She was fourteen, so I was thirteen, when she showed up at the bus stop with a pixie cut. My jaw dropped as she regaled us with her tale of defiance, locking herself in the upstairs bathroom and taking a pair of kitchen shears to her long flowy brown hair. She chopped the back, chopped the sides, mangled the bangs.
When she emerged from her cocoon, alas, she was no butterfly. She had destroyed her gorgeous locks to such a degree the only thing she could do was go back in and even them out with the shortest bits, barely an inch long.
I was still living in the zone of docile compliance. My true rebellion wouldn’t kick in for another year or two, but E was born a hellion. I remember her finger waving in the air when I asked what her mom thought about it. She answered like a true teenaged snot.
“My mother had nothing to do with this, Jen. This was my decision.” Fourteen year old code for I haven’t told her yet. Why the heck do you think I’m wearing this hoodie?! And don’t you dare say anything or I’ll kill you!
And I don’t know if you know her mom but she was not the kind of mom you messed with.
I couldn’t believe she would cut her hair. She loved her hair. She had that subconscious habit of incessantly twirling and releasing it. I would watch her for hours over night-long kitchen table discussions of the ins and outs of teenaged life, desperate to learn her twisting technique.
But no more. It was gone.
Lucky for her she has one of those Madonna/Johnny Depp faces. You know the kind that looks flawless no matter what ‘do she’s rockin’. She rocked that pixie in the 9th grade. She had the face and the attitude to pull it off.
So here we are at the kitchen table twenty-four years later wondering what the hell kind of alternate universe we’ve dropped into; one where I’m relentlessly twirling my long flowy blonde hair and she’s wiping sweat from her bald head.
“Sweat?” you ask with confusion in your tone. “But I thought last night was a cool 70 degrees in the breezy backwoods of Connecticut.” Ah yes it was but here’s the fucked up thing… Taxol, her 2nd chemo drug, often brings on signs of early menopause like hot flashes.
Yah suck on that – menopause at thirty-eight on top of all the other bullshit.
We delved and dove into the oddities of the cancer life. I asked if she wanted to twirl my hair for old time’s sake and her answer held no buried emotion, just the honesty of “No, I wouldn’t be able to feel it. I still have no sensation in my hands.”
The numbness she acquired three Thursdays ago has yet to subside, so I pulled and twisted and released my hair in honor of her, an ode to her, to the habit she taught me that I cling to like a warm familiar baby blanket. And I don’t know if she was aware, but in between sweat swipes she kept running her finger in a tiny circle just above her temple. Old habits die hard. No worries though, she’s totally rockin’ bald with even more chutzpah than she had at fourteen.
She’s still got the face, and the attitude has morphed into true courage radiating nothing but confidence.