(Please note this post contains a small amount of mild profanity. Well, I think it’s mild, anyway).
About five years ago, while I was still living in Edmonton, I shaved my head to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society. It was an annual event at my workplace. My colleagues would fundraise, and then one afternoon they’d sit on a stage while someone shaved, dyed, or cut their hair (if they were donating it for wigs). The neighbouring building participated too, so there was always an audience of hundreds.
My wonderful co-workers pledged plenty of money with absolutely no prodding on my part. It was a celebratory event, and in the weeks preceding the shave the I.T. guys almost had me convinced to take it “down to the wood” (i.e. Bic it).
I guess I’m a little vain because I was worried I’d cry in front of everyone when my hair came off. So I spent a week trashing my hair beforehand. I dyed it black, then green. Then, the night before the shave, my husband cut it into a mullet. He kept laughing in my face, and I started to cry, but that just made him laugh harder.
The next morning, when I showed up with my black and green mullet, some of my co-workers said they actually liked my hair (they were very nice people). Some guy who was a friend of a friend even thought it was hot. Apparently there are alien chicks on Star Trek or some other sci-fi show with similar hairdos.
Anyway, the mullet worked. I didn’t cry at all when it came off.
I didn’t take it right down to the wood, in the end. I was left with very short fuzz. People I knew wanted to rub my head for a while, which I was okay with.
I discovered my head had a pleasing, round shape. I could see the roots of my cowlick. I kind of looked like a big baby, which made me happy. Corey, my husband, has a similar hair style, so we were very matchy-matchy for the summer, almost like those weird couples that have matching gym clothes or something.
It was fun having no hair for the summer. My head was cool, and I didn’t have to do anything with my hair for months. But the most interesting part was the way strangers reacted to my nearly naked dome.
Corey and I were traveling through B.C. when we were waylaid by a nasty thunderstorm. We decided to stop in Fernie for the night. When we walked into the hotel, the clerk, glancing up, asked, “What can I do for you gents?”
I was wearing a short skirt.
I wasn’t upset, but Corey made a big deal out of it and guilted the guy into giving us the honeymoon suite at a hefty discount, which was kind of cool, I guess. There was a Jacuzzi, and fake Grecian pillars. I mean, it’s not every night you get a room with fake Grecian pillars, is it?
I don’t actually remember the following incident at all. But Corey remembers me telling him about it the day it happened, so his is mostly based on his memory, with me trying to fill in the blanks.
I was at the bus stop, either on my way to or from work, when a dude in a truck yelled, “Hey, you’re ugly!” And then just drove on.
What the hell? Was I the victim of a drive-by yelling?
I apparently wasn’t bent out of shape (according to Corey, and I suppose the fact that I don’t remember it at all supports that).
But I like to think I yelled something back at this guy. Something cutting that made him realize he was being a dick and think twice about yelling rude things at strangers again. Or something poetic and wise that shifted the way he saw the world. At the very least, something so sassy that if I’d been on Twitter at the time, and Tweeted it, I would have instantly gained one million followers.
I really have no idea, though. I probably just flipped him the bird or said something snarky to my bus friends.
Anyway, I could have cared less because my bald head was totally gorgeous and round. In fact, I’m still laughing as I write this.
One afternoon I was standing in line at Safeway when a well-meaning stranger approached me.
“Are you sick,” she asked, staring at my bald head. I just stared back for a moment.
In all fairness, I was probably tired and grouchy (because I hate standing in line for groceries) and I know she meant no ill-will.
“No, I shaved it,” I said, and left it at that.
Do cancer patients have to field questions about their health from total strangers, I wondered. What an energy sucker that would be. Maybe some people appreciate it, but I’m not sure I would. But then again, maybe I’d absorb all the kindness I could if I was really ill.
As I think about all of this, I probably would have felt very differently about the other two incidents if I’d been fighting off cancer.
If I had actually watched my hair fall out in chunks, rather than shaved it by choice, I may have been stung by the careless clerk who called me a gent.
And the drive-by yelling surely would have devastated me if I’d been struggling for my life. Because surviving the disease and the treatment must take everything out of you, leaving you with few defenses when asses attack.
Late last year one of my relatives went through chemo. This person is totally fine now, so you don’t need to be concerned.
But after my relative’s hair fell out from the chemo, I realized something.
I saw that under all that hair, we both have the exact same round head.
(Now if you feel like crying ’til your eyes fall out, check out this photo essay about one couple’s fight with cancer. It’s really moving. The photos showing strangers reacting to her really caught me).