If I was going to have to lose all of my precious hair, I was going to make up for it in the best way possible. This meant I had to find my dream hair – the hair I’ve always wanted to have but never did because I was too busy abusing it with a flatiron and blow dryer. While lying in my hospital bed fully anticipating the looming hair loss, I would fantasize about finding a wig that not only looked realistic but was also long, thick, blonde, and straight. I wanted Barbie hair because I could. I had to have fun with it, as much fun as I could possibly have while my hair began to shed the same way a golden retriever sheds when it brushes against your leg leaving you with a trail of blonde hairs on your once spotless black pants. Except in this case it was me shedding on myself, all over my black sweater, my pillowcases, and yes, even in my food.
After the head shaving party, we headed to Pastis for lunch. The crowd is everything you would expect it to be in the Meatpacking District. It was packed full of Europeans with shopping bags and slender Gucci-clad women savoring two bites of their steak frites before pushing it out of the way so the calories don’t attack their figures. This is not the place to go when wearing a wig for the first time. In fact, do not go anywhere overly crowded where paranoia may creep upon you. It felt as if everyone had their eyes on me, like they all knew with such certainty that I was wearing a wig. It was like a bad dream, the kind of dream when you somehow forget to wear clothes to school and everyone is staring at you, obviously, and all you want to do is just want to run away and hide. It truly felt like everyone was staring at me but they weren’t. Now anywhere I go it never even crosses my mind that people would even suspect that it’s a wig. Whenever I’ve told people I do not know that it’s not my real hair they felt shocked and I felt relieved they never had a clue.No one knows what wig paranoia feels like unless they experience it themselves. Wearing a pink wig dressed as Britney Spears as a psychiatric patient on Halloween does not count. Of course it took some time to get acquainted with ‘wearing’ my hair instead of having it growing from my head but eventually it felt natural. For the first few months I would never leave the house without applying the heavy duty double sided wig tape. This tape is intense and it can ruin your $15 manicure in a matter of seconds. For quite a few weeks, when I was still getting acquainted with the wig, I would just stare at it perched on a Styrofoam head in my room with such dread, I was scared and intimidated by it. It was like my enemy, taunting me, “wear me! Do you want to walk around bald or do you want to at least PRETEND like you have hair?” Often I opted for wearing a scarf when I ran errands because at the time it was easier than putting the tape on and placing it in the exact spot every time. Wearing a scarf I didn’t have to worry about it slipping off with a gust of wind because I was already showing the world “yes, I am in fact bald” instead of a wig which says “I am bald but I am pretending that I am not”. I clearly remember my hairstylist who sold me my wig telling me that eventually I would feel so at ease wearing my wig, that putting it on my head would feel natural and it would stay in place. I shook my head “uh-huh okay” not believing a word out of his mouth. Maybe he was just trying to make me feel better, I thought. I was wrong. It feels tremendously natural to me now. I throw the wig on with no tape and have no worries of it ever looking fake or falling off. Not once has my wig even come close to falling off so either I am extremely lucky or my hairstylist was right. I later realized that wig was going nowhere. Unless I was standing outside in the middle of a hurricane, my wig was going to stay put. It used to feel heavy, like I had a blanket covering my head. My neck would hurt from me attempting to not move my head around too much.
When we arrived back at my apartment after lunch, I threw a temper tantrum to my mom and sister. I felt like a crazy person – crying, yelling, complaining, and hating cancer and everything that came along with it. I was suddenly flooded with anger and dissatisfaction. When the hairstylist first placed it on my head that day everyone was giving me such positive feedback about how realistic and pretty it looked, and I truly appreciated it. However, when I got home and stared at myself in the mirror alone, and I mean REALLY stared, it became so clear to me how angry I really was. The frustration began to build because I had no choice. My hair was not coming back any time soon because it was completely shaven off and long gone. When I get angry, I give myself some time to be really pissed off but I only allow so much time to wallow in self pity. Was I going to ruin the rest of my day by being angry about my hair loss? I could have, but that takes a lot of effort and I was too busy being angry with the fact that I had a life threatening illness. Instead, I decided to be daring and take the wig off so that I could stare at my shiny, bald little head in the mirror. When I am scared of something, I force myself to face it - or rather, sometimes I am forced to just do it. Take for example learning how to give myself those blood thinner shots. I dreaded the thought of giving myself a shot every night but I had to do it, I had to get it over with. I still do those shots every night and I still despise them, but I do it. I let the needle hover over my stomach until I finally get the courage (or just get so sick of lying there pinching the skin on my stomach) to jab the syringe into my skin. When one goes skydiving for the first time, I imagine it takes an overwhelming urge to just get the jumping out of the plane over with to finally free fall into the open sky. So there I stood in front of my mirror nervously laughing with my mom and sister, as I ever so slowly and dramatically peeled the wig off my head. I quickly glanced in the mirror, gasped and laughed, and then abruptly turned away. It wasn’t that I hated what I saw in the mirror, it’s just that it was such a shock to see my head which was once full of hair completely naked. I felt like I looked like an alien or a baby. My sister said I looked like a badass, I can definitely agree with that. I had the G.I Jane look going on and I thought it would be funny to walk outside completely bald because I looked like such a “badass”. Then I realized that although I had a badass shaved head, I was still not scary or intimidating looking, I just looked like nice Rachel with a shaved head. A few minutes later I faced the mirror again and this time I looked, I really looked, and examined it while placing my hands all over my bald head – which actually felt pretty awesome. Not many women will ever feel their head completely bald, so I tried my best to look at it as an interesting opportunity, even if I was forced into it. Now that my hair is growing back, it already is hard to remember exactly what it felt having a bare head. The first time I took a shower it felt so insanely different but it did save me a lot of shampooing. Whenever I am getting ready for work or going out I have it easy, no blow drying and no hair straightening needed – I just throw on my perfectly styled hair and I am ready to go. I now realize just how easy guys have it when they are getting ready because they do not have to worry about styling their hair.
What I have gotten a kick out of the most is when I am walking down the street and some guy on the sidewalk makes a comment, trying to hit on me. All I could think in my head was “this guy has no idea I am actually bald. What if I ripped my wig off my head at this very moment? That would be hilarious, yes I think it’s a great idea, I mean really – what a great story he can tell people later on in the day!” Because as you know, every love story begins with a creeper making comments to the girl who is minding her own business while rushing to the subway in the morning so she’s not late to work. All women know how it goes – you are walking on the sidewalk in your own world with your headphones in your ears, sunglasses on your face (this is also known as the “don’t talk to me, I’m listening to music/wearing sunglasses on purpose look”) when you suddenly feel those eyes so obviously glaring at you as you wait for the predictable comment which comes approximately 5-10 seconds after you are in their general line of vision.
Despite the fact that I had fresh scars complete with stitches still intact from surgery hidden beneath my clothing and a chemo port implanted beneath my skin, I looked like any other human being walking around without cancer. My eyebrows and eyelashes had a 50/50 chance of falling out and I just so happened to win that game of roulette. This wig looked stunningly perfect – a shiny substantial amount of hair with, the ideal shade of blonde that maybe 1% of the population naturally possesses. It was also the perfect illusion of real hair growing out of my head. This illusion brought about a plethora of comments and questions from strangers which were followed up with me telling some kind of lie. The most common question, “Your hair is so blonde, is that your natural color?” I hate to lie but I also hate making people feel uncomfortable so my tactic was to answer the question quickly with an “Oh no, it’s not, but thanks for the compliment!” and then swiftly change the subject. Now if I had responded with an “Oh no, this is actually a wig, I am bald because I have cancer” to a complete stranger ,then I think it would make them feel just a tad bit awkward, they would probably regret even asking in the first place.
I forget what it feels like to have long hair. I can barely recall what it’s like to firmly grasp my hair and tie it up into a ponytail before going on a run. Washing long hair feels so foreign to me. Sleeping with long hair feels like a distant memory. My hair and I are on a long hiatus and as much as I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my wig, I have gotten past that. I now love my wig and I don’t plan on ditching it any time soon. Unless I accidentally wear it outside during the hurricane this weekend that is.