I wrote this in response to a salon.com “open call” on the topic: spring cleaning.
What can’t you bring yourself to throw away?
It sits on the top shelf of my closet, inside a box, where I don’t have to look at it.
Most days I don’t even think about it.
I store breast cancer in my closet.
It comes in the form of a wig.
Not just any old wig,
a custom-made, human hair wig that fit perfectly over my smooth bald head
for nearly a year,
giving the false impression to the world
that I was in good health
with my mane of beautiful blonde hair.
When a friend was diagnosed
(the first in a series of six friends in four years since my diagnosis),
I offered it to her as a gift that she could keep, pass on, throw away, or burn for all I cared.
She gladly accepted it.
I was exuberant
to let it go, like excess weight falling off my body,
making me feel lithe, agile, and aloft.
Within days it showed up on my doorstep with a note.
“Sorry, it didn’t fit.”
I held it cautiously like a snake
I might pick up with a long, sturdy stick
to keep it far from me
until it could be tossed back into the woods
where it belonged.
I could give it to the American Cancer Society
or just stuff it in the trashcan for that matter.
I don’t have to keep it, but old wives tales run through my head like,
“If you get rid of it, you’ll need it.” Or, “If you keep it, you’ll never need it again.”
So I keep it, granting it a cancer-fighting power
that will protect me from ever having being caught up
in the maelstrom of a cancer war again.
I tried to give it away at least three times
but it kept coming back
with comments about it being too small.
Stupid small head anyway, I thought
as I marched upstairs to store it for the last time.
I climbed on the stool, reached for the designated floral hat box
on the top shelf of my closet,
and stuffed it back in there for permanent keeping.
Maybe that it kept coming back to me
was another sign that I needed to keep it, I told myself.
Whatever works, I thought as I walked back downstairs.
Storing a wig in my closet is a small price to pay for being cancer-free.
I know this is insane, but old wives tales or not,
I’m keeping that wig forever
because getting rid of it makes me feel as naked, vulnerable and afraid
as the day I looked into the mirror
and saw a bald woman reflected in the glass,