In case you were wondering, my father won the latest battle. I am still sitting on my hair. But, that’s O.K. Because, you know what? It suddenly occurred to me the other day that, no matter how many battles he wins, my father will not win the war.
I am not going to be a kid forever. Someday, I’ll have a home and a life of my own. And, when I do, I’ll get a haircut once a month if I want to! So there!
Do you think that I sound like a brat? I guess that I probably do. It’s just that I am sick of having the same ridiculous argument with my dad month after month after month. I mean, it’s not as if my mother had long hair. And, she certainly didn’t have only one hairstyle. In fact, before she got sick, everyone always used to joke that my mom’s hair came out of a bottle (her hair color that is).
Blonde. Brunette. Black. Auburn. She tried them all. And her hairstyle changed with every dye job. Long. Short. Layered. Straight. Bangs. Bangless. Whatever the most fashionable style of the moment, my mother was certain to try it. Which is why – as empathic as I may be – I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must have been for her when her hair started to fall out.
Hair loss may not be the most physically painful side effect related to chemotherapy (it’s a type of cancer treatment), but it certainly is one of the most obvious side effects. And, even though I didn’t keep a daily record of my mother’s hair loss. And, even though we never openly acknowledged the fact that her hair was falling out (another unmentionable symbol of her illness, I suppose), I was certainly aware that it was happening. How could I not be aware of it?
At first, when her hair was only just beginning to thin out in spots, my mother would wrap scarves around her head (to cover up the empty patches). But, eventually, she was…well, she was bald. And the scarves just weren’t doing the job anymore. So, she went out, and she bought herself a wig.
I hated that wig.
How much did I hate it? Well, think about your least favorite food in the whole world. Think about how you would feel if you were forced to eat it with every meal, every day, for the rest of your life. Now, multiply that feeling by a billion. Then, and only then, will you even come close to imagining the disgust that I had for that hideous hair piece.
I know that there are wigs out there that are so real that you’d never know that the person was wearing one, but this wig wasn’t like that at all. It looked fake, and it felt fake, and it smelled fake – like the hair on a Barbie Doll.
And, even worse, it was unstylish. It was just this mud brown, messy, bob-like hairdo that looked as if it hadn’t been brushed in about a million years.
You’d think that my mother, a person who spent her entire life cutting, and dying, and styling her hair into the latest fashion would have chosen to wear a wig that symbolized survival and happiness, instead of one that was ugly and so obviously fake.
It was awful seeing that wig on my mother’s bald head. But, probably even worse, was seeing that wig off my mother’s head.
When she was really sick (dying), and she couldn’t get out of bed anymore, my mother had my father install a hospital bed in the playroom off of the kitchen. It was the room where my brother and I spent most of our free time. We’d do our homework, watch television, play board games and make-believe in that room – anything and everything. So, my mom clearly chose that spot because she wanted to be as close to us as she possibly could, for as long as she possibly could.
But, of course, I wasn’t aware of any of this at the time. As sick as she so obviously was, it never occurred to me that there was a chance that my mother might simply cease to exist some day (soon). Or, that she had lost her fight with breast cancer (and she knew it). Or, that she spent her days sleeping, and thinking, and waiting for her children to get home from school so that she could watch them while they played (ignorant of the ticking time bomb that was about to explode inside their mother’s body). Or, that she spent her nights awake, cursing the fact that death would soon be taking her away from the people that she loved (and the fact that she was being robbed of the chance to watch her children grow up).
At least, I can’t remember thinking about any of this.
All I can remember is that I couldn’t invite my friends over to play, because my pretty mommy was lying in a hospital bed in the playroom, and she wasn’t looking all that pretty anymore. In fact, she was looking kind of scary. Because, at this point, she was basically just a skeleton covered with skin (with nothing in between – no fat, no muscle – to hide all of the bones that went into making her whole).
And her skin didn’t look all that terrific either. It wasn’t pale and creamy, the way it was supposed to be (the way that it once was). Instead, it was the color of a bruise that’s had about a week to heal; all greenish-yellow, with just a touch of purple in spots. Spots where needles had been inserted and removed, inserted and removed, inserted and removed.
And, of course, she was completely bald. And she really wasn’t hiding it from anyone at this point. But, even though she hardly wore her wig anymore, for some strange reason, my mother had developed the odd habit of leaving it out anyway.
She liked to keep it draped over the headboard of her bed. Don’t ask me why. Maybe she felt the need to have it someplace where she could reach it. You know, in case she wanted to put it on when a friend (or a relative) came to visit her while my brother and I were at school. She certainly never wore it when we were at home.
Whatever the reason, it made my skin crawl, seeing that wig hanging there on her bed like some sort of disgusting rodent. Whenever I entered the playroom, I would look at my mother and silently beg her to put that awful wig away; to find a bag or a box of some sort to store it in when it wasn’t on her head. But, she never did.
Here we were, expected to carry on with our daily routine as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening to my mother. While, the entire time, that disgusting wig was draped casually over her skeletal body for all the world to see – a glaring reminder of all that remained unspoken between us.
It was awkward. And, it was upsetting. And it made me really, really mad.