Follicle Follies

December 16, 2005

O Best Beloveds, I’m about to head off for Chemo #3, and more on that later, but first, a long, and likely totally uninteresting Meditation on My Hair. Feel free to skip ahead if your interest doesn’t lie with All Things Follicle.

Everything considered, these three times, I’ve taken the whole bald thing with a fair amount of equanimity. Had my mom-in-law shave my head the first time, minutes after a big chunk came out, had a guy in Silver Lake that specializes in mohawks shave off the fluffy bits remaining after weeks of gradual thinning the second time, donned caps and scarves and even stopped really caring who saw me bald thereafter. I’ve never been very good with hair, anyway. I can’t master a flat iron, I’m not great at blowing dry, I barely even brush it, I just sort of dry it, hope it comes out okay, and let it go until I wash it again.

Still, look what’s happened to me three times: in 1997, my hair was the longest it had been since I started cutting it back in college (until then, it had been halfway down my back most of my life), and a bright light shade of blonde that had taken some time to work out with my hair guy and the years dying it red and black and purple and whatnot. Mere weeks later, Dr. W. and I begin our relationship. Oh, sure, I got the cutest modified pixie cut in the world from Craig, as prep for eventual fallage, but it’s not like I got to enjoy it for very long. In 2001, I went on a trip to NYC, a real grownup “business trip,” meeting with film people and travel book people (waves at Alexis, Naomi and Matt H!), and I stayed in a swanky mid-town hotel. My hair was at that sort of ungainly point (I should add here that I probably have my hair tended to no more than two or three times a year, because I’m lazy), and I thought “Oooo! I’m going to be a sophisticated, cosmopolitan kind of gal, and call the concierge and say `I need to get my hair done!’ Like other traveling’ business gals when they go to the Big City!” ANd I did, and I was directed to Bumble & Bumble, around the corner from the hotel, and I got the best, most charming cut and color combination of my life. I think Dr. W. called two weeks later. Maybe it was four. Still, I weep to think of it now. I don’t even have photos of that hair.

And this year, as we know, having finally grown out my hair since that whole 2001 hoohah, so that it’s quite long and flippy and braidable, I go ahead and cut it, even though a voice inside me said not to, to which I responded “Shut up Voice. What–I’m not going to cut my hair ever again, because at any moment I might get cancer and have it fall out and then be sorry?” (Cue Voice laughing its disembodied ass off.) And it came out such a nice color this time, too.

But the cut itself was not quite working for me, because here’s another thing; when you spend some years not having hair, or having hair of wildly varying lengths, and moreover hair that changes texture as it grows out from its new growth, you lose any skill (minimal, in my case) for styling it, because you can’t remember what the heck you did before to make it work, not that that necessarily applies anyway, because if the texture and length are different, you have to start over fresh anyway. (This accounts for my cabinet full of assorted hair care products. I swear, that’s why. Honest.) So this length and texture was something I hadn’t had before, not exactly, what I did in 1997 didn’t seem to work any more, not that I could totally remember what I did then anyway, and I really didn’t know what to do to make it look pretty. Around the same time, I pulled out a bunch of my grandmother’s excellent hats from the 40’s/50’s, and found a fetching black velvet number that sat, like a molded beret, on the crown of my head. “Oh!” I thought, “What would be so charming would be blonde curls coming out from under that hat! Especially since I can’t make my new shorter hair all sleek and so forth, I will go with tousled and kicky and French!” Except I didn’t have the right curlers for the look, so my first attempts failed, and then Lisa reminded me of the kind I needed, and I discovered I owned that very same kind and then I tried it but tied the curlers tight up on my brow and my hair line went all square and weird, and I gave up, and then on this Friday morning I tried again, figuring out that the trick was to tie off the curlers about a third of the way down from the crown of my head, and I did and the curls came out all Shirley Temple corkscrew and just right. And I popped my grandma’s hat on my head and it was exactly, exactly the look I wanted. Then I took the hat off and ran my fingers through my hair to seperate and fluff the curls and a whole bunch of hair came out all over my hands. Because it’s been two weeks and that’s always when the hair starts to fall out. And then I put the curlers away, and hoped I would remember how to curl my hair three years from now.

Because that’s how long it takes, and that’s probably optimistic. The hair starts to grow out about six weeks after the last chemo treatment (so probably mid-July for me), but it goes slowly at the beginning, and even when it hits regular growth, hair only grows half an inch a month. Measure the hair of the nearest long-haired person near you and do the math.

And it’s okay, it’s really okay, I’ve got all kinds of new cute hats for this time around (no, not my grandma’s; hats for the bald need to cover the entire naked scalp, not just perch adorably on the crown) and when it grows in I get to go through all kinds of sweet gamine looks. But, and this is something I don’t think I’ve even told Steve, I get dreams, during chemo, and for months and months and sometimes years after, and in these dreams I have waist length hair, soft and long and shiny and maybe a bit curly, and I run my fingers through it, and I think, so relieved, “Oh! It grew back so fast!” And then I wake up.

So maybe it bugs me a little more than I think it does.

But today, my hair looks cute for chemo.

And I might even wear Grandma’s hat,