Life Doesn't Fit in a File Folder

No More Bad Hair Days

Seriously, sometimes it looks like this!

In the days before mousse and gel and other hair care products, I prayed to G-d to make my horrible curls go away.

Each night, I slathered my hair with V-05 — a greasy, grayish paste — and went to bed with a red bandana tied around my head.

All the popular girls had straight, shiny hair — parted at the center and held back by painted barrettes with whales or hearts on them.

My frizzy hair looked stupid when I tried to do that.

Rainy days were the enemy; humidity was my undoing. I learned to stay away from boys at water fountains.

Once, an old woman stuck her fat finger inside one of my corkscrew curls. She muttered words in Yiddish that I didn’t understand. Her translator told me the woman had said she’d had hair like mine when she was young. I didn’t know if that was a compliment or not. Her head was covered with a plastic rain bonnet.

People often told me my hair matched my personality.

*I assumed this meant they thought I was surly and uncooperative.

For decades, I fought my curls. I tried clips and headbands; I even tried straightening treatments to make my hair more manageable.

And then my friend was diagnosed with cancer.

And I watched her lose the soft, dark locks that framed her face. Soon, another friend was diagnosed with something else. And I watched her hair come out in clumps as she brushed it. One day, she brought out the clippers that — until that moment — she’d only used on her son, and she used them on herself. Leaving pieces of herself on the kitchen floor, she hopped in her truck and went off to buy wigs. When another friend lost her hair, she bought hats. Another bought do-rags. Another friend preferred bald. She said wigs went lopsided and scarves itched.

I stopped complaining about my hair.

Because I have hair.

And having hair means that my cells are not behaving badly. That I am not facing chemotherapy or radiation. That I am not making videos for my children to see when they are older because I might not be here. That I am not battling cancer — that goddamn monster — that takes people too young.

I’ve stopped wasting my prayers on hair. G-d has other things to do.

The instructions were to write about hair. Use it as a vehicle to tell us something about your character, a situation, you and/or your life. I tried.

56 thoughts on “No More Bad Hair Days

  1. I had cancer when I had just turned 21. I was lucky. The radiation made me lose some hair, but I didn’t really notice until it started growing back in and I had short little hairs sticking up all over my head among the long ones that didn’t fall out.

    When my cousin had cancer at age 16, she wore scarves on her head when she went bald, but she never bought wigs. She felt like it would be giving up the fight, and the odds were very much against her. She beat those odds and is in her thirties with a family.

    I love my hair. I am not vain about it so much as I appreciate it and do what I can to care for it because I know that each day I have it, it’s a gift. Many prayers for your friends, and thank you for your post.

    1. I know you are a cancer survivor. I’m so glad you left me this post. Cancer is a monster, and I am so glad you punched it in its throat.

      When my grandmother lost her hair to cancer, she bought wigs. She looked so glamorous. She had several to choose from.

      And even though she made the wigs sound like fun fashion accessories, I knew otherwise.

      Blessings, Piper. And good health.

  2. Two posts in one day! I can barely keep up girlfriend!

    I know what you mean about cancer. It is Hell and I am thankful for my health and can’t really complain.
    BUT I have hellacious hair too~ Just had it done yesterday where they blew it out after coloring it. The curl is already starting to come back and by tomorrow the poodle hair will be back! I have accepted my crazy hair. Although I did just see a beautiful photo of Scarlet Johansson with short cropped curly hair. You know I could rock that do!

    1. The double blog was a misfire. I feel horrible! It wasn’t supposed to go until midnight tonight!

      Meanwhile, you and Leanne and I were all at our respective salons yesterday. Was it bloggers day at the chop-shop? Was there a groupon that I missed?

      Like you, my hair will look great today — but it is temporary.

      As I said, I’m just so grateful to have hair these days.

      1. So well said, Renzay. My SIL is battling breast cancer now. She’s bald. Not by choice. It’s a hard road.

        Earlier this week, a Grade 10 girl at my school who has super curly long hair announced she was going to shave her head – bald – to raise $ for those with cancer. Her dad has fought (and won – so far) his own battle with cancer. Not many dry eyes in that assembly.


  3. My mother in law is battling cancer right now, and she has been out looking for wigs for when the hair loss happens. Cancer really is a monster.

  4. Hey, with such a pert, pretty face, why worry about hair?

    My wife is cursed with very thin hair. She struggles all the time to keep from displaying bare spots.

    When I was a teenager I wore my hair like, and looked like, Elvis Presley. I always had plenty of hair and kept it nicely styled until a few years ago.

    Sometime in my 60s, the Elvis looks long gone, I decided to start wearing a buzz cut. Don’t think anyone is going to be attracted by my looks at this age, and it’s sure nice not to brush, comb or style it every morning.

    1. Good morning, Sir Sweet Talker.

      I am like the female version of Samson. All my super powers are in my hair. I’m nothing without it. I know this because in high school I shaved most of it off. (Long story, and no — it didn’t involve a Delilah.)

      Seriously, I wore a hat to prom. I am not kidding.

      I only know you from the photo you’ve posted, and you are very handsome. My father has only a little hair left to style and I think he is still one of the most good-looking men out there. *waves hi to dad* I’ll bet he doesn’t miss the days of combing and preening either.

      But losing one’s hair naturally is one thing; losing it to cancer is another.

  5. I went to college at Michigan State from Florida. My new friends in Michigan thought I had it all backwards. They told me they would love to go to college in Florida and couldn’t understand why I had chosen State. Well, I told them, they had a very good school in my field of study. But there was something else…an interesting perk to going to state. In the dry climate my hair cooperated whereas in Florida the humidity gave me the frizzies. I enjoyed four years of frizz free hair there.
    Great and interesting post. If we have hair and don’t have cancer, we are very blessed. I too have had friends who have undergone treatments and licked cancer. One friend’s hair went from straight to very curly after chemo. People asked her who she got such beautiful curly from in her family. Her answer…I got it from cancer.

    1. I know survivors who say their hair has changed dramtically after cancer as well. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme of reason. Some people turn grey. Some get curls. Some fine-haired people get coarse hair.

      As far as I’m concerned, when you are a survivor, whatever hair you get back, is fabulous! My grandmother’s hair was always fine and she continued to wear wigs to fancy events. But around the house, she put her hair into two thin pony-tails and wrapped them with macrame cords. SHe looked like Pochahontas. 😉

  6. I have long since given up thinking my hair will do anything that I pretend to know how to make it do, which took off some of the stress. It used to be my “thing” and something I splurged on maintaining, but then life (mortgage and adult things) came along and I realized that hey, it’s just hair.

    While I would like to have a bit more control (and money) over the end result, I’m okay with it being what it is. Meh.

  7. You did a good job about writing about hair. When one of your friends loses their hair because of cancer, it kind of puts everything into perspective, doesn’t it.

  8. This is so good. Everyday I speak with women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are either in the middle of treatment or just starting. We get on the subject of hair a lot. Hair is a big deal – thanks for writing about it so well.

  9. I always said your curls are GORGEOUS and I could never understand why you’d want them gone! So glad you are grateful for them now.

  10. Renee, what a tender piece. I think your hair is beautiful. Then again, the grass is always greener on the other side….I hate my pin straight hair… smile. We have much to be thankful for, don’t we?

  11. I love this, Renee. So personal. I’m going to share it with my friends – thanks for giving us something to ponder upon and reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously.

  12. This is heartbreakingly beautiful. I complained about my curls for too much of my life too. You cut to the heart of it, and it’s a reminder I’m grateful for. Love you.

    1. T: I was thinking of so many people as I wrote this. My friends. My grandmother. Kristen Lamb’s “Gratitude Post.” You and your curly girlies. So many people about whom I care so much. I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to read all the words. To re-post. To tweet. To tell everyone how grateful I am for all of them.

  13. Our curses are very often someone else’s blessing and strongest desire. A steady husband, a job that makes your head hurt, a head of hair. Amazing how things are put in perspective.

    1. Feeling is mutual, Liz! And di you see I got your blog! Yay!

      But so heartbreaking.

      I don’t know how you do that work.

      I guess that’s why G-d puts us here — to do all these different jobs.

      And yeah, so glad that Piper kicked cancer’s ass.

  14. Wow. What a great way to put things in perspective. It sucks that you know so many people who are dealing or have dealt with that selfish monster cancer.

    I don’t think I’ll complain about my hair again anytime soon, either. Well said.

    1. That is an understatement. Nine friends have died in 4 years. It’s been brutal.

      Several are fighting hard now.

      Everyone I know has lost someone he or she loves to cancer.

      Stooopid disease should just go away already.

  15. Whew- Renee! This is so very powerful! I love the way you drew me in with your own “journey” and brought it home a lesson.

    Important, soulful, sad, scary, and right back to important.

    You, my dear friend, are amazing!


    1. Galit: By now, you must know that you have become one of my favorite people in the blogosphere. I love tweeting with you. The words you assigned to this post are the words I would use to describe most of your posts.

      The one you recently did at Story Bleed spoke to me on eleventeen hundred levels.

      You are beyond amazing. I’m so glad to have found you.

  16. That was such a great post! The invention of mousse WAS one of the best things ever. 🙂

    My heart aches for your friends but the best thing is it’s obvious how much you love them. Thank you for reminding me not to sweat the little things and to enjoy life to the fullest while we’re here.

  17. My mom had breast cancer when I was in the 8th grade and lost all of her hair to aggressive chemo. She wore turbans and wigs until it grew back. I learned at a pretty young age to not complain about bad hair days, although I do, at times, have reason to! I’m just thankful for all of the wonderful hair products that keep my wild hair under control!

    You have such a cute face that you look good even with frizzy hair! 🙂

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