Hands shaking, heart pounding in my chest, I inhale deeply and run my hand through my long, auburn hair. For the last time. I savor the curls, the silkiness, even the tangles that have made me want to rip my brush through them, not caring how much it hurt. Oh, how I took it all for granted.
"Ready?" Abby, my older sister asks me.
I shake my head. I will never be ready. I have never been less ready in my life. So I do what any sane person would have done in the moment. I stalled. "You really don't have to do this, Abby! Your hair! It's so pretty and long!"
Abby shrugs. "Well, I guess I care more about you than some stupid hair that will grow back. Besides, we can totally get super fun wigs to wear together!"
I sigh. There is no going back. But with Abby at my side, I know I can do it. “Okay, let’s do it.”
“Wanna go first?” Abby extends Dad’s electric razor to me.
I shake my head.“No way! And have you chicken out at the last minute?”
She playfully shoves me and I almost spin into the bathtub. “Sorry! Are you okay?” She looks me up and down for bruises, clutching my wrist gently in her fingers. Is she seriously checking my pulse?
I shake her off. “Abby, I’m fine. I’m not made of glass, you know.”
She shrugs. “Okay, sure. Let’s do this?” She says it like a question, so I know she’s hesitant too. “Oh my gosh! We should do before and after pictures!”
I shake my head. We already have lots of pictures of us with hair! Plus, that would be far too painful. And, as an expert staller myself, I recognize an avoidance tactic when I see one. “No, it has to be now. And quick, before Mom comes to check on us.”
My mom is downstairs, probably making dinner while entertaining my younger sister Zoey, most likely with my baby sister Gemma propped up on her hip. Abby also has a twin, Summer, but she’s always locked in her room studying. They couldn’t be more different. My dad always jokes that he’s flying solo in a house full of girls. He’s been working overtime to try to support our large family, and with my hospital bills sucking up most of the money, things have been tight. Mom wouldn’t like to know that she’ll have to buy us wigs too!
In truth, my mom and I aren’t close. She doesn’t even know that my hair’s been falling out! Obviously Abby was the first person I told, then Dad, then Summer. But I felt like she wouldn’t get it! She’s constantly saying that a woman’s hair is the best part of her. It’s pretty condescending, actually, since my hair was always knotted and messy to begin with. Plus, it’s also sexist! Hair and beauty are pretty unrelated, in my opinion. Sure, hair is pretty, but someone can be beautiful without it. Or, at least I hope so. But seriously. Mom’s always making goo-goo faces at Gemma and all she has is some peach fuzz on the top of her head! Why does she make such a big deal about it with us when hair never matters with the baby?
The whir of the razor brings me back to the present. Abby hands it to me. “Fine. Do me first. Now! The suspense is killing me!” I pull out some scissors and do the initial cut, snipping off the cascade of auburn that reaches down her back. I see her flinch. This is going to be harder on us than we anticipated. It’s not just hair, but also a sense of normalcy that’s falling away, piling on the floor. She squeezes her eyes shut as I lift the razor to her head.
It’s pretty calming, actually, seeing Abby’s long hair fall away in sheets. It makes a soft pift as each clump hits the floor. Pretty soon, Abby’s head is smooth. I can’t stop staring. She’s still beautiful (she’s always been the prettiest of us), but looks way different.
Her hands go instinctively to her head and she rubs it, feeling for nonexistent hair. “It feels . . . weird, I guess. Does it look bad?”
I tell her the truth. “Different. But you’re still beautiful.” I hand her the scissors. It’s now or never. “My turn.”
I hum in my head to tune out the sound of my hair falling away. Ever since the first clump came out in my hand while I was in the shower, I’ve been trying to pretend like it isn’t happening. But it is. And I need to face it.
“Done.” Abby whispers in a hushed tone. I slowly lift my head to the mirror, fearful of what I’ll see.
“Is that me?” Abby nods slowly. I look super different, but I also kind of like it! My smooth bald head reminds me of an egg, though. And it makes my nose look bigger, without curly auburn locks to frame it. However, I can’t help noticing my green eyes shining. You could barely see them from behind my across-the-forehead bangs from before.
We share a look. “I feel like a hairless cat!” Abby giggles. And in that moment, all I can do is laugh, because we truly look somewhat ridiculous. Our high-pitched nervous laughter echoes in the tiny bathroom.
I grab her arm. “Mom will have a heart attack!”
Abby looks at me and we both burst into hysterical laughing again, just imagining her face.
After our fit dies down, I grab Abby’s hand. “Let’s do this.”
“Time to face the music.” Or, in this case, the wrath of Mom.
We walk downstairs, hand in hand. I keep wanting to brush my bangs out of my eyes, before I remember that they’re not there anymore. I am officially bald. This is weird. Only middle aged men are supposed to be bald! Not sixteen year old girls! You’re beautiful. You’re still beautiful. Abby leads the way down the stairs, practically dragging me. I’m so nervous; I wish I had her easy confidence.
Zoey, my younger sister, is singing, yet again. Ever since she learned the alphabet, it quickly replaced Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as her favorite song. And, of course, she makes her own accompaniment backing track.
“A, B, C, D, E, F, G!” Epic drum solo on a pot. “H, I, J-”
“Zoey, please!” Mom chastises while rubbing her temples. “Enough of that song-” Her voice trails off as she sees me and Abby standing in the doorway. “Oh my, burglars! Call 9-1-1, Zoey!”
“Hmm?” Zoey sweeps her blonde hair out of her eyes with the back of her hand.
“We don’t have valuables! Take this, here! Now leave!” She flings her silver watch in our general direction, where it hits the kitchen floor and shatters.
“Mom, it’s us,” Abby whispers gently. She’s clearly shaken up by Mom’s reaction. Looking back on it, it would have been funny, but having a semi-precious watch, Mom’s most prized possession, flung at you does something to a person.
“Abbigail? Kelsie? Is that you?”
“Sweet cherry pie! What in the name of-” She’s crumpled to the ground before she finishes her thought. It’s probably for the best. Zoey’s too young to hear the arsenal of curse words Mom has at her disposal.
“Mom!” Abby rushes to her while I’m frozen in place. “Um, Kels, what do they say to do to a person who’s fainted?”
“I dunno, dump water on them? That’s what they do in the movies!”
“Good idea.” Abby rushes toward the cabinet to get a glass of water while I head over to make sure Baby Gemma doesn’t fall off the counter, where she is perched precariously.
I set down the razor and take her in my arms. She starts to bawl. “Shh, it’s okay. I’m here. You’re sister’s here.” I wonder what Gemma’s first memory will be of me. Will I have hair? Will I be in a hospital bed? Will I be gone? No, I can’t think like that. Take each day as it comes, Kelsie. No use worrying about death and all that stuff until it’s looking you in the face.
I rock Gemma gently and she falls asleep in my arms just as I hear, “What on Earth did you do to me?” from behind me. “And, more importantly, what in the name of snickerdoodles did you do to yourself? A woman’s hair is the best thing about her!”
I roll my eyes, arms crossed. “You really are oblivious, aren’t you.”
“Kelsie Ann! Don’t you dare talk to me that way!”
Abby makes her way over to me and I catch my first glimpse of Mom. She’s dripping wet and her hair is stuck to her forehead in clumps. Best part of her, sure.
“Mom, Kelsie’s right! You haven’t been there for her! Did you know that her hair was falling out? That’s why I shaved her head and she shaved mine! Because we’re sisters and we actually support each other. But all you do is criticize and make demeaning comments! Can’t you see we’re still beautiful!”
Hysterical crying from Zoey cuts of Mom’s shocked response. “What’s wrong, Zo-Zo?” Abby cradles her in her arms.
“It’s not fair!” Zoey hiccups, kicking Abby in the shins. Wincing, Abby sets her down. Zoey hates being picked up. “Abby’s bald, Kelsie’s bald, even Gemma’s bald, and she doesn’t even know how to use this doo-hickey yet! You left me out!” She sticks her tongue out at us, and before we can stop her, curl after curl of her hair is falling onto the tile, before anyone has the sense to react.
“NOOOOO!” Mom howls, collapsing to the floor. She is honestly such a drama queen sometimes. Abby wrestles the razor from Zoey’s grasp, but the damage is done. She’s cleared two lines of hair from her head, two streets with zero traffic. It looks ridiculous.
Abby sighs and turns the razor back on, finishing the job. Zoey squeals with delight. She catches me looking at her, trying to hide a smile. “But I’m still mad at you for leaving me out.” She skips away, humming the alphabet to herself. Halfway out the door, she pauses and looks at me. “Why does Daddy even have that shavey-thing? It’s not like he has hair anyway!”
She runs out the door before anyone can react. The whole spectacle is kind of funny.
“What did you do to her?” Mom regains the ability to speak and turns on Abby.
“What, you’d rather me leave her like that?” She sighs. “At least Zoey’s supportive of me and Kelsie, unlike some people.” She turns on her heel. “Come on, Kelsie. Wanna see if Summer’s up for shaving her head too? We can be a whole family of hairless cats!” I giggle and take her hand, leaving Mom speechless, still sitting on the kitchen floor.
“Summer?” Abby sticks her head inside the room that she and Summer share.
My older sister is sitting propped up on a pile of pillows, head bopping to the beat of her music, which she’s always listening to. When she sees us, she yanks out her earbuds. “What do you-” she cuts off and her gaze travels up to our bare heads. “Holy tolito! Mom’s gonna kill you!”
Abby and I share a glance. “Don’t worry. She already knows, but didn't really take it all that well.”
“Fainting? And the talk about how a woman’s hair is the prettiest thing about her?”
We both nod. Abby clears her throat. “We wanted to know if you wanted in.”
Summer doesn’t even hesitate. “Oh, heck yeah!” She throws down her calculus homework and jumps to her feet. For such a bookworm, she’s surprisingly rebellious. Like most of us, she doesn’t really get along with Mom. Though Dad’s the only guy in the house, he’s surrounded by Daddy’s girls day in and day out.
Summer practically drags us to the bathroom, where the graveyard of hair still lays for all to see. Abby sweeps it to the side sheepishly. Summer is kind of a neat freak, but she doesn’t say a word, instead plopping down onto the toilet. “Huh. So, this is all for you, Kels?”
Abby rolls her eyes. “Yeah, well, she is the one with cancer.” She pauses and turns back to me. “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry Kelsie! I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t know what I was thinking-”
“It’s fine!” I cut her off. People are always checking on me and apologizing for saying cancer, like it’s a bad word! Sometimes, my cancer is all people see. I used to be able to hide it, but now it’ll be harder, since I’ll be going to school looking like a plucked chicken. My stomach seizes up just thinking about all the awkwardness I’ll have to endure on Monday. I push it out of my mind.
Summer insisted on making the initial cut. Her hair stops just above her shoulders and is nowhere near as long as Abby’s (or at least how long Abby’s used to be), but it’ll be easier than shaving it all at once.
Using fast, careless chops, Summer manages to hack off most of her hair, all while only nicking her ear once. Then, Abby pulls out the razor and is about to turn it on when Summer holds up her hand. “No. I want Kelsie to do it.”
“Me?” I’m shocked. Why would Summer want me to cut her hair? We’re not that close and she knows I’m super clumsy.
“Yeah. This is your show, isn’t it? I mean, we wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for you.” Her words are accusing, but her tone is matter-of-fact and straightforward. That’s the best thing about Summer. She’ll say it how it is.
I shrug and take the razor from Abby. Steadying my hand, I lift the razor and begin to shave Summer’s head.
I’m really surprised at how my family has supported me through this. Well, most of my family. But Mom will come around, I have no doubt. She’ll feel self-conscious and guilty about being the only one in the family who still has hair. And I was right.
Only ninety-six minutes later (Abby started a timer on her phone so we could see who’s bet was the closest on how long it would take for Mom to succumb to peer pressure; Summer won, since Abby and I have too much faith in Mom and thought it would take less than ten), a pile of graying blonde hair sits in the wastebasket and Mom’s head is as shiny and smooth as the rest of us.
Mom and I understand each other better now. Sure, I’m still a Daddy’s girl, through and through, but at least I can confide in Mom now. After all, sometimes your mother is the only one who understands what you’re going through. What started as the hardest day of my life turned into the best one. My family came together to support me and I’ll remember it forever.
One thing’s for certain, though. We need those wigs as soon as possible, or else we’ll all look like hairless cats in this year’s holiday card.