Rachel. Phoebe. Zoe. Julia.
Aren’t wigs for old ladies that don’t want to “do” their hair everyday? Or prostitutes? Or teenagers trying out new looks? Or Dolly Parton? Where do you even look for a wig store? Google. There was only one wig store in Lubbock, Texas. Wig Trend. It felt weird going to the wig store. The lights were that odd violet florescent. Where does one start? What color do I want? What style? I tried on wig after wig. The reason I was trying on wigs soon disappeared from my mind. It was fun trying on wigs. Being someone else, someone that didn’t have cancer.
I found one wig that I liked more than the others. It was a little longer than shoulder length. It looked like Jennifer Aniston’s hair. I bought it and called it Rachel. This was my serious wig. This was the wig I wore to church or special occasions. This would be the first wig I wore after chemo. This wig was tight. It felt confining. It wasn’t long before I decided I needed a new wig. I needed a fun wig that I could wear when I taught aerobics – something different, something that wasn’t tight.
Wigs itch, on a baldhead. No one told me that either. I was finding out all sorts of things that people don’t talk about. I never understood why more chemo patients wore hats and not wigs. Wigs were uncomfortable. Wigs were safe. Wigs protected me from the stares of the normal people.
I went back to the wig store and found Phoebe. This wig was short and had attitude. It was dark auburn. The people in my fitness classes would cringe when I wore Phoebe. They knew class would be hard. Phoebe was my badass wig. This wig was lightweight, highly ventilated and sassy! I remember teaching aerobics and getting really sweaty, off would come the wig to be shaken out then right back on. I treated Phoebe like a hat.
I never felt like me in the Rachel or Phoebe wig. I made one final trip to the wig store. I found my favorite wig, Zoe. This wig felt like me. The hair was shorter than I normally wore my hair. It was chin length. It was long layers. It was wavy. It was red. It was me. This wig helped me to feel normal. This wig made me forget I was bald. I smiled from the inside. As I was walking out of the wig store with my purchase, actually I wore it out, I noticed a cute little blonde wig. It was a blonde bob. I don’t know why I noticed a blonde wig. I had never wanted to be a blonde. Maybe I figured I had a brown wig, an auburn wig and a red wig – I needed a blonde wig to complete this collection of the versions of me. I tried it on. I bought it. The first time I wore the blonde wig was to the gym to train a client. I felt awkward. It was blonde. As I walked in one of the other trainers said, “hey Cathleen, I love this one! You look like Julia Roberts”. I smiled, then stopped abruptly and asked, you mean Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she was a prostitute? He looked flustered and said, “ well, yea. But you look like a classy prostitute”. Hmmmm … not the look I was going for. After that, I called the blonde wig Julia. I occasionally wore Julia when I felt unconventional.
Rachel. Phoebe. Zoe. Julia. These wigs protected me. Protected me from prying eyes. Protected me from the stares. Protected me from the pity. They made me feel normal…or as normal as I could feel then. When my hair started growing in several months later, I put my wigs in their boxes. This is where they stayed. I never gave them away. I didn’t keep them because I thought I would need them again. I didn’t keep them because they had become my friends or my protectors. I kept them because they are a reminder of a pivotal time in my life. They are a reminder of how different I am now. They are a confirmation that I am more than my hair.
I am strong.
I am a survivor.
They sit in their boxes at the top of my closet. When having a bad day, when I felt I could not survive my divorce, when I felt scared and alone – the wigs served as a reminder.
I kept my wigs as a symbol that I am still here.