My first foray away from home after the last treatment was a three-hour drive to visit my brother, Eric, at his home located outside a tiny town in rural New York State. I hadn't been there for some years. It wasn't on the way to anywhere. But the moon and stars aligned perfectly when I had come out of an acupuncture session thinking, “I will now say yes to anything that comes my way” (a commitment which luckily did not last more than a few hours, just long enough). Eric asked me to come for a visit to his house in the woods, and I did not hesitate. Waiting would only allow time for me to start to put obstacles in the way and find reasons not to go. We agreed I would drive up the next day.
The visit as lovely as can be. I was fatigued, so we did a lot of sitting on his large screened-in porch, listening, in silence, to the rain. How light and comforting it sounded as it hit the green leaves of the maples and linden trees in the young forest. I breathed in deeply the earthy smell of dead leaves and soft bark on fallen limbs upon the forest floor. And we talked plenty, too, of cancer and his work-life and relationships and our childhoods and parents and death and shared quirky behaviors about food and money, wondering if it was nature or nurture that made us so alike.
It was the next morning, after a few hours of more screened porch talk, a little while before I would leave, that I asked Eric if he would give me a haircut. He easily could have laughed, assuming it was a joke. After all, my head was still nearly bald. I'd never worn a wig or even a scarf, except when it was cold, kind of embracing the authenticity of “how I look is actually how I am.” A thin furry layer of grey and brown covered the scalp like a young boy's cheek. But when I looked in the mirror, I could see some stray hairs, thin wispy threads that rose above it. And of all things, through a year of treatment, it was those hairs that aroused my vanity. I had tried to cut them myself but couldn't quite get the reverse image of the mirror coordinated with the scissor angle. And it was like cutting air.
"Sure," he said. He didn't laugh. I pointed out the strays. He said he saw them and could cut them, so they'd blend in with the rest.
It was raining lightly. He suggested we do it outdoors so there wouldn't be hair all over the floor. I thought it might be my turn to laugh, but he was serious or earnestly honoring the request. He carried a wooden chair outside and set it under the portico between his house and garage. I sat down, looking out on the meadow. He mowed a winding path through the tall grass and wildflowers. He went inside and came out with a comb and scissor.
"If you could just even it out. See the strays in this light?"
"Yep." He stood on my left side and assessed the project. He walked around in front of me to the other side and sized it up from there. Then back to the left. He slid the comb across my scalp.
Once. Twice, more slowly. A third time from the forehead to the nape of my neck. "No, that's not going to work," he said, and put the comb down on the backdoor step. "The wispies won't stand up."
He took the scissor in his right hand and began to cut the silver threads. One by one. "Ah, here's one," he'd say. And he'd clip it off. "Here's another." Some of them were so thin he had trouble seeing them against the cloudy sky. I held up my navy-blue sweatshirt to offer contrast, so he might find the strays more easily. That seemed to help. He was on a roll.
He moved to stand right in front of me, tending to the cheek fuzz where sideburns were forming near my ears. He snipped a little then stood back. "No, let's leave those," he said. "You can make little spit curls out of those one day soon."
He continued his work for another 20 minutes. Cutting a stray hair. Standing back. Cutting another. Standing back. A work of art. And then some. He brushed the top of my head with his hand. "All done. Looks good."
I got up, gently shaking my head, the way you do after a styling at the salon to see if the cut holds. "It feels so much lighter. Free and easy." We both laughed and went back inside for a cup of tea before I left. "Herbal or caffeinated?" he asked. Sometimes small choices mattered. Not today. I handed him my cup.