After going to high school during the “alternative” craze of the ’90s, I was goth during my late teens and early 20s. I wanted to be a freak. Ministry’s “Every Day Is Halloween” was my anthem. I wore all black. I had vinyl pants. But I never was one of those people who would dress head-to-toe goth all the time, because I’m lazy when it comes to fashion. (Hence the goth thing—all black—versus a counterculture that would require more color coordination.)
My rebellion was only part-time. But I reveled in throwing my differences in the face of the world, even as I copied the looks of others. I started dressing weird in high school to scare people away so they wouldn’t bother me. It worked, for the most part.
I’ve always wanted to stand out and blend in at the same time.
I’m still not quite sure what I was rebelling against. Other people? I still wear a lot of black. Everyone in New York City does, so I feel as if I’ve really arrived home.
But I think my freak past is why losing my hair and looking kind of weird hasn’t bothered me as much as it does some cancer patients. I’ve gotten double-takes on the streets before. I’ve stood out in a crowd. (Unless it was a crowd of other goth people, and then I just blended in to the sea of black, achieving my delicate balance of standing out among the masses and blending in with my counterculture brethren.) Even after I stopped wearing so much black, I’d still wear some crazy outfits.
Now I look like a freak again. I’d forgotten what it was like. In New York, it’s pretty hard to get people to do double-takes. People are pretty conditioned not to look at you too hard unless you’re really going out of your way for attention. It’s not a bad place to look a little different. But I do notice people looking at me and then looking away, not wanting to stare at my bald head or my lack of eyebrows and eyelashes. I should make more of an effort with a wig, but eh. And I’m not going to draw on my eyebrows unless I really want to look like a freak.
Every now and then, I get the “Oops, I shouldn’t stare” look.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling nasty and I’m full of self-pity, I have that old feeling of rebellion, and I want people to stare. I want to remind people that, out of nowhere, something crappy can happen and turn your world upside down. It’s such a mean thought, and it’s erroneous to think that everyone walking around with hair has a charmed life. As I noted, I’ve been trying, at least, to remember that Ian MacLaren quote: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” That person who looks physically fine (who I might be unfairly resenting) might feel worse than I do or might feel terrible inside and I’d have no way of knowing. People who look well aren’t my enemy; my toxic thoughts are the problem.
Before I had cancer, I would sometimes sense—maybe wrongly—resentment every now and then from people who thought I had a charmed life. Not often, but every now and then, I’d get a whiff of resentment—a snarky comment, an undertone of bitterness. I wouldn’t even blame them—I often wondered if I had it too easy, or if I needed to be tested by something. I know now that I didn’t. I’ve had my internal battles.
Irrationally, sometimes I hope that I paid for good things to happen with this past year and that I can resume a life where things seem to fall into place for me.
Because things sometimes do seem to fall into place for me. I’d consider myself lucky, but I wouldn’t leave everything to fate. I’ve worked hard. It’s not like I’m undeserving of happiness.
I do have a gift, though—or gifts, I should say. Sometimes I wish for something and I magically get it. It’s always something random and very specific. For instance, I soaked my Converse once at SXSW and really had no shoes to wear, and at the next event I attended, they were giving out free tennis shoes. One morning, I wished for a hair blow dryer, and that night I got invited to an event where they gave out gift bags with free hair dryers. I’ve sat at my desk and wished for ice cream and had a co-worker pop her head into my cubicle, offering me a sundae she bought and didn’t want. I forgot deodorant on a trip back to Ohio, and before I could buy some on my way back from yoga class, I discovered a basket of free deodorants right by the door of the yoga studio. I have a lot of stories like these. It’s like, every now and then, life gives me a free gift.
I can’t wish for a million dollars. It has to be something small in order for my wish to be granted, and I can’t summon it to happen. I have to be not expecting to magically get what I want.
I already know I can’t wish the cancer away. I just have to hope—like everybody else—that this last treatment was successful.
I also know that I really don’t want to be some sort of sad reminder of mortality to people who see me in all my bald glory. (And I know I’m too lazy to always wear a wig.) I hope people just see me as a fellow person fighting a great battle along with everyone else. I’m finally standing out, like I always wanted, but I’ll be happy to blend in again.
Photo note: This photo is from my goth days. In the full photo, I’m looking up and smiling at a friend who has spiked his hair completely up before a Bauhaus show in Chicago.