Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

Pride and Prejudice

I found my mother sitting on the deck at the trailer, head exposed to the sun and ocean breezes. My trailer sits on a narrow part of a North Carolina sea island, and from the top deck, she could see both the turmoil of the ocean on one side of the island and the calm of the inlet on the other side.

But she was looking at neither. She sat staring into the lone, scraggly, wind-blown tree in the yard. A week after her first chemotherapy treatment, my mother’s hair was already jumping ship, like her white blood cells and appetite. Big clumps of her hair had fallen out. The top was still full, but the sides showed missing patches. It was uneven and odd looking, like she had decided to become a punk rocker.

“Well, you didn’t lose all of it,” I said with a hug, after she noticed me looking at her head.

Mom seemed calm and steady. “I just want it all gone. It’s going anyway. I’d rather not have it fall out in dribs and drabs. Let’s get it all.”

So we went in search of a hair salon with some available shears. The first place we stopped, a trendy little shop in a stucco-style strip mall, was full of young women. The hairdresser tossed her dark hair at us in welcome as we walked in, but when she got a closer look at Mom, her open face became a brick.

“Can’t fit her in,” she said. “Too busy.” We left, quickly.

Then, we found Dot. Her busy shop was nestled in another shopping plaza, but when we told her what we needed, she never even blinked. “Come back in ten minutes, and I’ll get you set.”

After getting some crackers to munch on, we sat on a bench outside the general store, watching the locals walk past with popcorn and live bait. “You sure you want to do this?” I asked her.

Mom turned to me with a look I have known since I was a child—the one that meant we weren’t to discuss this anymore. She walked back to the beauty shop as if she were balancing a book on her head.

“You sit down right here,” Dot said, patting the chair. Mom took her hat off, and the other women in the shop got quiet. This wasn’t the ordinary styling job.

Dot reached for the scissors, and clumps of Mom’s hair fell to the polished floor. A close cut was not unusual in this area because Camp Lejeune was nearby, but this was closer than usual for a woman. Dot kept up the cheerful chatter as Mom watched herself change in the mirror.

Next came the shears. Buzzing. Mom’s scalp became more clear, white, and covered with little dark short hairs. Exposed, her head looked startling under the light. I held her hand. It was dry and steady.

I stood there awkwardly. I didn’t want to look away like there was something I shouldn’t see, like catching her in her underwear. Nor did I want to stare. That wouldn’t be polite. So, I didn’t know what to do with my eyes.

Mom started to get up, but Dot said in a warm voice, “We aren’t finished.” She gave her a shave, and then a gentle, healing massage. She wasn’t afraid of this newly bald head. She touched it, smiled at it, and let Mom know it was okay. She let me know it was okay.

The other women in the shop crowded around. “What beautiful eyes you have,” one woman said. “You have a nicely shaped head,” another one said. Mom looked around with thanks at the warm greeting her newly sheared head was receiving—a queen collecting tribute. As she stood up and reached for her purse, Dot hugged her and said, “This is my gift to you. Put that away.”

Later that day, we walked into a packed restaurant for lunch. We chose a fine one, and it was expensive. As we moved to the bar to wait for our table, a bubble of silence moved with us.

“The diagnosis enters the room before me, “ she said as she patted the scarf on her head.

“I noticed,” I said out loud, as I silently cursed the other people in the room.

Many women who go though chemo say that losing their hair is one of the hardest parts. I could understand why. Otherwise, they could move through the world undetected. Otherwise, they would still look the same as they did before they had cancer. Otherwise, they could still be themselves. My mom was a woman who had cancer. Not an identity she could embrace easily, I imagined.

Later, back at the trailer, Mom leaped out of the bathroom in a T-shirt, arms curled upward to show off her powerful biceps.

“Do I look like Demi Moore in GI Jane?”

“You do, Mom. You sure do.”

Amy Hudock

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