There was a wig shop next to the place I used to go for Pilates—a dark, 1960s-style free-standing building with a dozen empty parking spaces, all marked with threatening signs.
I would glare at the row of empty parking spaces and then drive around back amongst the weeds and broken glass where no one threatened to tow me. Then I would tuck a thick elastic band over my thicker blond hair, grab my gym bag, and grumble as I sprinted past the wig store sign with its faded pictures modeling 1960s hair-dos.
I never gave a thought to who might shop there. I never thought it might be me.
95% of chemo patients lose their hair. The chemo drugs attack fast-dividing cells, and that includes hair follicles. My hair is still firmly attached, but I know it won’t be for long, and I don’t want to find myself suddenly bald, without anything to cover up with.
So here I am at a wig shop. I couldn’t bring myself to go to the old brown building, so I’m a few blocks away in a brightly-lit shop in another bland strip center on the same commercial thoroughfare.
I’m seated in a beauty salon chair facing a mirror. Shelves to my sides are packed with plastic heads displaying wigs from short and curly to long and straight in colors ranging from light blond to bright red to darkest raven.
It’s not unlike trying on shoes, with the boxes piling up as the owner tries to find something I like that fits. It’s not going well. I’m looking for something shoulder-length and blond, to match my usual style, but the wigs that look great on display lose something when placed on my head. They look about as attractive as the bit of fluff stuck on Mr. Potato Head.
I finally select the least of the evils, a graying blond, layered look. I figure I ought to see how it looks and feels to go a little gray. (When my hair started to turn in my 40s I went straight to Oscar, who restored it to honey-blond, and he’s been seeing to it every six weeks since then.)
The owner tells me I should return to have my head shaved (complimentary) when my hair starts to fall out. “It’s nearly always 10 days after chemo,” she tells me. “But try not to come on Friday—everybody comes on Friday.”
If it’s 10 days after chemo, that’s a Friday. We’ll see. I buy two hats as well—one a baseball cap style with extra coverage down the nape, and the other a knit cap to keep my head warm at night.
So, now I know who those wig customers are. Damn straight the Pilates customers ought to yield their parking spaces.