When Mrs. Greco, who we passed in the hallway, found out what we were about to do, she wanted us to go to the hairdresser’s, but Livvie said absolutely not, and she reminded her mom how many people would be in the crowded public space that was Hair Today Gone Tomorrow. In the end, Mrs. Greco agreed that as long as we used Livvie’s dad’s electric razor and not a disposable one that might give Livvie a cut that could get infected, we could do it ourselves. She said she was going to leave us alone, but you could tell she was hovering outside the bathroom door. It wasn’t until Livvie shouted, “Mom, you have to go!” that she finally said, “Okay,” and went downstairs.
While that would have been a pretty mild exchange between me and my mom, it was unprecedented for Livvie to snap at her mother that way. I didn’t comment on it, just ran a cotton swab doused with rubbing alcohol over Mr. Greco’s electric razor like Mrs. Greco had told me to.
Livvie had a beautiful bathroom. Technically it wasn’t hers; it was down the hall from her room, and there was a bedroom next to it, but that was a guest room, so she was the only one who really used this particular bathroom. It was very small, barely big enough for a sink, a bathtub, and the toilet, but there was a stained-glass window and these old fixtures and a huge antique mirror over the sink. When we were in fourth grade, without asking permission, Livvie and I hid out in her bathroom and shaved our legs, and before Livvie was allowed to wear makeup, she and I would come up here and experiment, slathering our faces with contraband lipstick, mascara, rouge, and eye shadow that we’d borrowed from girls at NYBC, and then frantically washing it off when her mom would call us to dinner.
The weird thing was, this almost felt like one of those crazy afternoons from elementary school. First of all, we couldn’t figure out what to do at all. We tried just shaving the hair, but that was impossible—it was too long, and the razor kept getting stuffed with hair and then jamming or pulling on the strands so hard it hurt. The third or fourth time I tried and failed to shave off more than a strand or two at a time, Livvie started giggling.
“You seriously suck at this, you know?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you had a PhD in head shaving.” Laughing, I handed her the heavy black razor. “Here. You do it.”
“I can’t see the top of my head,” she said, pushing the razor away. “Just . . . try again.” But it was impossible. Finally I asked Mrs. Greco for scissors, and together Livvie and I started cutting. Once we got into it, there was something satisfying about the work, the sharp snap of metal on the long, delicate strands.
“When you think about it, they’re just dead cells,” I pointed out. The more hair we cut away, the bigger Livvie’s eyes looked, exactly what had happened to me. Her ears were small and delicate, which I’d never noticed before.
“Yeah,” said Olivia. She had a towel draped over her shirt. There was hair everywhere—on the counter, in the sink, all over the floor. My hoodie was covered with long blond strands.
The only place there weren’t long hairs was on Olivia’s head.
“We could leave it like this,” I offered. A spiky, somewhat uneven layer of hair covered her skull. “I mean, I’d even it out and everything.”
Olivia stared at her reflection. At first I thought she was considering what I was suggesting, but then I saw that she was looking into her own eyes and wasn’t seeing her head. “No,” she said, dropping her eyes to the counter and feeling around for her dad’s electric razor underneath all the hair. “It all needs to come off.”
Twenty minutes later, we were done. Olivia’s scalp was shiny and smooth, her forehead running up to the top of her head without any way to tell where her face ended and her scalp began. A small blue vein showed just above where her hairline must have been. Her eyes were even bigger than they’d been when her hair was short, but overall she looked small and fragile. We made eye contact in the mirror.
“So,” she said. “This is me bald.” Her voice shook a little, but it didn’t break.
I pulled on a lock of my hair and held the scissors to it. “I think I should join you. Sisters in baldness.”
But Livvie’s hand shot up. “No!” she said.
“I don’t care,” I assured her, not letting myself think about whether or not I cared. How could I care? “We’ll grow our hair back together.”
She took the scissors from my hand. “It’s only hair, anyway.” She looked at herself in the mirror, staring hard at her reflection. “Dr. Maxwell said I can go to school next week if I wear a surgical mask.” She paused briefly. “Bald with a surgical mask. Look! There goes that girl with cancer.” Her eyes welled up again, but then she shook her head forcefully and took a deep, audible breath. “I’m going to get a hot pink wig.”
“Fantastic!” I said quickly. “I love it already.”
Livvie surveyed the hairy bathroom. “What a mess.”
“You go lie down,” I told her. “I’ll clean it up.”
Olivia hesitated for a second, but then she said, “Okay. I am kind of tired.”
“Do you want me to leave?” I asked quickly. “I could clean it up and just go so you can sleep.”
She shook her head. “I want you to stay. If I fall asleep, just wake me, okay?”
“Okay,” I promised.
Hair apparently has a life of its own. No matter how many times I went over the bathroom with a broom and a wet paper towel, there was still hair everywhere, almost as if each individual strand split into a dozen more every time I turned my back. Finally Mrs. Greco came by the bathroom. When she saw Olivia’s hair all over the place, she pressed her lips together into a tight, thin line, but she didn’t say anything and she didn’t cry. Then she disappeared, and a minute later she came back with the vacuum.
“How is she?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
Mrs. Greco put her hand on my shoulder. “I’m so glad she has you.”
I was scared I was going to start bawling. But I swallowed hard. “Thanks,” I said. “I’m lucky to have her, too.”
“We all are,” her mom said. “I thank God for her every day.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. How could you thank God for Olivia when God was the one who’d made her sick? That was my problem with religion. It didn’t make any sense.
When I went into Olivia’s room, she was curled up on her bed, fast asleep. Even though she’d told me to wake her, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I went over to her desk. On it I placed a thick lock of Olivia’s hair that I’d salvaged from the bathroom.
The room was dimly lit, but the hair in my hand seemed to gather whatever light there was, glowing—just as it had on Olivia’s head—with an intensity that almost made it seem alive. I glanced from the hair to Olivia, her shiny head all that was visible of her body, which was buried under her comforter.
I wished I could think of what to say to her. Maybe if I could have, I would have woken her up. But all I could think was, It doesn’t matter. And even though I knew that was true, I also knew that it wasn’t.
I grabbed a pen from the Lucite holder on the desk and slid a piece of paper out of the top drawer of her desk.
For the memory box. Call me when you wake up. Love ya.
I put the note next to the hair. Then I slipped out of the room and downstairs, leaving the house without saying good-bye to anyone.
You want to now what happen next? Be sure to grab this book from the link below;