I stand there looking in the fogged up mirror, staring back at myself. Unhappy. The words floating around in my head are harsh. “You look like a prepubescent boy. Short hair definitely doesn’t suit you.” “Stupid cancer,” I say loudly. As of late, this is how my shower routine ends.
I wasn’t always this way. Looks weren’t always this important. Unlike most people, I didn’t flourish in high school, I didn’t peak in college. In fact, I’m not sure I ever really discovered myself. I do, however, believe I was getting there. It’s funny, people tell me, now, “it’s just hair.” While I do agree, for me, it’s much more than that.
I dyed my hair the most ridiculously bold red for the very first time in the summer of 2012. My then-best-friend said, “Red will really damage your hair!” To which I responded, “It’s just hair! Live a little!!!” I felt more alive than ever. Like an entirely different woman. Confident, young, and fun. I felt like I was finally something more than just someone’s wife and mom (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). I was finally tapping into my own personality. It’s interesting what a new hair color will do for your self-esteem. That same summer I got my first tattoo; a blue rose with a deep personal meaning.
He lowered the needle towards my skin and asked softly “Are you sure you’re ready?” My hands felt sweaty and my voice broke slightly, but I held my resolve. “Yes, do it.” I answered. “So why a blue rose?” He asked curiously. I looked around the room, smokey from cigarettes, lit by a bright fluorescent light. I saw our friends laughing, cracking jokes, oblivious to the inner battle I was fighting. “There are several reasons really, but they all tie in together.” I didn’t go into detail then, and I have seldom told anyone what the meaning was behind my blue tattoo.
One brisk October morning, I woke, my chest aching furiously. Hot pink hair sprawled across my pillow, beads of cold sweat on my forehead.
I have very few memories of my father calling me pretty or even telling me he loved me. Or my mother for that matter. I was raised never hearing it. So, it was not something I considered myself to be. I struggled with confidence. My tattoo is for my grandfather of whom I have very fond memories. He told me often I was pretty, he said he’d always be there, and that I’d be the most beautiful bride when the day came. The day came but he wasn’t there, at least not physically. He passed when I was just 8.
My tattoo represents me mentally training myself to believe I was beautiful, when I so rarely heard it. A blue rose is not a natural occurrence, and neither is having love for myself.
After that bold red hair, there were several others: plum, blue, teal, fuchsia, purple, green, and pink. Every time someone would say, “Again? Your hair is just going to fall out one of these days!” Each time my response was, “And if it does, it’ll grow. It’s just hair.” I changed it obsessively, color after color, always trying to find the right shade. Searching for the one that made me feel “Beautiful”. The one that would convince me.
Then, one brisk October morning, I woke, my chest aching furiously. Hot pink hair sprawled across my pillow, beads of cold sweat on my forehead.
My era of self discovery came to a screeching halt. After 3 chemo sessions, I took my husband’s clippers and told him I was ready. “Can you do it for me? Do you mind?” I bent my head over the garbage can, not awaiting a response. “Yeah, of course. Are you sure?” “Yes, it’s just hair. Right?” I said. “Yes baby, just another wild hairstyle,” he assured me. Tears streamed down my face and into the garbage with my hair, with my vanity. With the woman I used to be. The woman I was only just beginning to know and love.
Lately, I’ve been dreaming. Of having long pink hair. Of being beautiful. It’s a new chapter in my life, but it feels a lot like I’m reading the same one from years ago. My thoughts keep jumping back to “If I had my hair, maybe I could just be myself again. Everything might just possibly go back to normal.” I just don’t know what normal is. Every day I consider taking bleach to it, finding another exotic color and masking my pain.
It just seems pointless to try. It’s hard trying to heal emotionally from a disease that affected you physically. Especially when every glance in the mirror reminds you of it. It’s a challenge I now face. Yes, I survived. Yes, I know how selfish and ungrateful I sound; upset about my hair when I’ve got life! Now, I’m convinced it wasn’t just hair.
“Vanity is becoming a nuisance, I can see why women give it up, eventually. But I’m not ready for that yet.”~Margaret Atwood