Becky Hall is a member of the Thursday night Feedback Group where she’s been working on a memoir for the past year. This excerpt of her work in progress reflects her strong narrative style and unique voice.
I am not one for long good-byes. I wanted to just get it over with, to know that I was the one in control of saying farewell to my beautifully long locks, rather than bear a slow, painful witness to their gradual disappearance. I couldn’t stand the thought of my lovely healthy hair being tainted by poison, as would inevitably happen once the drugs entered my bloodstream and traveled to my hair follicles. If I couldn’t spare my body the assault of chemotherapy, I at least wanted to spare my hair. I would shave it off myself.
I was scheduled to start treatment two days after my last final of the quarter, and so, the weekend before finals, when all but the genius, insane, or pathologically confident were safely locked away studying day and night, I decided that my hair deserved one last night out on the town. My naturally wavy tresses wanted to be styled and straightened and tossed flirtatiously from side to side one final time, and who was I to deny such a request? I called my friends.
“Let’s go out.”
“No way! It’s finals week. I need to study.”
“Come on! It’s my last weekend with hair!”
I was well aware of my blatant manipulation, but I did not care one bit. Sometimes, the cancer card is for playing.
I had spent the past few weeks falling asleep and waking up crying, but that evening my despair morphed into a manic state of determination to have fun. This was my last weekend with hair. It had to be amazing.
We went out for sushi and sake bombs followed by more drinks at the local dive bar. I was the only girl in the group, and while being the only female among five rowdy boys is not always my idea of a good time, that night I was perfectly content. The fewer the girls, the more attention my shamelessly flirtatious hair tosses received, and I soaked it up.
But as the evening progressed, I couldn’t shake the sadness that everything I did was the last time I would do it with my hair. This is my last night to feel girly, I thought. I was convinced that being bald would make me look fat and boyish.
No matter how hard I tried to have fun, I couldn’t stop myself from seeing everything through this Last Supper lens, and once I did, the night became clouded with a heavy sense of impending doom. I started to doubt my decision. Maybe I should wait and see what happens once I start the chemo, I thought. Maybe I’ll get lucky and it won’t fall out.
The next day, no longer absorbed in my nighttime revelries, I realized that the anticipation of saying goodbye to my brunette beauties was starting to consume me. Rather than taking note of every last event with hair, I needed to just shave it off. If I hadn’t been completely sure of my decision before, I was now.
When finals ended a few days later, I headed back home to my parents’ house for winter break. Three of my childhood friends, Alexis, Stephanie, and Lauren, offered to come over to hang out, and I was grateful for the company. The four of us had grown up together, but we hadn’t gotten together as a group for years. Still, when I called each of them to tell them about the cancer, it was as if the past few years of distance and sporadic contact had never happened. They all headed down to Santa Cruz to see me. It was the day before my first chemo infusion. If I was going to shave my head, it was now or never.
I hadn’t warned any of them of my agenda for their visit, but once they arrived and I asked if they would help, they enthusiastically agreed. The house had a reverse floor plan with the main level on the second story and my bedroom below, allowing for a modicum of privacy. The four of us gathered in my downstairs bathroom while my parents sat upstairs in the living room watching American Idol, completely unaware of what was about to take place.
I had been too scared to tell them that I was even thinking about shaving my head. I didn’t want them to try to talk me out of it, and deep down, I hadn’t been entirely sure that I would go through with it. If I chickened out, I didn’t want to have to explain that I didn’t have the courage.
I had decided to donate my hair since it would no longer be any good to me. All of the organizations required hair to be neatly collected into a braid before mailed in. For those with hair like mine that barely met the eight-inch length requirement, they recommended sectioning it out into lots of tiny braids to maximize the amount of hair that is long enough for a wig.
The girls got to work braiding my hair. We sat on the floor drinking red wine, eating chocolate chip cookies, listening to the radio, and reminiscing about high school. We tried to lift the mood, and for a while, it worked.
“Remember that old decrepit golf cart we used to drive around the farm?” I said to Alexis. Her family owned the stable where we all rode together.
“Oh my god that thing was awesome! We felt like such bad asses,” she said, laughing.
“Yeah, right up until we decided to go off-roading in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, and got stuck in the mud. What were we thinking? Your dad was so pissed!” We all laughed.
By the time the girls were done with their criss-crossing and rubber banding, I looked like a gangster rapper from the 80’s with tiny braids popping out of my head in every direction. We took silly pictures of me trying to appear thuggish with my new do.
It started to get late, and as Lauren sneaked a look at the time I knew that I was going to have to take the plunge. Everyone had a job to get to early the next morning, and Lauren and Alexis both had to drive over an hour back to San Francisco that evening. We were responsible young adults now, and our days of pulling all-nighters off-roading in golf carts were long gone.
Realizing that we couldn’t procrastinate the looming task at hand all night, I was no longer able maintain my efforts to be upbeat. The mood shifted into a more honest, painful place.
“I’m never going to feel beautiful again,” I told them. “Who will I be without my hair, without my breasts? I’m single. I’m 25. What guy is going to want a bald, breast-less sick girl?” I began to cry.
“But you have a great ass,” Alexis tried to reassure me. “Who needs boobs when you’ve got a butt like yours?”