If you were my daughter

I would say . . .

They will tell you what you are supposed to be. How you are supposed to look. How you should feel and act.

Their expectations will overwhelm you.

But at some point—because you are going to be one of the lucky ones–you’re going to question it.

Because if all they say is true:

Why are they pushing so hard?

Why would they need to?

And why is what they expect the source of such struggle and angst?

You’ll try at first. Because, of course, you will.

You will attempt to re-mold the shape and size of your body. You will wear clothes that feel uncomfortable and tight; shoes that cause your feet to blister and swell. You will spend thousands of dollars and hours on beauty products that promise flawless skin; shiny, soft hair; smoky, mysterious eyes; and lips such a shape and color they will cause men to imagine how they would feel wrapped around their dick. You will declare war on hair in places where hair just should not be.

And that’s just the physical aspects of the job.

You will need to be naturally maternal, as a yearning will manifest itself deep inside your womb at the exact, right age telling you you were born to become someone’s mother. Someone’s wife. A sex goddess. An amazing cook. The keeper of the perfect house.

While you may find you have a natural talent for some of these things, you won’t for others. And that will make you feel guilty and like there’s something wrong with you.

But realize, it’s all a part of The Great Big Lie.

Squint your eyes. Take a closer look: the demand of you is on what; not who.

The strange dichotomy is when you stop focusing on the idea of being the right kind of woman and on being the right kind of person is when you become.

That’s the source of the magic, power, and mystique that is uniquely you.

Oh, and by the way, that’s going to piss some off.

And that is how you will know you’ve arrived.

Dear Noel

Dear Noel,

You don’t know me. We met only briefly 45 years ago.

The day we met, it was my birthday. I was wrapped in a pink blanket when they handed me to you to hold.

I know our meeting was short lived, but from my understanding, you and I had been through a lot together.

You’re probably wondering how I know your name. Because back then, adoptions were handled with the utmost secrecy. There were no loopholes like there are today.

Let me explain.

The only thing they gave me when I left the hospital was a single sheet of paper. It had basic information about you: your age, height/weight, hair color, ethnicity, education, career, and general health information.

From it, I can see you and I have the same physical build. But whereas you have dirty blonde hair and brown eyes, I have very blond hair and blue eyes. I probably look a lot like him.

The paper told me very little about you, but said you were artistic and loved animals. I really like knowing that about you.

Since that piece of paper was the only thing I had remaining of you, you can imagine how upset I was when it got misplaced during a move. So, I sent a request to the adoption agency asking for a copy.

I was not prepared when I walked to the mail box that day to find a thick, yellow package from the agency. Inside, there was over an inch of papers containing the detailed information leading to my birth and adoption.

I was stunned. I didn’t think I was entitled to that. Though identifying information was, of course, blacked out in marker.

But whomever prepared the package was careless. They didn’t strike your name out very well on page 12. I was also able to decipher your birthday: December 25.

Noel is a beautiful name. I like it very much.

I sat on my bed and read all about you for hours that day. When I was done, I felt like I knew you. The case worker was very thorough in her notes.

You were 20 years old and working as a secretary at an army base when you met my biological father. Before that, you had done some modeling in New York City. You weren’t able to make a steady enough income to support yourself, so you took a typing class and landed a government secretarial job.

The case worker’s first impression of you when you walked into her office that first time was very complimentary. She said:

“This is an exceptionally beautiful, bright, and capable girl who has already made considerable arrangements on her own.”

When she asked, you told her my biological father was a good-looking lieutenant with an Ivy League degree. She noted the roll of your eyes when you described him as an “All-American Golden Boy” who was very concerned with his image. But you were initially impressed and flattered by his interest. When he asked you on a date, you accepted.

He took you out to dinner and bought you a lot of drinks. You don’t remember much about that night. All you know is you woke up in his apartment the next morning.

And you had a bad feeling.

When he avoided you in the days that followed, you were secretly relieved. You found him shallow and uncaring. You wanted to move on and forget you ever met him.

But then you missed your period.

When you called and asked if he had had sex with you that night, he denied it.

You, of course, knew he was lying.

There were no over-the-counter pregnancy tests back then, so you made an appointment with the family doctor. When the test came back positive, he called you a bad name because you weren’t married. He threatened to call your parents and tell them what you had done.

That enraged you because, after all, you were over 18 years old; he had no legal or moral right. You threatened him right back and told him if he did, you’d come to his office and tear it and him to pieces. You were convincing enough that he backed down.

Your family was strict Irish-Catholic. You were one of five girls. Your mother was prone to hysteria. Your father was a violent drunk. You knew you would get no support from them; only shame and blame. So, you did what you had to do.

You went to that lieutenant’s commanding officer and told him about your pregnancy. With the support and push of your female boss, a legal agreement was drawn between you and he. He was forced to provide money to cover the cost for adoption and your stay at a home for unwed mothers.

He wrote a check for $1245.00 and was relinquished from any further responsibility.

Because your boss was sympathetic to your predicament, she lent you additional money, so you could afford better care at one of the nicer homes. The cheaper ones were known for strictness and sub-par care; you were independent and didn’t want to be treated poorly. You also knew you were prone to depression and wanted to make sure you were safe and in good hands.

The commander and your boss decided the last four months of your pregnancy, you would tell your family the government was sending you to Washington for work detail. After the baby was born, you were promised your job would be waiting for you.

No one would ever have to know.

The caseworker visited you at the unwed mother’s home every two weeks. Despite your initial fear of going there, you adjusted surprisingly well. You met other women who were going through the same thing. You became close to a few. You felt a sense of family and acceptance you had never experienced before.

Mischievously, when asked, you told the case worker you knew you were having a girl. But just as quickly, your expression turned sad, leaving her with the impression you might be having second thoughts.

The biggest source of anxiety for you were the physical examinations. The first time the doctor put you in stirrups and touched you, you thrashed and screamed hysterically for him to stop. After that, they gave you tranquilizers to keep you calm during exams. You said you did not like to be touched that way and, with a self-deprecating laugh, added it wasn’t surprising you had to be intoxicated to the point of unconsciousness in order to be impregnated.

You blamed yourself for that night. You shouldn’t have had those drinks. It was all your fault.

You’re wrong, Noel. You are SO wrong. It was NOT your fault.

Your labor and delivery went well with no complications. I was healthy, and you smiled when they told you I was a girl.

Two weeks later when you signed legal surrender, you were very emotional. Even though you were assured I would be fine and go to a good home, nothing seemed to console you.

You asked, “But what will become of me?”

Then you looked away, signed the papers, and walked out the door.

The case worker was worried about you and tried to keep in touch. She was able to get you to meet her for lunch twice.

You were back at your job. By all accounts, things were back to normal and going smoothly. The lieutenant had been transferred to another base shortly before your return. But rumor had gotten around about your pregnancy.

When asked if you minded, you shrugged and said, “It will pass.”

You were more concerned that you didn’t know what you wanted to do with your life.

The last time she talked to you, you were in school to become an airline stewardess. You always wanted to travel. You always wanted to see the world.

After that, you stopped answering her calls, She never heard from you again.

I’m not writing to disrupt your life.

I’ve never had an overwhelming desire to find you. Strangely enough, since the time I can remember, I’ve always felt a quiet peace–a knowing–that you and I are on good terms.

Maybe in those precious, few moments you held me, you whispered everything you needed me to know in my ear, and I remembered every word.

I’m proud of what you did and how you handled yourself. You did it all on your own during a time when the world was a very different place for women in your situation.

You were so brave.

I hope you did travel and see the world.

I hope you found love, and it gave you a little girl you could keep.

I don’t want you to feel guilty about what you did. What you had to do.

You did well, Noel.

I’m alright.

I hope you are, too.

Always,

Bill

An Awkward and Truly Uncomfortable Conversation

Some conversations with kids are awkward and truly uncomfortable.

But I swore that wouldn’t stop me from having them.

The most surprising thing to me about all this BDSM stuff is what I thought I was going to educate myself on (and did) was not all I wound up being educated on.

To recap, a year or so ago, I finally admitted I enjoyed many aspects of masochism and wanted to safely and responsibly integrate them into my life. My motivation was, essentially, I wanted to do freaky things with people and have them do freaky things to me. In truth, I felt rather guilty about it. With so much to do and so little time as it was, it seemed rather self-indulgent to put time into something purely sex related and that was just for me.

I did figure out the freaky part. But what surprises me the most is how it made so many things I struggled with more clear.

Like for example, I’m pretty sure I can say “No. I don’t like this. Stop now” and stand by it with conviction.

Pathetic, maybe. But that’s not time spent self-indulgently. It’s rather important.

It confounds and angers me that at my age, I had to come here of all places to fully grasp that concept in crystal clear terms.

Though it’s unfortunate to learn it later in life, I’ve found it to be a timely lesson in raising a nine-year-old girl.

A few weeks ago, Little Bill and I were waiting to be seated at Steak and Shake. It was peak dinner rush hour. An older man walked by us to grab a menu from the hostess stand. Though there was a wide berth around us, he walked close enough that he brushed against Little Bill. Instinctively, I put my arm around her and pulled her close into my side.

It’s one of those split-second happenings that, on some level, feels off but your mind doesn’t fully register or go there.

Once we were seated and put our order in, we started to work on her homework. We were engrossed in long division, so I didn’t notice the man again until our food came and I looked up. He was seated in the booth on the other side of us.

If you’ve been to Steak and Shake, you know they have that old-fashioned diner motif going where glass panes separate the booths.

He was staring at her through the glass.

My creeper radar instantly went off.

When she felt his stare, she looked up, smiled back shyly, and looked away. When she looked back again and saw he was still staring, she smiled again, fidgeted in her seat, and moved closer to me.

While this was going on, I stared at him intensely enough that he would feel my eyes boring holes through his skull. When he noticed, he flashed a friendly smile. I smiled tightly; though it didn’t reach my eyes.

He looked away.

After what he considered was a safe amount of time, he looked at her again.

Again, I glared at him.

Again, he gave me the friendly smile.

I didn’t smile back.

He looked away.

When our food came, he got up to use the bathroom and attempted to make conversation; something about how the onion rings were his favorite, too, blah, blah, blah; all the while, looking at Little Bill. Asking her what homework she was working on. How he always hated school.

Nervously, she giggled and smiled shyly.

Seriously, Mother Fucker? You don’t think I don’t see you for what you are?

I stared at him unsmiling and unreceptive to conversation.

He finally gave up and slunk away.

In the car on our way home, I asked, “What did you think about that man in the restaurant?”

She hesitated, “Oh, I don’t know. He was nice, I guess.”

“Really?” I commented mildly. “How was he nice?”

Unsure where I was going with the conversation, she said, “Well, he was smiling and trying to joke with us.”

“How did he make you feel?”

With a shrug, she laughed, “What do you mean? I don’t know. Okay, I guess.”

“Did he make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable?”

“Uncomfortable.”

I nodded. “Me too. What about him made you uncomfortable?”

“The way he kept staring at me,” she conceded.

“A little too long, right? I mean, it’s ok to smile at someone. But especially if you don’t know someone and you just stare, it’s creepy. He wasn’t a little kid. He knows better.”

“Yes,” she nodded. “He was weird.”

“I’m glad you noticed that,” I told her. “When something feels wrong, that’s your gut warning you to be on guard. That nagging feeling is there to keep you safe. You should always listen to it.”

“You looked sort of mad at him in there,” she said.

“I was. His staring was inappropriate. I was letting him know I didn’t appreciate it and he should stop. We don’t have to be nice to someone who makes us uncomfortable just because they smile and act friendly. I don’t want you to ever think you have to be nice to someone who makes you uncomfortable or who scares you.”

“Even if they’re an adult?”

“Yep. Even if they’re an adult.”

We’ve discussed sex before. I’ve been open about the basic technicalities since she was young. Body parts have never had cutesy names; girls have vaginas and boys have penises. We talked about what’s inappropriate touching from another person. I’ve told her that no one has a right to touch her in a way that feels wrong or hurts her; not even me.

But this was new ground. I couldn’t have had this conversation a year ago.

We talked about the expectations you have as a family member, student, friend, and citizen. In summary, we do our best to be kind, helpful, and hard-working. But on the flip side of that, there are people who may attempt to draw on and manipulate our kindness, politeness, and willingness to be helpful. They cross the boundaries that make us uncomfortable; that have our gut telling us something doesn’t feel right about them. When they push us and make us uncomfortable, they are not entitled to our smiles or chit chat. We have the right to ignore them, walk away, and remove ourselves because our safety comes first. We keep ourselves safe by being firm. Is that isn’t enough, we go for help.

At one point, she asked uncertainly, “Mommy, is this all tied to . . . sex? Did that man stare and smile because he was thinking about sex?”

I don’t want her to think behind every stranger who talks to her, there’s a rapist.

I don’t want her to be afraid and think the worst of people.

But there is a reality. Denying it won’t make it any less true. Denying it won’t keep her safe.

“Maybe,” I answered. “He gave me a bad feeling.”

“Did anyone ever make you feel uncomfortable when you were young?”

“Yes. I want us to always be able to talk. No matter how weird and hard it might feel. I swear I’ll try to make it as unweird as I can. I just want you to be safe.”

She nodded and turned the radio up.

It was an uncomfortable and horribly awkward conversation. But in the end, I think we both did OK.

Only Truth Gets Spoken Over the Fence

We really only spoke over the fence. But she was more of a friend than friends were at the time.

She lived in the house behind mine. All those years ago, a carport stood where my master bedroom now sits. If you walked to the back of the carport, past the rotting wood eaves, peered through the dirty screen and over the chain link fence, you would stare into Jane’s backyard.

She was a mail carrier and worked odd hours. We met briefly over the fence line when I moved in. She was pleased I wasn’t a renter because people in the neighborhood had a tendency to come and go. She’d been a resident for 16 years.

She wasn’t an attractive woman. She bleached her hair platinum blonde, and it contrasted harshly against the pockmarked, tan leather of her skin. No nonsense and coarse talking, she lived alone. When I first moved in, my hair was long and blond. Her appraisal of me that first time over the fence immediately let me know Jane was an unapologetic lesbian.

The next time I saw her, two months later, I was bald.

When that happened, my new favorite spot became the back of the carport. I placed a rocking chair, a small plastic table, and an ashtray there. At night, I’d rock, hidden in darkness with no head covering, and chain smoke my way through nausea, night terrors, and insomnia.

It was 2:00 a.m. when she appeared over the fence.

“What happened to you?”

“I got sick.”

She let a low whistle out from under her breath. “Now, that sucks balls. Big time. You’re in for a long, hard haul, Baby.”

I smiled because I was accustomed to commentary along the lines of “Oh, you’re going to beat this” and “God has a plan,”and my favorite, “Try to see it as a gift to make you realize what’s important.”

#Stupid-stuff-non-cancerous-people-say-to-make-themselves-feel-better-because-they-think-they’re-making-you-feel-better.

“You’re a hot bald chick. And I hang out with a lotta bull dykes, so . . .”

Again, I smiled. A rarity those days.

“Well, you know where to find me. If you need me. We ladies have to stick together.” And she walked back into her house.

***

A storm was brewing out in the Gulf. Our city hadn’t taken a direct hit since the 1930’s, but the news said it was headed our way. The night before, I walked outside because I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking about the tree in Jane’s backyard.

It’s called a Costa Rican Monkey Ear Tree, and it’s got to be at least 200 feet tall. The monkey ears refer to the hard fig shells attached to the branches. They’re black and shaped like a monkey’s ear. When they fall, they’re hard enough and high enough in the air that if they pelt you in the head, they hurt.

In a neighboring city, there’s a tree that’s 200 feet tall and is listed on the register as historic; Jane’s tree is much bigger and thicker in diameter than that one, and it’s not listed on any registry. When the windows are open, I hear eerie screeches and growls, which lead me to believe there are species of animals and insects living in it that have yet to be discovered. It reminds me of the Swiss Family Robinson Tree house. If it falls, it will take out the surrounding houses. But it’s more than that: the roots are so far reaching, they break through the cement of the sidewalks down the street. If Jane’s tree goes down, it’s taking half the neighborhood with it.

It was 3:30 a.m. the morning before the storm. Giving up on sleep, I left bed and went outside. I found Jane standing underneath the tree, looking up at its colossal vastness in the darkness.

Over the fence, in my night gown, I said quietly, “I can’t sleep either. I can’t stop thinking about your tree.”

Without looking at me, she said, “There’s nothing we can do. Worrying won’t change it.”

“I’m still worried.”

“It’s been here for a hundred years, Baby. It will be here long after we’re gone. The tree will win.”

Slightly soothed, I went back to bed.

The storm would take a turn and hit the middle of the state. We would still get residual effects. The next day, when I looked out the window through the sheets of rain and wind, every tree in Jane’s yard was down.

Except her Monkey Ear Tree.

Luckily, our houses wouldn’t sustain damage. Though Jane’s wooden deck was destroyed. When the rain stopped, four of her girlfriends—burly, no-nonsense ladies–came over with a chain saw and cleared out the damage. Jane sent them over to clean up my yard as well.

She would rebuild that deck herself. While she measured and cut the wood boards on her work table with perfect precision, I watched her over the fence, wishing I could love her like I sometimes loved men.

***

I was in the carport getting tools out of the utility closet.

I heard that low whistle and then, “Jesus, Baby. You got FAT.”

I smirked at the familiar voice and looked up. “I’m pregnant.”

“No shit. How did that happen?”

“A pitcher of margaritas.”

She paused, “I don’t mean to intrude. But didn’t Progesterone try to kill you?”

“Yes.”

She was quiet, as she leaned down to pick at some weeds through the fence. Throwing them behind her shoulder, she said “Well, I guess some risks are worth taking.”

“I’ll go back on treatment after she comes.”

“Sounds like a plan. A girl . . . Woot. Good for you. Well, you know where to find me if you need me. Us ladies need to stick together.”

***

I was pushing the stroller in front of her house. The walks were the only thing that calmed the girl down. She did nothing but scream for the first eight months. She wouldn’t sleep through the night for two years. I was back on treatment, working full time, exhausted, and sick all the time.

“Wow. She’s got some lungs. Come up here. Let me see her,” Jane yelled from the swinging bench on her front porch.

I pushed the stroller up and sat down next to her on the swing.

“She sure is a pretty thing,” she cooed, peering into the stroller.

“She has reflux. Bad.”

“You look horrible, Baby.”

“I’m exhausted.”

“He doesn’t help you.” It wasn’t a question.

“No.”

We sat in silence, swinging; Jane taking occasional pulls from her can of Budweiser.

“Let me watch her for a little while. Go sleep.”

My voice broke, and tears pricked my eyes.

“I can’t, Jane,“ I said. “She screams. She turns blue sometimes. She projectile-vomits. She’s the fucking Exorcist.”

“Meh. She sounds like my mother. Go get some sleep. You’re sick.”

Three hours later, I was at her door. Guilty. But feeling better.

“Was she horrible? Did she scream the entire time?”

“Yes,” said Jane. “She’s a beast. Worst. Baby. Ever.”

But her smile was so wide, it made her face look like a puckered leather hand bag.

***

I was getting in my car.

“I sold the house today.”

I froze. Looked over the fence. She was standing underneath the tree with her hands on her hips, looking up.

“Oh no.”

“My mom’s sick. I’m moving her in with me. Closer to where she lives and the hospital. It will be easier to get her in and out of a condo. Less maintenance. I love this house. But it’s too old. Renovations to make it handicap accessible would cost too much.”

A lot of people have left. I’ve never asked one to stay.

“Don’t go.”

She looked down at the ground. Kicked one of the huge roots of her tree.

“I’ll miss you, you know.”

“I’ll miss you, too, Jane.”

I got in my car and cried all the way to work.

***

I rarely talk to the new neighbors. Though they’ve lived there for years.

Call me irrational. Silly. Pigheaded.

But I don’t like them.

Because it will never be their tree. It will never be their fence.

Day 13

“How soon will I lose my hair?”

“Between day 12 and day 15,” the chemo nurse said. Then her eyes lifted, skimming my head in assessment.

“For you,” she added. “Day 13.”

I don’t know how she knew. I didn’t ask. What I’d learn is that chemo (and hospice) nurses are a different breed. They see, feel, and know things normal people don’t. They are also the best needle stickers on the planet: deft and precise. When you know what you’re doing, the stick should never hurt. When your port moves accidentally underneath your skin and flips, those nurses can turn it around from the outside of your skin so quickly you won’t register the pain until after they’re done.

I will always hold chemo and hospice nurses in the highest esteem.

After my first treatment, I was determined not to be sick. I would NOT be a patient. I would continue to do the things I had always done. And when it was done, I would go on and live the life I had always led. Nothing would change. It would be an unfortunate blip on the radar. I’d do my time–the treatment–and when it was done, it would be over. I’d go back to my old life as if it had never happened.

Back then, obviously, I was a fucking fool.

On the night of day 13, I was sitting on a bar stool, buzzed and flirting.

This was business as usual. The object of my affection was particularly good looking, and our chemistry was off the charts. He had an amazing body and a confident sexuality that made my pulse roar in my ears.

That was my forte: Find physical attraction and engage at light speed. Suck every sigh, gasp, and orgasm out of the relationship. Fuck and fight in equal and epic proportions for maximum intensity. Provide lousy or close to no communication outside the physical. Crash and burn the relationship into the ground, and do it all in a three-months—tops–span. Then onto the next.

I was an expert. Maybe I still am.

He was leaning into me and looking down into my eyes with huge promise when I unconsciously ran my fingers through my hair. When I placed my hand back in my lap, I happened to look down.

I know it sounds stupid, but my first thought was that it was cat hair. There was just so much of it, and it stood out so starkly against the back drop of my black tights. At the time, I had three in-door cats and kept a rolling lint brush within reach at all times to “de-feline” myself before walking out the door. My first thought was, “How did you NOT notice all this before you left the house?”

Maybe it’s also because I believed it would come out in strands.

I didn’t know it fell out in clumps.

I didn’t know when it begins, it’s sudden. And rapid.

When I realized what it was, I excused myself to the bathroom. I studied myself in the low-lit mirror, unsure and afraid. Then I gently ran my fingers through, not wanting to cause more to fall out than was necessary.

Despite the light pressure, when I pulled my hand out, it held a clump.

I can’t tell you exactly how that felt. Surreal comes to mind.

I returned to my bar stool and attempted to continue flirting. I tried to pay attention to what he was saying, but soon all I could register was that his lips were moving. I didn’t want to give into the reality of what was happening. I was trying so hard to grasp onto the last vestiges of that life . . . that person I was getting closer to losing with every second.

But my hand would inevitably, despite itself, find its way to my head. When I’d see the hair, I’d quickly brush it off against my leg and let it fall to the ground underneath my chair. Hoping no one would see. I can only imagine how much was there when I left.

When I could no longer focus on what the guy was saying—in defeat–I downed my drink and told him, sadly and regretfully, I had to go.

He was shocked. Didn’t understand what had changed so quickly when it had been obvious we shared such mutual attraction mere minutes before.

I walked out the door and sat in my car, which was parked in the front. Through the large picture window adorned in the blinking neon lights of the bar, I could see him and the chair where I had sat. I watched for a few minutes, not able to start the car. Eventually, another girl sat in my chair. They began to talk. To flirt.

She had long, blonde hair.

In that moment—completely, bitterly, and irrationally—I hated her.

She stole my chair. My sex. My life.

My hair.

The next day, it was worse. I woke up to clumps all over the pillow case, in the sheets, and in the shower drain. No one tells you that it’s a somewhat physically painful process. The top of your head burns, aches, and is sensitive to the touch as the roots begin to die. And it itches like hell.

I had been in denial, thinking maybe I’d be one of the lucky small percent who would get to keep it. I had put off getting fitted for a wig, which had to be ordered.

I was running out of time.

I called my boss and told her I wouldn’t be going into work. I opened the yellow pages and scanned. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I did not want to stay in town. I treated it like some covert operation. As I looked down the list, a name of a business jumped out, and I wrote down the address on a blank envelope. Then I got in my car and drove 45 minutes three towns away.

The shop was in a strip mall sandwiched between two businesses with dingy, ugly storefronts. There was a tattoo parlor and a head shop advertising drug paraphernalia and porn videos.

The bell chimed when I walked through the door. The shop was empty except for a beast of a man who sat at the cashier counter, flipping through People magazine. He glanced up and greeted me. I acknowledged him with a small smile and walked to the far wall that was full–floor to ceiling—with wigs.

I stood there. Just staring. Letting my eyes take in the overwhelming amount of colors, styles, and lengths. I didn’t touch or pick any of them up off the stands. I felt rooted to one spot.

The beast of a man walked over. He was well over 6 feet tall. He was bald with two small, gold hoops in each ear. His shirt, a tropical print with pink flamingos, was opened to mid chest. Two heavy gold chains circled his bulging neck, and their hanging medallions nestled in his thick chest hair. The hands that fluttered when he talked were covered in chunky gold rings.

In contrast, when he spoke, his voice was soft and feminine with a slight lisp.

“Can I help you? What are you looking for, Hon?”

When I didn’t answer right away, he asked, “Do you have a party to go to? Or are you just looking for something fun for a change?”

It was mid-November, or I’m certain he would have assumed it was for Halloween.

Mutely, I shook my head; not looking at him directly, continuing to let my eyes flit over the wall of wigs.

Uncomfortably, he cleared his voice, smiled, and said, “Well, if you need any help, just let me know” and started to turn away.

I needed help. But I didn’t know how to ask.

I lifted my hand and dragged my fingers through my hair. When I pulled it out, I extended and showed him the clump in my palm.

“It’s falling out. It’s going to be gone soon,” I explained. I stopped, knowing my voice would crack if I didn’t.

His eyes widened in understanding. Then lowered and locked onto the implanted port protruding out from under the skin near my collar bone.

“Oh, Honey” was all he said.

I pulled the insurance paperwork out of my purse and handed it to him, pointing at my budget.

“This is more than enough,“ he said. “We can do a lot with this. Let me help you.”

We went through the lines of wigs and some he had in the back. There were so many to choose from. He asked if I wanted to go with something completely different and have “fun” with it. Or did I want to find something close to my current style and color.

I told him the more I could look like me, the better.

He chose some different lengths and tried to match the color the best he could. He explained the benefits and cons of synthetic versus human hair. None of them were an exact match, but he found a few that might work.

He took me in a backroom that had a hairdresser’s table with lit mirror and chair. When I sat down, he gathered up my shoulder-length hair and tucked it into a nylon cap. Then he began to place, adjust, and show me each wig.

He tried to make it fun. Really he did. With his whooshy, animated hand gestures. Even complimenting the ones that looked ridiculous. Despite my wish to keep the color close to my own blonde, he insisted on showing me what I’d look like as a red head, a brunette, and a pink-and-blue-haired punk rocker.

He was kind.

He was so very kind.

Somewhere between the fourth and fifth fitting, I noticed the top of the electric razor peeking out from one of the table’s drawers.

I stared at it for the longest time.

And realized why I’d been sent here.

“Will you shave it off for me?”

He stopped adjusting the wig on my head and stared at me in the mirror with surprise. Then hesitation.

Softly, I told him, “It’s so hard to watch it fall out. Like there’s no control. I don’t think I can do it myself.”

His eyes got glossy and started to fill and brim. He turned away to hide them.

“Of course. Hold on.”

He went to the front of the shop, and I heard the latch turn to lock. When he came back, he took the electric razor from the drawer.

He held it, posed over my head, took a deep breath, and said “Ready?”

I nodded.

Buzzzzzzzzzzzzz

He shaved my head in perfect symmetrical strips starting from the back to the front. As each new strip was revealed, he would rub his hand gently over the skin and say something encouraging. I eventually closed my eyes.

I think he cried while he did it.

I couldn’t.

I felt gratitude there was someone who did. Someone who could.

When he was done, we both stared at my reflection. He ran his hands over the stubble and said, “You have a beautiful head. Perfectly shaped. Many people don’t, you know.”

Deadpan, I said, “I’m just relieved there’s not a Gorbachev birthmark I wasn’t aware of.”

We both burst out laughing.

I paid for two wigs. They had to be ordered and styled, so it would take two weeks. He helped me pick out some scarves and a hat to hold me over. He showed me how to tie the scarves into different styles. He stapled the receipts together, so they would be easy to submit to the insurance company.

We hugged when I left, and I thanked him.

I walked out.

The strip mall was the same, but looked different somehow. Maybe it was the sunshine on the window panes. Or how the light reflected off and onto the sidewalk. It was blinding.

No. It wasn’t that.

I walked in a person.

I walked out a patient.

The Crabber (a drabble)

crabber“Dead is dead,” she squawked, taking a swig from her can of Bud; a product she’d consumed every night for over 80 years. “You don’t come back.”

“You don’t believe in reincarnation?” I asked, cracking into the leg of a crab we caught that day.

“Maybe we live on in those we love,” she conceded.

As my uncle emptied her ashes off the pier, a crab crawled up the seawall and climbed inside the ball cap he’d set on the bench.

Sitting next to it, he let it cling to the Bud insignia until the sun sunk into the Atlantic.

 

Three Words That Aren’t Love

Three words were tossed like a lifeline.

Not one of them was “love.”

Though Love was lobbed over the fence–as if some magical cure-all–where it would hit the ground at her feet with a dull thud. They would stare dumbly down at it and then up at the arms that dangled like curtains of dead meat at her sides.

Her dying wasn’t the glamorous kind. It wasn’t a gushing wound where people scramble and call for an ambulance. It was a small, festering boil on her face that slowly grew bigger and uglier until they could no longer stand to look and had to turn away.

If they had asked, she might have told them what hurt the most wasn’t the dying. It was the dying in plain sight and them pretending not to notice.

We love you . . .

But those words can’t be felt by those who wake up crying because they woke.

She held on. For years. Fingers gripping, slipping, and re-gripping that thin, unraveling thread. Holding on not for the fear of dying; dying is forgivable. Weakness is not.

But in the pre-dawn hours, a tiny voice grew louder and, overtime, began to sound more and more like a trusted friend.

Let go. Just let go.

The one who tossed the lifeline barely knew her. But one day, they asked a question no one had asked in a very long time, if ever at all.

And though she was surprised, when she answered, it was in the monotonous tone of someone who has repeated the same answer a hundred times.

Three words were tossed like a lifeline.

Not one of them was “love.”

I believe you.

And the dying stopped.