Tuesday, January 29, 2013

bald is beautiful (poorhouse scalp, not so much)

When my hair first started falling out in clumps at Trader Joe’s last week, I had all kinds of angry thoughts. People who get prophylactic surgery never have to deal with this shit. Chopping off your tits isn’t nothing, but it’s not cancer. And Fucking chemo. It’s all, “The disease you have is SO BAD WE HAVE TO POISON YOU; IT’S WORSE THAN POISON!” And I want to shove my balding head in the face of anyone who thinks I’m just an overly emotional drama queen who can’t deal with life.

I don’t know if anyone actually thinks I’m an overly emotional drama queen who can’t deal with life. But my superego definitely thinks that, and over the years it has worn the faces of various people.  

It seemed too soon to declare the ChemoCap a success or a failure. One day, I’d been able to tug gently at a handful of hair, and it stayed in my head. The next, it was in my hand. The fact that my life could change so quickly and concretely without notice or consent was alarming. I know that’s the story of cancer. I know that’s the story of life. But it sucks. The clumps seemed concentrated at the edges of my scalp, though, implying that the ChemoCap had preserved the parts it had the most access to.

After a few more days of waking up to a pillow full of hair, and discovering hair in my food, and worrying that people at Starbucks would wonder about the snowfall of hair on my shoulders, I decided that, while I had hair on my head, it wasn’t my hair as I knew it—a thick, curly, low-maintenance mane that I could run my hands through and style as I pleased. It looked the same, but it had been replaced by a finicky, delicate creature that freaked out at the slightest disturbance. So what was the point?

The point, of course, is not being bald. Not having a neon sign over your head that says, I have cancer, oh, and can I have a nonfat chai latte? (Even though I’m trying to cut back on dairy and sugar, because maybe they cause cancer, but I’m treating myself this morning because I know I won’t be eating much for a few days.)

Can Starbucks and baldness mix? Just one of the burning questions I have for Britney.

But I tend to err on the side of getting things over with, and I was over my hair that wasn’t really my hair.

In the morning, I told AK I wanted to shave it off.

“Are you sure?” Her eyes looked a little glisten-y, in a way they never had for my boobs. “Your curls,” she said.

I ran my hands over my hair and opened my palms to show her the dark brown globs I’d gathered. She got it.

She had plans with Pedro, and said she’d ask him to come over after, or she’d borrow his clippers. We were such girls. We owned no such tools.

“Okay,” she said. “We’ll put on the Les Mis soundtrack and get to work.”

I had a dream my life would be/ So different from this hell I'm living. (But at least I haven't had to sell my teeth for rent money.)

I went to the new yoga studio on York after work (because of course there’s a new yoga studio on York), where, during shavasana, the teacher gripped our heads and turned them right, then left. In my mind I apologized for the handfuls of hair she was going to walk away with.

Then I went home to our mini head-shaving party: AK, Pedro, Stephen and Nicole. As much as I love my family, they’ve been consumed by their own stress lately, and I want to shield them from mine. It’s not as self-sacrificing as it sounds. In a way, not letting them be there for me is almost a punishment in twisted Klein-family logic. But my heart swelled with gratitude for the people who’d become my family; who were about to see the little spots on my scalp that are always red and flaky and picked-at, a ritual that used to be between me and my commute, about to be exposed to the world.

Pedro tried to use one of the longer clipper settings to take off the top layer, but either my falling-out hair didn’t have enough resistance, or my naturally thick hair had too much. He and AK took turns with the scissors instead.

“Stop giving her a style cut,” Nicole instructed. “AK’s living out her childhood Barbie dreams here.” (Although I was pretty sure both Nicole and AK had been Star Wars kids.)

Finally we got down to a shave-able length, and Pedro took off the sides. There was talk of giving me a Mohawk, and I lamented that they didn’t make Mohawk wigs.

I felt pretty sure that wearing a wig wouldn’t be my style. A long time ago, I saw a documentary about Jennifer Miller, a former professor of mine who’d worked as a bearded lady at Coney Island. She was queer, but not transgender, so the filmmaker asked why she didn’t shave her beard when it started to come in in her twenties.

“For a while, I did,” she said, “but I always felt like I was going to get caught. Like someone would catch a glimpse of stubble during a job interview. It seemed more shameful, more like having a beard, than having a beard did.”

People with no hair can learn a lot from people with extra hair.

I don’t think queer people take faking anything lightly, especially if it’s out of shame. I am determined not to feel ashamed of being diagnosed with cancer, even though sometimes I do, even though there are parts of cancer culture (and parts of queer culture, for that matter—the rainbow jewelry and certain types of shoes) that I resist fiercely.

A Mohawk I could glue to my scalp, though? That would be awesome.

“Now you have kind of a Tank Girl look,” Nicole said of my partially shaved head.

AK had been recording it all on her iPad Mini. She thought I should take advantage of the opportunity to look menacing. “You could, like, record a video message to send to your enemies,” she said, pointing her iPad-cam at me.

“Oh, I’ve got a list,” I assured her. First stop: superego.

“Don’t forget to shave it front to back,” Nicole said to Pedro. “That’s how they did it in 50/50.

I laughed. “So you’re telling a guy who’s shaved his own head a bunch of times to make sure to do this the way you saw in a movie once?”

AK said, “Do you want to see a picture of how you look?” She turned her iPad to me, but instead of my own effed-up head, she showed me this:

Lung-cancer chic.

We all agreed I looked particularly dykey. “This is the first time I’ve seen you look scary, like you could really kick some ass,” Nicole said.

“I feel like the dykey butch girls with shaved heads are always the really nice ones, who are shy and won’t give you any trouble,” AK said.

When they were done, I looked in the mirror. It was a little bit Les Mis/19th Century Poorhouse Chic, but not as much as I’d worried. My eyes looked bigger. Maybe I could pull off a femmey-punk-dyke thing. I’d assumed I would be a hat-and-scarf girl, but suddenly I wanted to rock my new bald head.

The only problem was that my scalp looked a little scary. The thick dark stubble was interrupted by pink patches where my hair had actually fallen out, and the combination looked blotchy and, well, diseased. Like, in a contagious way. I felt like the good people at Starbucks might not appreciate this (Starbucks being my default Public Place).

So now I’m at Starbucks, writing this, wearing the gorgeous, super-soft merino wool hat Keely made me. As she was knitting, she joked about festooning it with pink and flowers and glitter and breast cancer ribbons, but it’s very stately. It looks much less chemo-y than the bandanas I experimented with last night.

This is listed as a "breast cancer awareness hat." When I look at it, I do feel VERY AWARE of breast cancer.

As pop culture role models go, I don’t look like I could give the finger to the Pope or run over anyone with a tank, but I also don’t look like a movie of the week. That’s good enough for me.


Sizzle said...

I love the photos you incorporated into this post. :-) I'm certain that you look lovely in your knit hat but I'm mad at your hair for falling out and mad at cancer for being in your body. I'm glad you've got good people around you to joke with. xoxo

Tracy Lynn said...

This struck me, since I am very vain about my hair. But chemo is a fucker. And, dude, moisturize the fuck out of your scalp and the patches should go away, or be less noticeable. I recommend Eucerin Calming Cream. That shit is the bomb.
By the way, I think you are kicking ass. So proud of you.

Cheryl said...

S: Around me and in the blogosphere. :-) Thanks, Siz.

TL: Thanks for the beauty rec! Yeah, already my scalp is looking better. I think it's all, "Finally! After 34 and a half years [because I was bald for quite a while as a baby] we're free!"

Una said...

I agree with the other comments: you are kicking ass, you are amazing and you are surrounded by love & humor. oxox

Cheryl said...

Well, at least I have the shaved head of someone who could kick ass. And yeah, I've definitely got a lot of funny, loving people in my life.