Christmas morning. I wake up bright and early, ready to psych myself into being cheery despite knowing it's going to be a somewhat moderated celebration. I still can't eat anything hard or fibrous- my mouth is far too tender- so we've got some nice soft tail pieces of Atlantic salmon for lunch, instead of the usual extravagant turkey roast. FFS, we spend all year growing out these amazing free-range turkeys, and we come to the one time of the year...
...oh, stop it Candy.
But I'm craving roast turkey with my special pine nut and raisin stuffing, and I ain't gettin' any.
It's hot already; the cicadas are shrilling away. I notice, as I lie there sulking about my non-existent turkey dinner, that my head feels a little itchy. I give it a bit of a rub.
And come away with more than I bargained for.
You're kidding. Today?
Tug at my fringe. More hair comes away. Not a lot; just a few wisps.
Oh. Okay. It's going to be today. Merry Christmas from the Freeloader- have some egg noggin.
Looking at the few strands of hair stuck to my fingers, I wrinkle my nose. I actually find it repellant. It's not like it's a decent hank of hair, it's just a few irritatingly loose hairs that stick to my hand and don't seem to want to shake off it. I guess I'm sweaty already. I can just imagine how this is going to develop as the day goes on.
It's breakfast time, but I seem to have lost my appetite.
The Bear wanders out to feed the bloody turkeys that I can't eat, and I decide to stop sulking and get on the Wii Fit that my brother bought me for Christmas. I opened it early; I have quite enough delayed gratification happening for one person, thank you. Like, every time I look at my scarred and unbalanced chest with distaste and think about how many months it'll be before I can have a reconstruction.
Like, every time I think about how long it'll be before my mouth doesn't feel like a budgie pooped in it and then kicked sand everywhere.
You would have laughed, watching me set up the Wii a few days back. Oh, I'd got it working alright, chemo brain and all, and I'd been pretty pleased with myself for that. But like all electronic gadgets, it was designed by someone young. Someone with 20/20 vision. I'd sworn at the remote control for at least ten minutes, convinced it was faulty, before realising it could be a good idea to put my glasses on and look more closely at the battery compartment.
(Turns batteries the other way round.)
Anyway, I'd got it going and away I went, but it was so annoying the way I'd lean to the right, and the little figure on the screen would lean to the left. What was that about? And how come it reckoned my centre of gravity was slightly off-centre to the left, when I knew I was a kilo and a half lighter on that side?
Could I be over-compensating that much?
I leaned more to the right, to balance myself better.
The little person on screen leaned to the left.
It takes till Christmas morning for me to realise that I have the frickin' balance board facing the wrong way.
(Turns balance board 180 degrees.)
(Moves to the right.)
(Figure on screen moves to the right.)
Once I've sorted that out minor glitch and stopped laughing at myself for being a dork, I have a ball on the Wii. Step class is kind of like dancing, which I've always loved. The jogging's an interesting intellectual battle between the machine, which keeps reminding me that I'll burn more energy if I keep a steady pace, and my burning desire to overtake my on-screen 'guide'. Hula hooping's a hoot, largely because I'm so bad at it that I end up convulsed with laughter as the virtual hoops I'm meant to catch keep clonking me on the virtual noggin.
And then there's the cycling. The Bear comes in, and ends up in paroxysms of mirth too as he watches me pranging the virtual bike at regular intervals. I am so bad at it that it's hilarious. It's nothing for me to head-butt a wall or a tree every time I turn the virtual handlebars.
Forty minutes of light to medium exercise have passed before I know it, and so has my bad mood.
Hair schmair. Don't think you've got the jump on me, Freeloader. I'll shave my fucking head.
But first, let's have pancakes.
If only it was that easy.
I make the pancakes, which are scrumptious and easy (one egg, one cup of SR flour, one cup of milk, a pinch of salt- thank you Jamie Oliver), and then I do it- I shave my fucking head.
The shaving part isn't hard. But looking at myself afterwards- that's hard.
|Egg noggin. Not happy.|
I hate the way I look.
I hate feeling naked.
My scalp's covered in red blotches. As you would be, if you'd been poisoned and your cells weren't reproducing properly. It looks how the inside of my mouth feels.
And of course, by now it's getting on for midday, and the temperature's in the mid-thirties without a breath of refreshing breeze- so my complexion's getting red and splotchy too.
I feel like there's a spotlight shining on every wrinkle and imperfection I've ever hidden behind my curtain of hair.
There's that word again. I feel ugly.
I go and get the dead setter and put it on. It looks ridiculous.
I try a few of my scarves and turbans. They look stupid.
By now I'm getting suspicious of my own perceptions; I seem to be getting 100% negative feedback from the mirror, no matter what I do, which is a bit of a warning sign that I need another pair of eyes. Mine seem to have been taken over by a two-year-old who's screaming no, no, NOOOOO and stamping her little feet.
So I get brave and go looking for another human being.
I don't want to. I don't want anyone to see me like this.
The Bear's fast asleep on the couch, having his usual midday siesta. Selfishly, I make enough noise to wake him.
"I'm bald," I announce, as he blinks himself back to consciousness.
I don't even hear what he says, though I know it's kind. I'm too busy having the Meltdown I Have To Have. There are tears. There's anger. There's despair.
All the while, I'm telling myself that this is just about vanity really- and still I'm not able to get myself in hand. I'm aware that my inner spoilt toddler is in control. I'm aware that there are worse things in the world than having no hair. I totally know that I've had a privileged ride so far on this earth, looking the way I do, always knowing that I can rely on my pretty face to make an impression.
But hell, I'm used to feeling confident about my appearance, and I don't know any other way to do that confidence thing. Feeling like I want to hide is completely foreign. And bloody unwelcome.
When I stop bawling, which is about when the Bear starts and I realise I'm being a selfish prick because he has No Idea how to fix it and I'm just making him as upset as I am, I find a rueful smile for him, clean my face up a bit and start taking some pictures.
Maybe the camera can convince me that things aren't so bad.
Or not. I take maybe twenty shots, and amongst them find one I can maybe show the world. I put it on Facebook with a typed wail of despair.
|The best shot I took.|
I put another shot up, one where I think I look truly horrible. The feedback's pretty much the same. And still I think they're all barking mad, or telling polite lies.
If in doubt, walk away from the mirror. The Bear had promised he'd go for a bike ride with me on Christmas Day; it's time to hold him to his promise. Lunchtime's been and gone and we're still full of pancakes. I feel as much like riding a bike as flying to the moon, but a voice in my head tells me that some more exercise could be just what the doctor ordered.
Once it's decided, I know I'll feel better as soon as I got on the bike; so it proves. I put my helmet on, and realise that I need to adjust it; hair takes up space. I feel weird, with nothing between me and the stack hat.
We fly up the road together as light rain starts to fall. My naked head does, at least, feel unbelievably cool after the stinking hot day. Soon the Bear's behaving like a teenager, as only he can, freewheeling along helmetless and shoeless, splaying his body out like a star for my amusement with neither hands nor feet on the bike (yet still staying on it, damn him- I have trouble letting go with even one hand without falling over).
We turn in at the neighbours' gate and zip down their driveway. Two emus raise their heads as we pass, then go back to grazing; a mob of kangaroos bounds away, disturbed by our laughter. It's simply good to be alive, and moving.
Fuck it, I think, when our neighbours emerge and offer champagne and a lazy chat on their balcony. Don't be so goddamn precious. Life is not about your hair. Why not.
"I'm bald," I say as warning, and take my bike helmet off.
They barely bat an eyelid. "You look exotic," says Jarvis with a grin.
Christine just hugs me. She's a woman with hair. She gets it.
And then I forget about my stupid egg noggin and lose myself in good conversation with good friends for an hour, till it's time for us to get back on the bikes and race each other home to cook our belated salmon, laughing all the way.
This morning the vain two-year-old who'd taken over my eyeballs seems exhausted by yesterday's tantrums. The view in the mirror is surprising still, but a little less confronting.
|More like me...|
The Joan Crawford still makes me want to giggle. But I guess it'll do, at a pinch. Basic black is always good.
The red tea cosy is a challenge, till I get creative and shove some bubble wrap inside it. (What the hell, you need something to take the place of all that hair or you look like someone stuck a pin in your noggin and let the air out.)
In the end, my look-du-jour is a bit more radical. Exotic, huh? I'll give you exotic.
I take off all the fake hair. I find an old hat, fiddle a bit, turn the brim up. I get my eyebrow pencil and draw a motif on my forehead, deciding to buy some of those stick-on jewels to decorate it next time I'm in town.
I'll give you exotic.
I go out like this to say hello to the Bear's mates. What the hell. I'd better practise this confidence stuff if I'm going to learn how to do it.
I'm so glad I went out. They've brought me a mud crab for lunch.