tumor, anxiety disorder. These first of these two diagnoses are obviously somewhat problematic. But all I can think about is my hair. I don’t want to lose it – or myself, especially when it took so darned long to be found.