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Each morning, at the bathroom mirror, I do my eye makeup, put on lipstick, check my earrings, and pick up dad?s electric shaver. I flick it to life, and buzz it around my scalp. Carefully I feel for rough places, and go back to them, sometimes again and again. I think about Mac and I smile. When I catch a glimpse of the curve of my smooth, shiny head reflecting in a store window, I think about Mac and I smile. When adults or kids do a subtle or not-so-subtle double take at the willowy teenage girl, wearing a cheerful yellow sundress and sandals and a clean-shaven head, I think about Mac and I smile. I love Mac. And Mac?s going to be okay.

Last fall, we learned the name of a disease–non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Roger MacKenzie, Mac to everyone who knows him, hadn?t been feeling well. We had noticed that his jaw line, normally very cute, was puffy and swollen. He put off seeing the doctor, but when he went he ended up at the hospital, which would be the center of gravity for our lives for the foreseeable future. Mac and I lived on the same street, went to the same grade, middle, and high schools, attended the same church, and had been best buddies all our lives. Last year, we had started dating. Remarkably, our love grew and we still maintained our friendship. It was just easy for us to be together, and neither of us had to pretend to impress the other. Everybody, including us, assumed that someday we?d be married. We?d talk about going to college together and then getting married, finding careers in some helping profession, maybe teaching, maybe social work, maybe ministry, and having kids. Oh?forgive me. My name is Beth Ann Wilkerson.

Mac is six feet tall and seventeen. If I had big hair, I would be taller than he is. As it is, I?m 5 foot ten, also seventeen. My eyes are green, and my hair is?well, that?s irrelevant now. It used to be brown, with a few blond highlights streaked in, slightly wavy, either in a pony tail or else with the sides pinned straight back over my ears and the rest laying about six inches past my shoulder.

It was hanging loose like that the Thursday I visited Mac in the hospital, just after I finished my last class of the day at Fremont High. He had just started chemotherapy the day before. ?You know what they say about chemo, Beth Ann. Its goal is to kill the cancer before it kills you. I?m supposed to have cycles of treatment every few months, so my hair will fall out, then grow back in again; fall out, and grow back in again, and so forth. So if you love me for my hair, you?re out of luck.?

?You know better than that, lover,? I replied. ?You?re stuck with me.?

?One thing that I?m not looking forward to is having my hair fall out in clumps as the chemo takes effect. I can handle being bald okay, but getting there sounds like crap,? he said.

?Shorten the trip,? I offered. ?You get to go home for the weekend, right??

?And believe me, I?m looking forward to it.?

?Okay, let me come over Saturday afternoon and I?ll bring our home clippers. Dad used to use them to give my brothers crewcuts when they were small. Remember that time he was laid off and we were short on money? They saved us a bundle. Anyway, we?ll play like I?m Delilah and you?re Samson, and whisk it all off at once. We?ll beat the chemo to the punch. Won?t that be better?? I asked brightly.

?Sure. Sounds like fun. Maybe we can have a little party around it,? he smiled.

?But if I do that as a favor to you, I want you to return the favor.?

?Return the favor? What do you want me to do?? he asked, looking puzzled.

?I always thought it would be fun to have his-and-her haircuts sometime. I want you to clip all my hair off.? I ran my hand through my hair to illustrate the point. Funny, I can still remember the plum nail polish I was wearing that day, over ten months ago.

Mac looked shocked. ?Beth Ann, get serious. I appreciate the sentiment, but it?s a stupid idea. I love your hair.?

?I like my hair, too,? I said, ?but I?ve thought about this and I really want to do it. I?ve seen sites on line telling about other kids who have shaved their heads to show solidarity with kids with cancer, and I think that it?s a neat thing to do. So please? Promise??

?No. You don?t need to do that to show solidarity, or prove your love. I?m afraid that you?d be miserable afterwards.?

?Mac, if this was all reversed and I was in that bed with cancer and my hair was falling out in clumps all over the pillow, would you shave your head for me??

?Of course I would,? he said, ?But I?m a guy. For a guy to be bald isn?t as weird as for a girl to be.?

?Don?t be silly. A girl can be bald if she wants to be. And I want to be. Don?t give me that stuff about girls being vain. You spend a lot of time getting your hair moussed just right. I just comb mine, clip in barrettes, and go my way. Actually, I remember that when my dad gave my brothers crewcuts, I was kind of jealous. I thought it would be fun to be sitting there, having your hair fly off in every direction.? I ran my hand over my head in a clipping motion. I was definitely acting braver than I felt, for his sake.

?I have trouble believing you would want to, that you?re not just feeling sorry for me.?

?Tell you what??I pulled out my cell phone. (He didn?t know it, but I had this set up.) ?I?m calling Bert. Ask her if I?ve ever talked about getting my hair all cut off just for the heck of it.? I pressed in Roberta Yu?s number–she?s my best girlfriend–and handed the phone to Mac. He asked the question, and listened, with strange looks crossing his face, as Roberta rambled on.

Finally he thanked her and hung up. ?Okay, she convinced me that you?re absolutely crazy, that you panted one day when Rikki Lake had a show about bald chicks, and all sorts of other stuff that she probably made up. But what about your folks??

My mom is strong willed, and so am I. Usually we get along pretty good. ?I?ll call her.? I punched in her number. ?Mom, I want to borrow dad?s clippers to shave Mac?s head Saturday, so his hair doesn?t all fall out with chemotherapy.? She agreed. ?Mom, I?m going to shave mine, too.? I winced as mom started reading me the riot act. ?Hold the line just a moment, mom.? I opened the drawer on the tray where they put Mac?s yucky hospital dinners and found what I?d seen earlier?a nurse had left a pair of scissors there, the kind where the blades stick out at odd angles. Mac looked shocked as I lifted a lock of hair from just behind my bangs, and hacked through it. Then back to the phone. ?Mom, I just cut off a big clump of my hair, right in front, close to the scalp. I can keep cutting right now until it?s all ugly stubble, and go to school like that tomorrow. But whether I do that now or not, I?m going to be bald by Saturday evening. This is important to me. You know that I don?t normally disobey on the big things, but I?m going to have my way on this. Should I keep cutting?? Mac was looking positively alarmed. ?No? Okay. What will dad say, you ask? You know how soft-hearted dad is. He?ll do anything to help other people. I think that once he gets past the initial shock, he?ll be proud of me.? We talked a while longer. She wasn?t happy, but grudgingly agreed that if it meant that much to me, I should do it.

Mac?s folks, Peter and Wilma, and their nine-year-old daughter Megan, have an ordinary home, except for a wonderful screened-in patio in back. That would be the place for the party. Mac?s family came by the hospital, and I got their okay for the party. Our families could come, and any friends could come if they also wanted to get clipped for Mac. We didn?t want to have a bunch of kids gawking and laughing at us and go home with their hair unscathed. Megan has a thick mop of straight black hair. ?Mom, dad, can I get my hair cut off, too? If Beth Ann can do it, I want to do it, too!?

Her folks looked shocked. ?Megan, that?s a wonderful thing to offer, but think about it. Some of Mac?s other high school friends are going to get their hair cut off, too, so they won?t be alone. You?d be the only girl in middle school without hair. You know how mean kids can be when somebody looks different. So it?d be better if you didn?t? Megan?s mom hugged her as she explained. Megan protested and muttered a bit, but let it drop.

At school the next day, other girls would see me and gasp. ?What happened to your hair?? The missing chunk was pretty obvious. I had tried to comb my hair so it wasn?t as obvious, but then wondered why I should bother.

I?d smile and say, ?This is just the start. Wait until you see me Monday.?

It was a beautiful early Fall day Saturday, made even better by seeing Mac at home, dressed in jean shorts and a polo shirt. I wore a pink Land?s End polo dress that was cool, comfortable, and one of Mac?s favorites. My dad had come, but mom hadn?t. ?You?re having a party, dear,? she said. ?I just know that I?m going to cry and that would ruin your fun.? Three of Mac?s buddies from school were there, waiting to be shorn.

I was surprised to see Roberta Yu there, and more surprised to see that her eighteen-inch sleek black hair had been cut back to a short pixie cut. ?I sort of wanted to do this with you,? she admitted, ?but I didn?t want to, either. Mom suggested this as a compromise. And the beauty shop gave the hair to Locks of Love, to make wigs for kids with hair loss problems. If you can cut yours off as a ponytail, your hair?s long enough to do that with, too.? I hadn?t heard about it before, but it sounded like a good idea.

We were all drinking soda pop and eating pizza when a crowd came. It was Pastor Paul Herring, his twin daughters, Chris and Carol, and four boys. Except for Paul, all the kids were twelve, Megan?s age. Mac and I had taught them at Vacation Bible School. ?We heard about what you?re going to do, we think it?s wonderful, and we want to take part,? our pastor said, ?all of us.?

I looked down at the grinning twins, with their long, wavy, thick red hair, held back by big green ribbons. Locks of Love might have more contributions! Christa Eve Herring and Carol Noelle Herring had caused a stir when they arrived on Christmas Eve (my dad actually ended up leading the service at church so the pastor could go to the hospital), and had been making things lively ever since. Older folks muttered about rowdy preacher?s kids. They and Megan didn?t look at all alike, but they were together so much that they were called the triplets.

?Really?? I asked. ?Christa? Carol??

They grinned and nodded.

Megan pulled them over to her parents. ?Mom, you said that I couldn?t get mine cut because I?d be the only one at middle school. Here are six kids, two of them with much longer hair than I have. You have to let me now.? They were up against the wall, and they knew it.

The time had come. Mr. MacKenzie had set up a video camera near a chair sitting under a light in the middle of the room. Mac went to the chair. ?Let?s do this,? he said. His mom pinned a plastic cape over him.

I popped the clippers to life. No need for a guard, was there? Soon, I glided them over the top of his head. ?Woohoo!? I shouted. ?This is fun!? And it was. I mowed three rows down the middle of his head, so he had a mohawk in reverse, then I cleared each side. It took a few minutes to go back for all the little missed tufts, but soon there was nothing but stubble. He had watched in a mirror that we had set up, and we were both grinning as I held the clippers up in triumph.

As Mac got up, I shouted, ?Me next, me next!? and plopped into the chair. His mom unclipped the cape, rubbed her hand over his head, and pinned it on me.

?Are you sure?? he asked softly.

?Start those clippers or I?ll do it myself.? The clippers, humming and vibrating, slipped under my bangs and went over the cut spot behind before hitting the thicker hair. Because my hair was tied back in a pony tail, he only pushed the clippers under a few inches, then went back to the front and began another row. I felt like I was going to be peeled like an orange. My bangs trickled down over my nose and tickled, so I blew them off. I watched, grinning like a fool, as my forehead got bigger and bigger, as he kept moving the cut hair up and sliding the clippers underneath. Five rows peeled my hair back from the top of my scalp. Then he started working methodically on the left side. Stray hairs would fall off onto the cape, but it almost looked like he was slowly removing a wig from my head. And a wig it would be, someday, for somebody. His mom stepped over and helped Mac lift the hair as the clippers cut it. As it hung backward, exposing the top of my head and temples, I started to giggle. I looked like a car with its hood open. The clippers, too made me giggle, tickling as they cut. It felt sexy and exciting, but, I had to admit, looked rather strange. Now Mac had me look down, and I felt the clippers working their way up the back of my head. Slowly Mac worked around the edges of my newly forming hairline. I hoped that he was enjoying this as much as I was! Finally, the clippers sawed through the last portion and Mac?s mom raised my hair completely off my head and into the air. Everybody cheered. I looked up at the huge clump of hair, tied together in the middle with a scrunchy I would no longer need, and gasped, then I looked back into the mirror. Mac went back after the stubble. ?I?m having fun with this,? I told him. ?Are you??

?I can tell you are, you perverted little thing,? he grinned. ?And yes, I am too.? As he was finishing, I reached up, rubbing my fingertips over my newly exposed scalp. ?It?s not quite as smooth as I thought it would be,? I said, just a little disappointed. It sort of looked like Demi Moore?s cut in G.I. Jane.

?I can fix that,? Mac?s dad said. ?Bring up another chair and start the clippers on another victim and I?ll be right back to fix you up, Beth Ann.? And he was off. The twins asked if they could cut their father?s hair next. Soon they were taking turns and the pastor?s conservative businessman?s cut began falling onto the floor.

Before they were finished with their giggling and clipping, Mac?s dad appeared with a safety razor and a can of shaving gel. ?May I?? he asked.

?Please!? I said. Mac took the gel instead, and made a big heap on top of my head, like a soft serve ice cream cone. Then he slowly worked it around. Ooh, it felt good, so pleasurable having the cool gel spread over my scalp like a false head of hair. Carefully, gently, Mac?s dad began taking short strokes, warning me to hold still. With each pull of the razor, I could feel its gentle tug and watch as the foam was scraped aside. Everybody was quiet as they watched.

?Am I hurting you?? Mac?s dad asked. ?Let me know if it?s scraping too hard.?

?No, it feels good. Strange, but good,? I said with a smile. This could be addictive.

Out of my peripheral vision I saw our shorn pastor walked away. ?The shepherd has been fleeced by his own little lambs,? he quipped. Two of the boys from their class came up, and soon I heard the shears buzzing at one of their heads. I held perfectly still, not wanting to get nicked. Finally, he rubbed my head with a towel. Wow, I thought as I turned my head slowly, looking in a mirror. I look so different! But it?s sleek and smooth, and my head has a nice shape to it. I carefully traced my fingertips along my scalp. It was pale, but it wouldn?t take too long to tan it.

?Quit hogging the chair and get back to work,? my bald boyfriend said, smiling. I got up and kissed him, ferociously.

?Come on now,? joked Pastor Herring. ?This isn?t a wedding yet.?

My dad came up, holding something in his hand. ?What you don?t know is that when Beth Ann was born, she looked a lot like she does now?no hair to speak of. We were nervous, wondering if it would ever grow. When we took her to be baptized in her long little white gown, we had to use cellophane tape to attach this ribbon to her head.? So then he taped the tiny ribbon to my head, and hugged me tight. ?I?m proud of you, my bald beauty,? he said.

Before we could ask for a volunteer, Megan jumped into the chair. ?Mac, you do mine, okay?? she asked. She was smiling, but her eyes widened as he lifted the mop of hair above her left eyebrow and began working the clippers up over her head, in the same place he had started my haircut. I couldn?t help but put my hands to my scalp and feel its smoothness as I watched Megan?s scalp appear. Since Megan?s hair wasn?t long enough for Locks of Love, Mac moved the clippers with longer strokes, staying on the left side of her head. She stared with shocked fascination as her brother progressed with the clippers up around her ears through to the initial stripes on top.

?There, all done,? Mac said impishly. ?It?s a great new style. People looking at you from this side will think you?re bald, and people looking at you from that side won?t see any difference than what you usually look like.? Indeed, Roger had left a clean line of demarcation, with no hair on the left and full hair on the right.

?Roger!? she shouted. ?Finish the job now!?

I took the clippers. ?It?s okay, Meg. I?ll do it.? Again, it was something of a rush of power to guide the clippers as Megan?s black locks flew in every direction. Soon she was finished, but insisted that her father shave her head smooth as he had done mine. It was fun to watch, but the results weren?t quite as dramatic because even with the razor work, her black shadow was still obvious.

We relaxed as the other boys from Megan?s class buzzed one another. Mac kept looking at my head, shaking his head in wonderment. ?That bad?? I asked.

?No, it?s quite, well, incredibly sexy, actually. I?m glad you talked me into letting you do it.?

?Letting me?? I asked, grinning. ?As if you could have talked me out of it.?

Christa and Carol climbed onto the chairs. Mac?s mom ran their hair through elastic bands, pulling them near the scalp, and added another band at the end of each pony tail to keep their long hair from flopping around as much as I did. We only had one set of clippers. Mac?s mom started working the clippers through Christa?s hair, slowly and methodically, peeling it back inch by inch, as Mac had done mine. Meanwhile, I started clipping at Carol’s hair with scissors, as close to the scalp as possible. Again, I was amazed as the hair seemed to slowly detach itself as a unit from their scalps, like an amoeba dividing. About halfway through, Wilma handed me the clippers and took the scissors, so both the twins would have the same experience. Megan helped by holding up the ponytails and teasing her friends unmercifully.

Mac?s guy friends had been hanging back, but finally took their turn.

Now we were done, I thought. Thirteen of us, one adult, Mac, me, his buds, and seven teenyboppers. But Mac?s dad stepped to the chair, and his mom turned the clippers to him. Then my dad went next. I was glad to see that. His hair was thinning on top anyway, and I figured that he would look better bald. He did. I was totally surprised when Wilma, Mac?s mom, put on bright red lipstick and left lip prints all over her husband?s head, then sat in the chair, and said, ?my turn.? Her hair was expensively permed and highlighted. Her husband took the clippers, went behind her, gently lifted her curls, and began mowing upward. He slowly went upward around the back and sides of her head, leaving only the hair atop the occipital ridge. Then, strip by strip, its curls fell. ?I couldn?t be the oddball in the family, could I?? she asked.

As we assembled for pictures, I said, ?Mac, we did this for you.? And the group responded, ?We love you, Mac!?

That was then. Almost everybody has their hair growing back now–everybody except Mac and me. A few weeks after the party, Mac lost his eyebrows, and I shaved mine. Near the end of the year, when he was on a two-month chemo break, his hair started to grow back. So did mine. When the chemo started again, I shaved him again and he shaved me. In June, another break, and more fuzz and stubble. Now, in August, we?re clean-shaved again. We had word from the doctors that the treatments were working, that this series might be the last he?d need. So in a few months our hair will start growing again. I teased him that we should keep our his-and-her hairdos, and let our hair grow down to our waists. He teased me that we should keep our his-and-her hairdos, by keeping our heads shaved. Or was he teasing? I?d be willing. I think of Mac, being healthy again, and I smile. Mac loves me. I love Mac. And Mac?s going to be okay.

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