My mother doesn’t dress up. She doesn’t wear make-up (except for a little bit of foundation and mascara when she goes to a wedding) and her hair has been short since I was a baby. There are once-upon-a-time photos of her with long hair, but I don’t think she kept it that way for very long.
She last had it cut on May 19 and was incensed that the price jumped from $17 to $27 since her previous visit three months before. But that is not why she was breathless when she left the salon and returned to her car. That was the day the lung clots almost stopped the blood flow to her heart.
Now her bangs are growing out, masking the creases in her forehead.
The other day, she stated the simple fact that she doesn’t need to get it trimmed because she is going to lose it to the chemo, anyway. She said this with cool indifference, having already dismissed the notion of wearing a wig. Instead, she will wear a hat, like some of the other women we see in the waiting room in her oncologist’s office.
She has never been concerned with vanity, so I cannot explain why the thought of her losing her hair bothers me somehow. Maybe it is because, in truth, chemotherapy terrifies me. I am afraid to look at her one day soon and and see sunken eyes and pasty skin and bald head, not because it is unattractive but because it would be evidence of something else, something darker.
The mother I have known all my life has been healthy, strong, and vibrant, and it is jarring to see her in any way different or weakened. I am afraid the chemotherapy will steal bit by bit the things that make her her—not merely her hair but her wonderful laugh, her curiosity to try new things, her generous heart. It will make her too sick to be those things anymore. I know that the treatment might bring her to the brink of death in order to (possibly) save her, and I am afraid for her. I wish my gentle soul of a mother did not have to don full battle armor and summon all her strength to defeat this enemy. I wish we could just press fast-forward to the day of celebration when there is no more toxic medicine dripping into her port and she has been declared cancer-free forever and ever. She will turn her head this way and that in slow-motion and her hair will bounce on her shoulders in loose, glorious curls, just like in a commercial.
And we’ll live in Neverland and no one will ever grow old.