Today is the day I have my first haircut in nearly 18 months. Is my hair running rampant and flowing down my back? No, chemotherapy has taken care of my hair for the last 18 months and removed it in great clumps so my lovely hairdresser, Lynn, shaved it off for me after my first session of chemo. It was done with love and great tenderness, too, and allowed me to feel that I was more in control than I probably was. It is only natural that my first haircut is with Lynn. She has been cutting my hair for years and we’ve shared details of our families, friends, aspirations and heartache. Although we keep in touch on Facebook, it is lovely to see her and we catch up on all the stuff we’ve missed in the last year or so. The end result is great and I am happy to have my unruly curls removed and to become 2 inches shorter. My new hair has decided to grow vertically and shows no sign of doing anything except reaching for the sky so it needs reigning in.
The sun is shining, the sky is blue and I feel reasonably energetic so after visiting the hairdresser, I decide to go shopping with Mark. We go to buy fruit, herbs and freshly baked bread from a local Iranian-run shop as well as a new potato-peeler (the swivel on mine has gone awry) and some wax for my freshly cropped hair. As we stroll along, we bump into some old friends we haven’t seen for a long time. The meeting highlights to me how differently people can see the world. The woman tells me about her children who are both employed and happy but it’s not good enough. The eldest is a successful freelance journalist whose income is erratic meaning that in order to buy a flat, he has to rely on his partner’s steadier income in order to secure a mortgage. My question – is he happy? is met with a ‘yes, but’ response. I point out they are in a partnership so it’s maybe not so strange one partner will put more money in than the other. I explain my cancer was aggressive and that it’s likely to come back but that today the sun is shining, the sky is blue etc etc and that I am happy. For me, life doesn’t have to be perfect in order for me to appreciate it and be happy. It’s still not good enough. The younger son, also gainfully employed, decided after a year of University that it wasn’t for him and just walked into a job which keeps him busy and well-paid. Again, it’s not good enough. He didn’t discuss his unhappiness with University and made the decision to leave on his own. He’s been working now for 3 or 4 years so is secure and has clearly made the right choice. Again I ask – is he happy? The response is the same ‘yes, but’ and I feel rather sad. My friend looks stressed and vexed about her offspring and yet they are happy, employed and healthy, making mature choices and getting on with their lives. I don’t get it.
At the beginning of our conversation, my friend’s husband queried the fact that I lost my hair through chemotherapy. He tells me with great authority that there is chemotherapy now that does not result in hair loss as though I had chosen the wrong kind. I feel rather insulted that he seems to think himself an expert on the matter and choose to concentrate on my female friend. While we have been talking, Mark is talking to my friend’s husband. They talk about music and anything my friend’s husband feels he is an expert on which means the topics range far and wide. At some point in the conversation he tells Mark that his younger son has a side-line to his main occupation and produces erotic furniture. Walking home, we throw the subject around between us, wondering what it is and whether it resembles the contraption George Clooney’s character in Burn After Reading was making. Is it functional in the – well, functional sense or is it decorative with parts of human anatomy lovingly recreated in wood? Are they chairs with penises as the arms and legs? Could you relax in a chair with a pair of breasts to nestle into? I suspect nestling is not really the aim of it but we decide we don’t really want to know more.
At home we relax on our conventional furniture and eat our fresh bread with salt beef and dill pickles. It has been a good day and we are happy. And that’s all we really aim for.