Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bald Insecurity

Boyfriend/Hairdresser 8 weeks ago: "Come on! It's always something with you. I can't see anything!"

Sister 4 weeks ago: "Is it because you dye your hair too often?"

New Boyfriend/Hairdresser 3 weeks ago: "Ok, now I see what you're talking about."

A woman historically known for her wild, curly red locks is starting to part with them, at the ripe old age of almost 34. And with this development, wherefore goes the identity?

The summer I turned 13, I took a long look in the mirror and decided that with the natural attributes of ghostly pale skin, bright green eyes and a smattering of freckles, Mother Nature was in error when she doled out a head of medium brown hair. If I was going to be continually mistaken for Irish, I might as well go all the way with it.

Except for a brief 90s dalliance with black (a huge mistake influenced by Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana) and a foray into blonde highlights last decade (the things we do for love), my hair has held one fiery shade or another for over 20 years. As the tresses curled evermore with each passing year, I alternately cursed the frizzy, unruly mess yet gave silent thanks that I was gifted with a conversation piece, a physical manifestation of my personality: untamed, sometimes glossy, frustrating and colorful.

Though I fancy myself a believer in the overused "beauty is skin deep" maxim, I rarely applied that latitude to myself. It was never enough that I was a smart kid, decent at sports with other accomplishments. I wanted to be beautiful, the kind of gorgeousness that stopped people in their tracks. I wanted to ditch the huge Haray Caray glasses that acted as a screaming billboard for my near-sightedness. I yearned for the day I would have the independence to have my awful, crooked chompers corrected through the miracle of orthodontics. I wondered if I would ever grow big girls boobs (still waiting at 33). I didn't want to be creative and odd. There was a time I would have surrendered everything that makes me, well me, if it meant loving the image reflected in the glass.

As I grew up, sought the services of a good therapist and did the painful work of looking inward, I accepted what I had known all along: you can't have it all and it's a pretty idiotic waste of time to moon over your personal aesthetics. So as I have alluded in other posts, I learned to kind of like and appreciate the rest of me. Until.....

8 weeks ago when I began to notice a spot near my left temple that was hairless. I'm not talking about short baby hairs that might reflect pulling, hairbrush damage, etc. I mean bald - like it had been waxed clean. My eye, long trained to zero in on real and perceived flaws, moved to the spot by the day, then the hour, then the minute. What the hell was happening and why?

Alopecia was the first suggestion offered by the doctor, maybe stress related. Even as it started to be accompanied by intermittent headaches and nausea, I was told I shouldn't worry. Fretting could expedite the pattern, but asking me not to worry about an eyesore which I cannot control is like asking water not to be wet. So as the spot grew in the ensuing weeks, as topical steroids were doled, I started to consider that I might soon be without my signature physical attribute. Would my personality change without the aesthetic weapon that seemed to justify a "take no prisoners" attitude? The absence of my loud hair, an armor to hide the quiet, sad shame often experienced might leave me naked and defenseless in metaphysical and real ways.

A battery of tests this afternoon will shed additional light: autoimmune disease, brain tumor, anxiety disorder. These first of these two diagnoses are obviously somewhat problematic. But all I can think about is my hair. I don't want to lose it - or myself, especially when it took so darned long to be found.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An Ode to Cancer: One Year Later

You came to my door
When I was getting divorced.
You couldn't have picked a messier time.

I walked around in a daze
Feeling crazed,
Because even after she said the words I felt fine.

Surgery was scheduled,
Estranged spouses bedeviled,
Unable to work together.

Recovery alone
In my studio home.
Thought I'd be "that poor woman" forever.

After a week and a day,
Back on my way,
Like it never happened at all.

Until the divorce was done
And the new underwriter won,
A "pre-existing condition" free fall.

You went in remission
And I accepted the condition
That I had been wasting my hours.

With putting those first
Who were often worst
Letting mind and body go sour.

So I focused on work,
Learned to admire my quirks
Fell in love again with my friends.

And I learned to say "yes"
To almost any quest,
And with past wrongs make amends.

So maybe I should thank you,
You created a milieu,
To foment a real rebellion.

You couldn't hold me down,
And now that I'm found,
I see a lovable hellion.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Wrong Way

True confession: I am not the most useful person. I hate to cook and have never excelled at it anyway. Please don't ask me to fix or assemble anything. It's like I have hands made of stone. I ride my bike upwards of 75 miles a week but do you think I can master filling the tires with air (Hey! The process involves an adapter!)? Mother Earth help me if I ever find myself stranded with a flat.

When my sister and I were younger, she used to amuse herself by asking me to draw. One time she chose an elephant as the subject, and as I have no trouble making an ass of myself, I obliged. I wish I had a .jpeg of the finished product. My elephant was illustrated from the head-on perspective and Jenny held onto to the artwork so she could refer to it throughout the day while bursting into tears of laughter. I had unironically constructed a rendering of IHOP's Funny Face Pancake.

My friend Rob, a former Navy rescue swimmer and certified RKC Level 2 trainer says that when the breakdown of society arrives and we're all living in trees (Rob is also a well-informed and detailed conspiracy theorist) I will have to sleep my way to survival, else I will be dead in 15 minutes. I think there is a compliment about my looks in there somewhere so I'll take it.

One thing at which I excel, however, is hard, tireless work. And I'm not always certain this is an asset but I am possessed of a stubbornness that rivals that of Tyco Brahe, the 16th century Danish noblemen and astronomer. Brahe died of a bladder infection 11 days after refusing to get up and urinate during the middle of a long banquet in Prague. He felt it would have been a breach of etiquette. This totally sounds like something I would say.

The refusal to back down in the face of adversity is alternately a blessing and a curse. While it parents a survival instinct that has enabled me to process and move beyond vicious life blows, it also begets a tendency to ignore loud, blaring sirens in my head that try to stop me from moving in the wrong direction, figuratively and literally. The "head down and brace for the worst" approach can lead one to misinterpret the difference between necessary persistence and time wasting, bullheaded exhaustion.

I have been contemplating the blinders long worn as a method of getting through the day. It's like a weird sort of empowered learned helplessness. Assuming that a given set of circumstances is inalterable, I have performed miraculous feats of fortitude bordering on masochism in order to prove that I can't be destroyed. It's at once pathological and a condition which instills a perverse form of pride.

The thing is though. It's that downside, the part where I fritter away months or years enmeshed in predicaments from which normal people might sensibly extricate themselves, that plagues my waking nights. It's a pattern I am trying to tackle. Recent decisions made in support of pursuing a healthier me have brought pain to others, but hopefully it's of the quick sharp paper cut kind, the variety forgotten in 24 hours. Because I am trying to recognize that long, drawn-out Puritanical fortitude won't earn me or anyone I care about anything but lost time in a short life.