Stop Changing!

Stop Changing!

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Stop Changing!

The Real Voyage of Discovery comes not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust

As I pulled away from Mark Twain Elementary School, I observed the laughing school kids tumbling into waiting cars, daycare vans and school buses. Their tightly held homework sheets flapped in the almost autumn wind.

I glanced into the rearview mirror and smiled. I love this time of day, I thought to myself.

Ashley and Garrett, my two step-children, sat in the back seat under a pile of backpacks and lunchboxes. They smelled of orange peels, peanut butter and playground dust.

I’m so glad to be part of this family, I thought.

Ashley’s ponytail was loose, her red hair falling string-straight across her freckled face. In the mirror, I caught her eye. “Hey, do you like my new hair color?”

She shrugged and then nodded. Garrett turned away from me and looked a little harder out the window. I didn’t really expect them to approve. After all, when I dropped them off for school this morning, I was dishwater blonde. Then, without warning, I bought a box of midnight ebony at the grocery store. Two or three hours later and voila! My hair was now the deep black I’d always envied on my edgy, artistic friends.

A crossing guard stopped traffic in front of us, near the intersection of Greencove and Glenville Drive. A group of the neighborhood girls skipped by in light-up tennis shoes and vibrant jackets. Waiting for the parade to reach the far curb, I let my eyes linger on the rearview mirror. Still no smile from the silence behind me. Not surprising, I reasoned. Ashley and Garrett had lived through a divorce, adjusted to new step-parents and made a difficult transition from their mother’s house to ours. Then, just when life must have felt predictable again, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Hey, if you don’t like this new hue,” I continued, emphasizing the rhyme to lighten things up, “the good thing is, my hair is going to fall out soon anyway.” I giggled, turning to Garrett, playfully, “And then . . . I’m going to get a tattoo on my bald head!”

He snapped back to the world inside our car, fiercely locking his eyes on to mine. “Stop changing!” he demanded. “Don’t lose your hair! Don’t get a tattoo! I’ll be in third grade before it grows back.”

As stunned as we were by his outburst, Ashley spoke first. “Garrett,” she said softly, comforting him in the motherly tone she had perfected, “it’s okay. It’s okay.”

My mind was racing. Why is he so upset? My hair was waist-length when I first met the kids. For our wedding, it was bobbed at the shoulder. Then last month, it got shorter, much shorter. Change. Change. Change. Now, it was a different color. More change.

Then it hit me. Garrett’s desperation revealed my own hidden fear. For the first time in my life, I am faced with something I cannot control . . . and I am terrified. Breast cancer changed things without my permission, changed things that I didn’t want to change. Cutting, coloring, tattooing— these things helped sustain the illusion that I decided what would happen to my body, that I was in control.

In the driveway, the kids squeezed out of the car. I shouldered my briefcase, picked up Ashley’s pink backpack and reached for Garrett’s hand.

“After supper, would you guys help me and your dad pick out a wig?”

Not red,” Ashley said.

“Like your hair was before?” Garrett asked.

“Yeah, maybe,” I said. “The catalog has lots of choices. Maybe one will be like mine was before.”

We walked into the house together. It was a good feeling, knowing what would probably happen next, able to predict that after supper we would all sit down together and choose a wig, then brush our teeth, read a book and go to sleep.

I love this time of day, I thought. I’m so glad to be part of this family.

Rhonda Richards-Cohen

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