I didn’t worry at first.
Sure, I noticed my hairbrush filled up with loose strands far faster than it used to, and it did seem that I pulled larger wads of hair from the shower drain each morning. But, my hair still hung down my back, thick and lustrous as ever, making it easy to ignore the strands stretched across my pillowcase and clinging to the head rest in my car.
Then, after a few months, the loss became noticeable. My scalp began to gleam with round white patches, beacons of shiny skin in the middle of my dark hair. I tried to hide the bare places with creative hair styling, but I wasn’t fooling anyone. Finally, Steven urged me to see a doctor.
I braced myself for the worst. I sat in the examination room, scared witless, and certain my hair loss was the first symptom of a horrible disease. My doctor assured me I was going to live, but beyond that she provided no satisfactory explanation for my sudden balding, or alopecia areata as she called it. No known cause. No known cure.
I fought back – wouldn’t you? I bought hair tonics and herbal remedies, switched shampoos, and scheduled follicle stimulating massages. Desperation prompted me to sign up for a drug trial, which never renewed any hair growth, but did give me three weeks of painful eczema as a side effect.
When my head showed more scalp than hair, I resigned myself to the inevitable. I was tired of waging a losing battle, and I decided to shave the bedraggled remnants of my once glorious hair. Steven offered to help me, but I knew I would cry if my husband was there when I viewed my round, completely bald head for the first time. I wanted to start this new chapter of my life with bravery, not with tears.
I arranged my barbering supplies on the bathroom counter, feeling a sense of ceremony as I did so. I took a deep breath, said good-bye to my hair one last time, and began.
First, I took a pair of scissors and cut my remaining hair as close to my scalp as possible. Then I filled my hands with gobs of thick, creamy shaving lotion and rubbed it all over my head, until I looked like a giant soft-serve ice cream cone.
The razor was sharp and I nicked myself more than once. After a long time, my whole head was smooth, except for one thick, dark patch of hair over my right temple, an area about five inches wide by three inches tall. It was the only section of my head that hadn’t been affected since this horrible ordeal began. I saved its removal for last — I wanted to reward that last patch of hair for its tenacity by allowing it to remain in place as long as possible.
If only the rest of my hair had been as stubborn, I thought, fighting tears, as I folded the top of my ear down to allow for easier access to the area. I took a deep breath and scraped the razor over the last of my hair.
The final swipe of the blade revealed an elongated blotch on my skin. Was it a birthmark I didn’t know I had, hidden for my lifetime under my once thick tresses? I ran my fingers over it, wondering at the indented texture of the blemish. I leaned toward the mirror, eyes squinting for a better look at the mark.
Words, I realized with a start. I wasn’t looking at a hidden birthmark – I was reading very tiny words, the block letters stamped in a perfect row across the ridge of my temple:
MADE IN CHINA
“Honey, could you come in here?” I called to Steven from the bathroom, my voice quavering. “I think I need your help, after all.”