I don’t know when my dad started losing his hair, but it was early on in both our lives.
He tried many things to stymie this most unfathomable loss, but in the end had little recourse but to stop cutting it, to just let it grow and then to start, kind of, creatively sweeping it across the great expanse of his head, precious resource as it was.
He also started dyeing it the instant he found his first grey hair, to a shade I think would be rightly called “Permanent Marker Black.” Or perhaps “Sharpie Gardens” (“Bic Dreams” also works rather well).
I am not making fun: it was actually refreshing to see my dad colouring his hair as we came home from school or work; there was no furtive shutting of bathroom doors or nervous sleight-of-hand over a splotched-over kitchen sink when it came to my dad deciding on that day to annihilate his greys.
He just did it.
(I always thought mustaches were cool because of my dad. His was both proud and stately. Now everybody thinks mustaches are cool, but my dad had nothing to do with it.)
My mom despised my dad’s comb-over – how it splayed, was mucked-over his scalp – a hatred which intensified in direct proportion to the comb-over’s sheer magnificence over the years. It was an on-going Thing with them; a continual war in which battles were attained by each side, but never quite won.
A witty retort here, a scathing comment there, some handwringing, a lot of empty threats and many unmet challenges: nothing ever decisive, nothing that would bring about a lasting, peaceful co-existence. Only a kind of peace, a tepid cease-fire that freed up at least some of the day for errands and housecleaning and maybe an hour or so of prime-time TV.
That is. Until.
Until the day my dad came home from my aunt’s salon with not one hair on his head.
No comb-over, no mustache. No eyebrows.
I have no memory or idea about what could have precipitated this. All I remember, all I know, is that one day my dad had hair on his head, and the next, he didn’t.
And something else: “How about now?” he asked my mom on that day. That fateful day.
My mom shot him that look, a look that over time was so perfected as to be drawn on.
In fact, it was drawn on.
Mom came home from my aunt’s salon with her eyebrows tattooed in place one day and so long ago they have since turned blue.
Over time, black tattoos will go blue, unless you get them re-done.
But why? The tattoos, I mean, not the fact of their fading to blue.
“Because,” Mom said. Makeup costs money and this also saved time. We didn’t have much of either, in our house. It made a lot of sense, and aligned perfectly with my mom’s brutal practicality.
She did it for us.
If my dad had something to say about that, we never heard it.
(I always thought Mom’s eyebrows were fearsome because of my mom. I’ve not seen many people with them done, though I suspect on some level that my mom may have something to do with it. She is just that capable.)
The time my dad shaved off all his hair (including his mustache, including his eyebrows).
It was either shortly after or shortly before.
In fact, it was both.
My mom was in the ICU, recuperating, drugged. The surgery was long, but the prognosis was good. We stood there, my sister and I, hovering by her bedside, not sure of what to say. Finally, I said the I only thing that seemed worth saying in that moment: “They’ve gone so blue.”
The way her eyebrows rested on her face, the sheer blueness of them…her expression before us was one of severe, unmitigated reproach. It was as if she could hear us talking; it seemed that even in sleep she was aware, alert and admonishing.
“Yeah. She looks super pissed off. And very blue, actually,” replied Dolly. Mom’s natural pallor, whether it was from the ordeal of the surgery or because of the weird off-color lighting of the ICU, had gone decidedly indigo. Her arched blue brows did nothing to dispel the illusion. “It’s like two sharks colliding,” Dolly remarked, matter-of-factly, and we were both reassured.
Everything would be OK.
(Dolly is excellent with the facts of matters great and small.)
The ICU nurse overheard us and said nothing. It’s not hard to wonder what she probably thought of the scene playing out in front of her. It’s not difficult to surmise that she likely kept quiet not for our benefit, but for hers. Why risk that look herself? Why ruin what, by our standards, was a perfectly good reunion? No need to impose, to interrupt.
How dare she?
My dad’s eyebrows had grown back by then, as did some of the hair on his head, but he didn’t regrow the mustache, which I think my mom always hated anyway.
The night before the surgery, in her hospital room, he bought her a flower from his garden, which she also hated (it also being rather overgrown and quite unmanaged). But she accepted the flower.
My aunt was there too, but no one mentioned the salon.