The Night I Almost Melted My "Hair"

Sometimes it's good to get out. 

My husband was just hired as a visiting professor; day 3 of my 2nd chemo cycle was the welcome dinner for new faculty and their spouses. I was determined to make this occasion, to enjoy the red snapper and to participate in our lives as normally as possible. 

Plus, this afforded an excellent first opportunity to don my new wig, “bangs” bobby-pinned neatly to the side and all.

You know the outfit you conjure in your head when you’re trying to decide what to wear to a special function?  I was so out of energy when it came time to get ready for the dinner that I dressed in what I had envisioned, (of course) didn’t like it once it was actually on, but proceeded to wear it out the door anyway. Completing my look, I also didn’t wear any makeup, which was due to two simple facts: (1) my wig is so over-the-top styled, primped and highlighted (my girlfriend calls it “High Maintenance Jen”) that I feel the need to tone it down with a plain face and (2) I’m afraid to touch my eyes because I’m holding fast to the delusion that my eyelashes will remain firmly implanted through the balding process if I simply don’t touch them. 

So, it seems, all you need to get yourself ready and out the door promptly and without fuss is cancer. A little nausea, a little hair loss, you’re ready to go in no time flat.

I arrived at campus on time, even a little early, and met my husband, who was just finishing up a long first day of orientation. We meandered together over to the reception location, taking our time and enjoying the very well-manicured landscapes of the campus. I was trying to appreciate the two of us being out together without our son, a rare occasion to be sure. I want to hold his hand and relish the togetherness but felt a bit like I am about to vomit in those lovely bushes and my head is throbbing. Dang this wig is tight. I’d only had it on for the half hour drive there and was already contemplating ripping my head off my shoulders. Well, that or sporting a bald head, which seemed like equally appealing options. How in the world do people wear these things all day?

As I’m increasingly losing focus on what my husband is talking about, it occurs to me that the head cap, underneath the wig, may be what is causing the crushing tightness. We duck into an open building so I can pull my hair off in privacy. There, that’s better. The wig alone is a much more manageable discomfort.

Even feeling ill and shabby, the lovely garden setting of our campus soiree was not lost on me. I love special occasions and events; noticing details and appreciating nuances is part of who I am. The well-shaped floral centerpieces, the bright table linens and readily available waiters, it is all simply lovely.  

Shortly after I was cutting myself off from finishing my entrĂ©e, recalling a punishing chemo-heartburn from an evening prior, a waiter came by and lit the outdoor heat lamps. I lean back, only slightly bored by my husband telling stores I’ve heard many times before, and enjoy the warmth emanating down on me as the evening chill sets in. How convenient that I’m seated just below this heater of the out-of-doors.  

Then it hits me. My peaceful moment is ruptured with the frightening realization that I’m like a marshmallow under a flame. I’m wearing a synthetic wig that is so intolerant of heat that I’m not even supposed to eat soup while wearing it!

Dear Lord, I’m about to melt in front of 65 strangers that just became my husband’s colleagues.

There are no empty seats on the other side of the table, so I’m wedging my chair away from the heat with as much discretion as possible. I’m leaning my upper torso and neck to the opposite side, trying to make the strained position look natural and subtle. Yes, I’m just swan-like; craning my neck like this is perfectly normal and ordinary. I’m stroking the top of my head and running my fingers through the “hair” repeatedly, which I’m sure is doing wonders for the high-maintenance aura the wig itself provides me. But I can’t stop touching it.  If it’s starting to sear, I would like to be the first to know.

My husband is completely oblivious. He’s droning on about some way academia can relate to the outer world as I’m trying to make a snap, but very important decision as to whether I’ll be using the soiled napkin in my lap or the one in the breadbasket to hastily create a headscarf over my singed scalp before I make a mad dash to the car. The one in my lap, definitely. The breadbasket is two people over; I might have to say, “Pardon me, would you please pass the bread” while smoke is encircling my scalp. 

Apparently, a scarf is to a cancer patient what a diaper is to a new mom – leaving home without a spare could be disastrous.

Another couple minutes and a few dozen more attemptedly-discrete strokes across the sandy-blonde strands and I started to calm down. It's only mildly warm to the touch. I realize my do will hold-up and I am gradually able to stop eyeing the lovely silk napkins with plans of making a master escape. 

My bizarre inner monologue concludes as I digest that the situation is controlled; my facade of normalcy will hold for the evening. I’m out; I’m here; I’m not on fire. 

It's a good night.

1 comment:

  1. i don't think i will ever look at a heat lamp the same.