It was the hottest summer on record, and I was at Longs with the kids buying back-to-school supplies. While looking for thin black Sharpie markers, 1½ inch sturdy binders and other insanely specific items, I started to schvitz in my purple/black polar fleece ski hat.
I wore that ski hat because I was bald and because it was the only hat that I’d ever found that didn’t emphasize the fact that I have a very small head and very broad shoulders. I also have very muscular calves, for the record, which annoys my brother no end.
“Each family is given 100 percent of a certain trait or quality,” he hypothesizes, “and the members have to divvy up that percentage. I got the math and the fantasy football skills; you got the English and the calves.”
And the small head. Which wants to drift from the main point of this story…
Last August, a few weeks after I’d lost my hair, I found the ski hat in the back of my closet. I’d gotten it in Tahoe in 1995, during an impromptu weekend trip to the snow with my ex and my son. There was a blizzard that weekend, and, as usual, I’d packed all sorts of things: Scrabble. Cayenne. The latest Anne Tyler novel. New Matchbox cars for Mike. A little red raincoat for our dog, Sophie. Real maple syrup for the pancakes. But I’d forgotten socks for everyone and a hat for myself. So while we were in Truckee for lunch, I bought six pairs of socks and the purple/black polar fleece ski hat.
I wore the ski hat every year when we went skiing. And I wore it constantly after I'd lost my hair. All other hats engulfed my wee, little head. Most people don't know this, but when you lose your hair, you lose several inches of head circumference, especially if you lose lots of hair, like I did. I wasn't aware of that fact when the month before my chemo started I bought a green hat that I imagined would look cute on my soon-to-be-hairless head.
I brought it home and excitedly tried it on. "Isn't this cute?" I asked Mike and Kate. Kate, who usually gives straight-up wardrobe advice, declined comment. “That is such a cancer hat, Mom,” Mike said. "It is, isn’t it?” I said. I put it on a shelf in the back of my closet.
That's the cancer hat in the photo above. The photo was taken by my good friend David Papas, who's a professional photographer (firstname.lastname@example.org). David was gracious enough (and brave enough) to take a series of shots of me before, during and after...well, everything. This shot was taken before, in Dave's South of Market studio. Not being a professional model, I had only three looks for him: self-conscious, distracted and pissed. This one artfully combines all three.
After I lost my hair, I tried on the cancer hat to see if I l'd changed my mind about it. "Life is good on Golden Pond," I said to my reflection in the mirror. "And today I'm going to catch that son of a bitch, Walter!" I returned the hat to the closet.
I digress...back to the story.
I loved the ski hat because it made me feel cute. But I also wore it for two very practical reasons: It kept my head warm and made me feel cozy. At the end of a long day, all I wanted to do was climb into my gym shorts, my Sushi Sam's t-shirt, my Uggs and my ski hat.
Which is exactly what I wore that night to buy school supplies.
As I carried our basket of items to the register, I noticed there were a few other folks that night who had decided to go to Longs 20 minutes before closing. Over by the thank you notes lingered a man with a grimy army coat and even grimier starter dreads. At the checkout was a grotesquely overweight woman buying several bottles of Mountain Dew.
I looked at each of my kids. “I’m sorry I’m wearing a ski hat in August,” I said. “It must be embarrassing for you.”
“Mom,” Mike said, “Take a look around: You are the least interesting person in here.”
“Cool,” I said, with a big smile.
I lost the hat eight months later on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. I was simply crushed. The kids feigned concern, but they spent exactly zero minutes helping me look for it. No worries: I have my hand-knit "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" cap as a backup. I plan on wearing it lots in public.
(Note to my brother: It's going to be the Colts vs. Saints in the Super Bowl. The Colts defense won't budge on the run or pass, and the Bears are just inviting a loss with Rex Grossman as QB. In addition, while there may not be any real math in this story, there are lots of math terms.)