Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Strange and Familiar

Last Thursday, at around 9:05 am, I shaved my head. Completely. I walked into Super Cuts as soon as it opened and asked the lady behind the counter if they had room for a walk-in. She smiled warmly and said yes. After she took down my name, she asked me what I wanted done. I told her that I wanted to shave my whole head. She didn't give a hint of surprise, even though her eyes flickered ever so slightly. I explained that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and my hair had started falling out from the chemo treatment. I told her how I wanted to shave all my hair off before too much fell out so that I could donate my hair to a place that made wigs for kids with cancer.

On Wednesday, the morning before, during my shower, I noticed my hair collecting around the drain. I didn't even feel them falling out or running past my fingers. But when I looked down, there were little clumps around the holes in the drain. I knew the time had come. When I brushed my hair after, more clumps fell out, and the strands seemed limitless because the falling strands had other strands entangled in them. My brush looked like a shaggy animal from all the hair tangled in it. I hastily put my hair up in a tight ponytail and kept it that way all day.

I had planned all along to donate my hair as soon as my hair started falling out, but when the time came, I could not do it. Instead, as I saw my hair fall out, I cried. I wasn't necessarily attached to my hair. I hardly did anything to take care of it these days. Every morning, as soon as I woke up, it went up in a little bun. I didn't have time to blow dry or style it. I have breakfasts to prepare and kids to send to school. But with the loss of hair came all my insecurities about my looks, the size and the shape of my head, the excess weight I've put on, and all the features I don't like to think about or bring attention to when I'm in the middle of living day to day. Now, I didn't even have my hair to hide behind. My face, and all its imperfections, was exposed for me and the world to see.

That afternoon, I rushed to the store where I had ordered my wig a week before. When the lady told me my wig wasn't ready yet, I bought another and whisked it home as if I were bringing home a newborn. At home, I tucked it away safely in my closet while I thought about what to do. Actually, I didn't think about it as much as live with it. Live with the new circumstance. Live with this development. Live with the idea that my hair was falling out and I would soon have none left.

I thought about how fragile we are, how thin the divide between those who belong and those who don't. How we live in a society shaped by certain images and norms and how desperately we cling to them. I thought about what it would mean to be a woman with a shaved head. I could only think about Sinead O'Connor. And more recently, Emma Gonzalez. But who else?

Since the breast cancer diagnosis, I have not felt sorry for myself at any moment. It is only stage one, and it's completely treatable. It seems like nothing to complain about, especially when I think of others who have it so much worse. But that night, I let myself cry a little. It felt like a farewell of sorts, a farewell to a part of me that had provided a sense of comfort and protection. A part of me that would soon cease being a part of me.

I slept with my hair in the pony tail out of fear that I would lose too much hair along with my opportunity to donate it. On Thursday morning, I cautiously pulled the rubber band off to assess the situation. The amount of hair that sloughed off alarmed me, and I put the rubber back on immediately and braided it. I checked the hours for Super Cuts, and rushed over as soon as I could.

I sat in the chair, and the lady pulled out the electric razor. Mindful of how I wanted to keep my hair intact for donation, she kept my hair in the braid and started shaving from the top of my nape. I felt the coolness on my scalp as she worked on a section at a time. As she worked, I became self-conscious about the odor of my scalp since I had not washed my hair since the morning before. The kind lady gave no sign of noticing anything, and kept shaving. I don't think I looked in the mirror once while she was working.

When she was done, she reached over to put the hair in a paper bag, but I asked her to hand it to me as I had brought my own plastic bag. The hair still retained the shape of my head. In the cap, I saw several strands of white in the shrub of black. For a few minutes, I focused on pulling the white strands out, thinking that the kid who receives my hair shouldn't be stuck with white hair.

Finally, I looked up in the mirror. In myself, I saw images of Buddhist women monks. Emma Gonzalez. And Wakanda warriors. I looked strange and familiar.


  1. I've missed you so much, I'm glad you're doing OK. All my best to you and your family :)

    1. OMG, thank you so much for sticking around after all these years!!

  2. Hair or no hair you are beautiful inside and out. I cherish our friendship and you. Yours words always touch me lady xoxo