One of my best friends in high school started to lose his hair during our sophomore year. My other friends and I, eager to ridicule any personal flaw we could find in our companions, embarked on a three-year crusade to torment our balding pal.
"I just have a higher hairline than you guys," he protested one day after one of us delivered a particularly vivid description of what we imagined he'd look like in a few years. "It's not receding, it's always been like this," he insisted.
Everyone knew better. His hairline slowly edged away from his eyebrows over the next few years, forking in the middle of his head sometime around junior year. By the time he donned a graduation cap, there was nothing underneath it but a small triangular patch of growth bordered by shiny skin, and framed by an otherwise healthy supply of black curly waves on the sides of his head.
"Just think, if you're ever a medic in the army, they can paint a big red cross on your head. . ." I began one day after graduation, with all our friends standing around.
"Shut up!" he yelled, drawing a few strands from another quadrant down over his landing pad. "Nice nose," he offered in feeble rebuttal.
My friends and I laughed with the assurance of young men who thought they'd never lose their hair.
"The baldness issue," as he called it, continued to plague my friend in college. Finally, he got fed up and found a solution. "It's not a toupe," he assured me in a long-distance call during our sophomore year. "It's a weave of real human hair chosen to match mine exactly." The piece was somehow connected to his own remaining hair and could be worn at all times. It cost him more than $1,000. But a few months and an EST training session later, he cut it off. His baldness was "okay" with him now, he told me.
A happy ending, I thought. But just as my friend resolved "the baldness issue," I began to find strands of hair deposited on my pillow each morning. "The tooth fairy gone amok?" I puzzled. But no. There was no such thing as the tooth fairy. My parents had always performed her function, and they had never left hair.
There was no denying it. Peering into the mirror, lamenting the havok sleep wreaked on a delicate head of hair, I discovered that my hairline had moved. I grabbed the sink for support, and ran my hand back from my forehead, flattening the reed-like protrusions that stood in disarray. "We had a little fun while you were asleep," they seemed to say, but I wasn't concerned with them anymore. It was their dead comrades, fallen in the night, which elicited not concern, but utter horror.
"Some women find bald men attractive," an older, skin-topped gentleman said with a lascivious grin after I had breathlessly told him of my discovery.
"Some?" I thought. "Three? Four?" And worse, I wondered, "Will I someday grin like you?"
I spoke to a doctor I knew.
"Was your mother's father bald?" he asked.
"Completely," I sighed.
"Oh, well. . . they're working on a cure. . ."
Now I was scared, though I also knew I was safe for a while. No one but me had noticed so far, and the hairline had only shifted, not jumped.
Still, everywhere I looked and in everything I did, there were signs that my hair was leaving. Perplexed by a particularly incoherent passage in a book I was reading, I rested my head in my hand. A few strands of hair alighted on the page. "Wisdom comes with baldness," I murmured. But it wasn't a price I was willing to pay.
One day, while sitting in my room with a friend and kidding him about some minor thing or another, he rejoined with a line so cutting that I feared I would lose hair just from hearing it. "At least I'm not going bald," he declared. My body convulsed.
This was serious. Seeing the threat I faced, I developed precautions. I could no longer enjoy the rapid cycle of putting on and taking off hats that is the mark of youth. Such luxury threatened even more hair loss. Now, I refused to wear a head-covering unless I knew I could leave it on for a long time. When it was time to remove a hat late at night, it had to be done with exquisite care. Drying my hair with a towel became a delicate process which necessarily ceased long before the hair was dry. Wet hair is better than no hair, I reasoned.
All along I saw these and many other precautions as part of a losing battle. "My grandfather was bald," I figured. "So shall I be bald." I tried to console myself with visions of great bald men from history: Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, Alan Brinkley. But to no avail. I was just not in their league. I would just be bald. Old and bald.