The week before her birthday, Jesi asked me to make her an appointment at the hairdresser. I have been going to the same stylist for years, and for the past few years the girls have also been seeing Debbie. Debbie is always upbeat, one of those warm motherly types of women. I didn’t feel uncomfortable calling her for an appointment. Besides, she was aware of Jesi’s situation. Jesi had seen her a week before she was diagnosed. Kari had her hair trimmed a couple of weeks after. I dropped into the salon to let her know.
We got an appointment for couple of days after Jesi’s sixteenth birthday. It was the first time Jesi had really been out of the house, apart from to clinic visits, for days. A very cold and extremely windy Wednesday. “Just make sure you keep a hold of her when you are walking,” her PT warned me. “The wind is so strong, it might knock her over.”
I was hoping for a park in front of the shop, but was not so lucky, so I took his advice and held on tight onto Jesi’s upper arm, almost lifting her body with my grip. We walked slowly down the street, me wanting to wrap her more tightly in her coat, hold her against me, wondering what it would be like when in twenty years time, when she did for me what I was now doing for her. We were almost at the hairdresser when she stumbled and almost fell onto her knee, except I was grabbing her arm so fiercely.
Jesi’s hair had been falling out for weeks. Not in great handfuls like the first time, but strand by strand. It lay in waves on her t shirts, it pasted itself to the bathroom sinks, made extra threads on the carpet. We were continually sweeping it off the floor in dust bunnies. Patches of her scalp shone out of new bald spots when she was not wearing the little purple knit cap snug against her head. And the strands that were left hung limp, or scrambled themselves under the her cap, except for the straggly long strands that curled slightly around her ears and fell to the front of her shoulders.
“Mama, I think I want to get my head shaved,” she had tentatively announced a couple of weeks earlier. So the appointment was made for when Debbie returned from vacation.
At the salon, Debbie greeted us with an enormous smile. She was standing in the reception area waiting for Jesi. She walked forward and opened up her arms in a wide embrace before she led Jesi off to her station. “Will I come?” I started to say, but when Jesi turned her head and smiled I knew there was no need. I wondered if Jesi felt this moment was as sad as I did.
I sat down in the reception area and took out my book, listening to the shears buzzing the remains of Jesi’s long brown hair. It didn’t take too long. Why would it? There was not that much to buzz. Soon Jesi was walking toward me, a little unsteady and slow, scuffing in her Ugg slippers, her new bare head shining. I had to look twice. She looked different, even though there had not been much of a covering of hair for weeks now. “What a great head you have, Jesi!” I said, admiring the perfect symmetry of her head and how prominent her eyes looked beaming out at me. And Debbie, not far behind her saying, “isn’t she just beautiful!”
The reception area was quiet, a fact I was pleased about, so we stood chatting for a few moments before Debbie wished us well.
We didn’t go straight home. Jesi wanted to go to a local gift shop to look for a birthday gift for Kari, and also one for another friend. I had to stop at the grocery store. It felt great her being out and doing normal things, though I was concerned for her energy level, and the cold biting wind.
There has come to be a new ritual in our family ever since that outing. Jesi says she picked it up from something Kari does. It is a greeting, or a good bye, a good morning or a good night. It even “fixes” the blues or the grumbles! Jesi whips off her little powder blue cap, a newer, birthday version of the purple one, and nods so the crown of her head shines toward you. She looks at you with sparkling eyes and says,
“You want to kiss my head?”