The other day, I had a really neat encounter. I was in San Jose and headed to Monterey for the weekend. Before hitting the road, I had to handle some odds and ends, like picking up stuff from the pharmacy and cleaning up my super-scruffy hawk. I saw a salon near the CVS pharmacy I had stopped at and I headed over to hope for a walk-in shave. It wasn't quite as nice as my normal place, and it certainly wasn't edgy or cool. I was a little uneasy as I approached the door, with the small collection of jewelry for sale outside on the sidewalk. Like I said, I was super scruffy, though, so it had to be done.
While hovering just outside the doorway, I noticed a woman inside with a freshly shaved head. At quick glance, she did not appear to be a butch, or the rockstar type, so I assumed that she was shaving her head out of necessity. She turned towards the door and said to me, "What do you think?" as she touched her freshly buzzed head. She waved a ponytail of hair at me as she smiled a little wildly.
"I love it," I replied quickly. "Locks of Love?"
"Yes!" She yelled proudly. "Also, I needed to cut it off before the chemo makes it all fall out. I start in two days."
I tried to absorb all that she had said and what it meant -- her energy, her radiance, her strength. Before me stood a woman, I guessed about my age, who had just proactively cut off all of her hair. This, I understand, is one of the hardest things for women to deal with when they have cancer. We have a lot of ego tied up in our hair (I certainly do), and to chop it all off before it starts to fall out? I couldn't believe her strength.
"Do you really think I look ok?" she asked.
"You look beautiful," I said sincerely.
She asked for a hug, and while hugging her, I whispered in her ear, "You are going to be alright." She squeezed me tighter. Then there was a round of photos, and some laughing. Her friend said, "How random that we ran into you!" And I replied, "Maybe not." Perhaps I was meant to witness her bravery, to validate her choice.
And, then they both went on their way. The amazing woman with the freshly shaved head and her friend. She headed off to enjoy her day. Two days before chemo. She walked right out of my life as quickly as she had walked in. I know I won't run into her again. But I'll never forget her.
I went in for my haircut feeling like this chance encounter was really a gift from the universe. I sat in the chair as the woman shaved my head (for style) and asked me this and that. I sat there and fought back tears. I wonder if I'll ever have the strength that woman has. I hope I don't have to prove it to fight breast cancer -- as she is doing. But still, I'd like to have half her courage. And I'd like to affect people with one tenth the impact she has.
Her name is Charlene, by the way.
If you want to know more about Locks of Love, visit them online. If you want or need to know more about breast cancer, go see the American Cancer Society. They are amazing. My mom has worked with them for years.
And, butches, you need to get tested for all the womanly cancers -- even if you don't feel womanly. Cancer doesn't care if you are butch; you can still get breast cancer. Do those self exams. See your doctor. Too many lesbians in general, and butches for sure, ignore these issues because we feel uncomfortable with our doctors. Screw that. Take care of yourself. You are strong enough to have an awkward conversation with your doctor. Butch up. Charlene did. They caught it early, she said.
Thank you, Charlene. You are the bravest, strongest, butchest woman I think I've ever met.
It's very butch to take care of yourself and to fight for your health. Be butch -- like Charlene.