The Bald and the Beautiful
A dark cloud hung over my early twenties – inevitable baldness. My mother tried to console me, said the gene gets passed down from the maternal grandfather, but my father is bald. His brother is bald. Their father is bald, and I knew it was my fate too.
The thing was, I had fantastic hair, the kind of hair that got me laid a lot. At twenty-two years old, the thought of going bald seemed like the end of the world. So I formulated a plan: Step 1, sleep with as many women as possible. Step 2, get married before my hair fell out and no one wanted me.
My wife tried to tell me that I was attractive, but you can never believe a compliment from someone who has a vested interest in preventing your depression.
I met my wife at university. She gave me the most amazing hair cut of my life. After our first time together, I called my friend and was like, “Dude, you can’t believe what she can do with a pair of scissors.”
During the first few months, my wife and I did it everywhere – in the kitchen, in the bathroom, outside in the front yard. We met for lunch and she gave me a quick hair cut in the car. Dr. Phil told Tom Cruise another person can’t complete you, but my wife made my hair look fantastic. There was only one thing to do: marry her and make her quit the business. I couldn’t handle the thought of her cutting anyone else’s hair but mine. That’s how you know it’s true love, right? There was one time I watched her cut another woman’s hair and, it was kinda hot but, ultimately, it felt wrong.
By the time we got married, I had shaved my head – quit my hair before it quit me. Even though I knew the baldness was coming, going bald can be a shock to a man’s sense of self. For a few years, I tried to suppress my mild existential crisis. I experimented with Rogaine, but it gave me headaches. I researched transplant surgery, but I couldn’t justify borrowing twenty-five thousand dollars for a patch of spotty seedlings. Propetia offered a momentary glimmer of hope, but one of the potential side effects is impotency and the only reason to have hair is to be sexually desirable. Inevitably, my personal crisis wasn’t only about my increased scalp exposure; it was about the transition a man goes through when he gets married.
Throughout my late teens and early twenties, part of my sense of self was based on who was attracted to me. Superficial? Perhaps. But to a certain degree, all our identities are crafted through the reflective lens of our social relationships. As a married man, I no longer got high from the fleeting validation inherent in a budding romance so my search for validation had to look elsewhere.
In the early days of my marriage, when the top of my head still had the shadow of its former glory, my wife tried to tell me that I was attractive. I couldn’t believe her. You can never believe a compliment from someone who has a vested interest in preventing your depression.
It’s been close to a decade since I lost my hair and there are times when I still experience ‘phantom limb syndrome’ – the condition where amputees describe being able to feel their missing extremities. While walking through the grocery store, I might pass an attractive woman in her twenties and, I might smile and make eye contact to see if she reciprocates. On some level, what I’m really looking for is a gesture to confirm that yes, ‘you are acceptable.’ ‘You do have worth.’ It’s a dangerous game that I can pretend is innocent enough – the world needs more pleasantry between strangers. The truth is that I have yet to reconcile the man who I am now – a married and bald thirty-two year-old – with the part of me who still feels like a good looking twenty-two year-old with a great head of hair. I haven’t admitted that whatever gestures of reciprocity come my way in the grocery store are merely social pleasantries.
I am fully aware the need for external validation is an endless black hole, and a few weeks ago, I caught a glimpse into where this path leads. While walking up the driveway towards my apartment, an elderly tenant, let’s call him Dave, pulled me aside and asked for a moment of my time. Dave is a thin seventy-two-year-old bald man whose face and head are speckled with brown sun spots. His clothes are always a little big and he wears a ball cap and a backpack which make him look like a teenager in his older brother’s clothes.
Dave pulled me aside and said, “JC, can I talk to you?”
“Sure.” I said.
“I did a really bad thing,” Dave said. He was pacing and wheezing from his smokers cough.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I was driving home from work past the university and… I saw this girl running. It was stupid. But I couldn’t help myself.”
“Couldn’t help yourself what?” I asked, suddenly nervous.
“I didn’t talk to her or anything,” Dave said. “ I just… followed her a little.”
“You followed her?”
“It sounds bad when you say it like that. I was driving and I saw her running. She was wearing these shorts so I slowed down to follow her a little.”
“How long did you follow her for?”
“A few blocks. I don’t know. I didn’t mean any harm.” Dave was trembling as he continued. “I was following her for a while and this guy pulled up beside me in his truck and started screaming ‘pervert.’ He said he was calling the cops. They can’t arrest me, can they? I didn’t mean any harm.”
“I know you didn’t,” I said.
“It was stupid,” he said. “I’m seventy-two-years-old and still as horny as a teenager. I just wanted to see her jog. I know I shouldn’t have. It wouldn’t do any good, anyway.”
I asked Dave a few more questions and realized that, technically, he hadn’t broken any laws. I assured him that he wasn’t going to be arrested. I left Dave feeling sorry for him. Sorry that he was lonely. Sorry that he was obviously scared. But most of all I worried what his life said about mine.