Locks of Love

Locks of Love

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Locks of Love

What’s important is finding out what works for you.

Henry Moore

The door flung open on the last day of school, and the children spilled out. I turned to begin organizing the books and sorting through papers when I noticed him just outside the door.

“Mrs. Cano, Mrs. Cano . . . don’t you know me?” For a minute, I panicked. It’s sometimes hard to recognize my former students as adolescents when the last time I’d seen them they were second-graders. How could I not know him?

“Daniel?” He was taller than I am now. He still wore glasses—and those incredible blue eyes!

Even as a first-year teacher, I could see he was a unique child. He had thick, long hair, golden and glistening, and his whole world was music. When I made him put away his music composition book during a lesson, Daniel never objected but would merely sigh with the resigned, all-knowing expression of an old man. This child was a genius, but he also had a unique sense of self, which was something I had been struggling with for years. How could I be “teaching” a child like this?

Daniel’s hair was the ultimate symbol of his individuality. His mother came one day after school to explain that she was trying to get Daniel to agree to a haircut, but he had refused. It wasn’t a defiant, tantrum-like refusal, his mother explained, but one that was grounded in his awareness of who he was. “He said he wouldn’t be Daniel without it,” she continued, and she confessed she just didn’t have the heart to force him.

That was a year before I discovered the lump in my breast, a lump that progressed into my worst nightmare. I lost a year with the children, missed witnessing their growth and escapades. When I contemplate that year, I think of the endless succession of needles that delivered the poison that prolonged my life and brought me back to the classroom, to the children.

I lost my hair—all of it. It was humbling to see that alien looking back at me—no eyebrows, no eyelashes, no hair on her head. I felt invisible.

A few years later, a classmate of Daniel’s ran up to me on the first day of school. “Mrs. Cano, did you see? Daniel cut his hair!”

What could have prompted him to relinquish the cherished trademark? I wondered. But he never told anyone why. No one insisted. They only wondered, and after a time, they never mentioned it because he didn’t. He’d let that part of his identity go, but clearly, he was still Daniel.

Now, here he was, astonishingly grown up. “Just thought I’d come by and say hi,” he said as he surveyed the room. “I remember I used to sit right over there,” he gestured.

“Well, Daniel,” I began, “now that you’ve graduated from eighth grade, do you have any idea what you want to be?”

I was startled to hear him say, “I want to be a professional skateboarder.” He hesitated, “Or else study accounting.”

“But what happened to your music?” I asked.

He gave the familiar heavy sigh. “I don’t know—maybe I could do something with that, too.”

It was a short conversation, and too soon, he was gone. Just that morning, I was wondering if the children were retaining anything I taught—not just academics, but other things, such as how to make difficult decisions, understand different perspectives, distinguish between something significant and something that wasn’t. Maybe Daniel’s visit was an answer to these questions.

Weeks later, I ran into Daniel’s mother at the supermarket. We exchanged niceties, and I told her how thrilled I felt to see Daniel again. Then I said, “I didn’t think he would EVER cut his hair. I guess he just outgrew the need for it.”

“Oh,” his mother responded, “didn’t he tell you? It was because of you—he did it because of you. The hair went to the Children’s Cancer Foundation for wigs.”

Leah Cano
As previously appeared in
Mamm Magazine

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