My Wobbly Bicycle, 75
I had no idea that an all-clear signal from my oncologist would rattle my innards so profoundly. It doesn’t mean much—he said so. But for me, it set off a series of adjustments as if I had just crawled out from under the rubble of a bombed-out building. I’d been down there a long time in the dark—dirt, sand, creaking timbers—injured, starving and thirsty. I’d nearly died. Now what? Can I ever go back to who I was? Who I thought I was? What now?
No joke. That big a shift. Take the metaphor of my hair. Take my hair. It’s too curly for me. Well, of course I’m grateful to have it. It sprang back from the brutal treatment with great vivacity, all thick and, well, curly. However, I always wanted sleek hair. It was fairly straight, with some wavy body, before the chemo. When I was young, my grandmother used to periodically coerce me into marching up the block to her old ladies’ beauty salon to have them give me a permanent. I had had curly hair as a toddler; I think she was looking for Shirley Temple redux. But I’d come home and stand in front of the mirror, crying, wetting it and pulling on it to straighten it. Little old lady hair.
And of course now it’s gray. It’s a lovely gray with a lot of steely dark in it. But it felt so NOT ME. So I had my beautician add more of the steely dark. Then it looked just all gray. Worse than before. Ah, I need brown, to add warmth to my complexion! So I had it colored light brown. No, that looked boringly dull. So then I said make it dark, the way it used to be. We picked a shade that was a tiny bit lighter than the one I’d used before I lost my hair.
And that was the biggest surprise to me. I hated it. It seemed totally unnatural. It was so awful that I texted my beautician and said, “I HATE my hair! Help!” She texted back to say “I’ll fix it.” So bless her dear heart, free of charge, she put in a bunch of light streaks that eased my pain considerably.
And it’s slowly fading, of course. I’ve decided to gradually let it get back to its natural gray.
All this is not about hair, natch. It’s about how I see myself. The transition from my wig, which amazingly looked like my old hair, to curly gray hair was too much for me. But gradually I’m seeing who this is, now, in the mirror. It’s going to take me some time.
And then who is the person who has to have long naps, Wally stretched across her stomach? Who’s losing her lithe young body? Who can’t get her stomach flat no matter how smart she eats?
Some days I’m just plain depressed. Honestly, it feels like PTSD. I was brave. Now what got pushed aside by the bravery wants to be seen.
Don’t misunderstand me. Some days I’m fine.
And then the writing. I don’t know. I write poems and some of them are good. I write prose and some of it is good. But the fire, where’s the fire? Some of it came from the need to succeed. Sure. Some from my previous publish-or-perish life. Sure. Some. Someone asked me recently why I’m not content to rest on my laurels. “That’s not the way it works,” I said.
I’m not happy when I’m not writing—I’m miserable, actually—but for the past couple of years I’ve had to force myself to get things ready to send out. I have a pile of unsent poems. I’m a bit floundering. I can’t figure out how to relate to my life. I’m a bloodhound who hasn’t picked up the scent.
You could say I’m waiting to pick it up, to figure this out. Or, you could say that all that previous “figuring out” was not the point. There’s nothing to figure out. I lean toward the latter. What comes next will come next.