My sister had been the one who always had the long hair. Even when it hung just above her shoulders, it was longer than mine, all one length, while mine was short all over. For one year in high school, Pat had it cut in some kind of style of the time, but it didn’t take long before her tresses ran down her back again, often in a single thick braid.
When we got home from the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in August, her husband drove Pat straight to the hospital. The Vicodin were no longer touching the pain and the ride home had been torture.
The following week she had surgery to remove an abdominal tumor and started chemo shortly after that. Trying to accept the reality that the chemo would cause her hair to all fall out, she had her long locks cut.
When I picked her up that Saturday morning, to just go for a ride up north, she wore a bandana. It had only been a couple days since I had seen her, but her skin had turned sallow and thin.
“Everything ok?” I asked.
“Yup.” Her jaw was set; the same stubbornness would get her through a lot in the coming years.
“I’m not eating much, yucky stomach, but other than that, I’m ok.”
“All right.” I was skeptical.
We headed to Lake Superior. We saw some waterfalls, I took the usual ton of pictures, and we had some laughs. Finally, though, as we stood at a wayside on a hill overlooking the orange and red leafed trees, she asked if I would mind if she took off her bandana.
“Well, sure, why would I care?” It was only a head of hair, wasn’t it?
If I would’ve wanted to, I probably could have counted the golden hairs left on her scalp. She ran her hand over her head and more precious strands came out and she released them to the wind. I wanted to catch them and save them; maybe somehow we could figure out a way to attach them to her head again. She couldn’t just let them go.
But there it went, foot-long strand after strand, into the meadow, onto the dry stalks of straw that littered the field where we stood.
“It’s better here than in the shower.” She described the wad of hair she took out of the drain every night.
Things had changed; we had changed. And nothing was ever going to be the same again.