A bald man.
This is all I am now, I thought to myself.
One of them. The men with no hair.
I gazed into the mirror and applied a grey paste carefully to the top of my head with a spatula. The paste stuck to the remaining hairs, matting them together, as questions of a new identity loomed on the horizon like the light of a new day.
The treatment would be more effective if you had come two years ago, the woman with the eastern European accent had said to me three days earlier. There is, she grimaced, not much chance now to stimulate regrowth. I nodded, and thought of the months it had taken to summon the courage to get myself to that cold dead room.
I listened to her advice about moving the spatula most effectively across the surface of my scalp, absorbed some statistics about follicle regeneration, paid too much money for a brace of medications and descended the stairs. The two of us returned home through the muted light of the morning, my secret and I.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair –
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounted firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin.
Prufrock, T S Eliot
The visit to the hair loss clinic was six years ago. My journey through hair loss began two years before that, a journey that has been slow and confusing and happened one hair at a time. But it should have come as no surprise.
The Argentines on my father’s side were born with diminishing hairlines and large appendages. My English family are abundant on top and less-so below. As fate would have it my brother got a wonderful crop and a hearty lunchbox, and then there was me, lurking at the shallow end of the gene pool.
Even with a suspicion my hair type was never going to stick around for long, I clung to hope. I’d shaved my head since I was eighteen cos I wanted to look fresh, and since I couldn’t see much hair on me anyway I didn’t notice its soundless departure. What could be more unobtrusive than a hair soundlessly departing. One night aged 28, I caught my reflection in a pub mirror at a funny angle and stopped breathing.
I’m going fucking bald.
As the penny dropped a new feeling surged up inside me, one of deep fear. Perhaps it was the first sign of an irreversible decline, the beginning of the end, the Reaper emerging from the shadows for a brief moment to clear his throat. I’d prided myself on not being scared of death and here it was staring me in the face, in the form of a ceiling light bouncing off the surface of my head and lighting up the wall on the other side of the room.
That night I went to bed in a beanie, woke up and didn’t take a cycling cap off for three months.
On top of feeling old, was the creeping feeling something in me wasn’t quite as it should be. Very sick people lose their hair, I thought. Samson’s fate had made me assign strength and virility to hair, surely women would do the same. Every morning the mirror spoke to me of frailty, proof my halcyon days were fast dissolving in the rearview. Never again would I step out of the shower and rub a towel seductively through my locks. Applying moisturiser to my forehead became confusing. At which point did I stop.
I kept my hair very short, so the areas where it thinned would be less obvious. But people would get curious. So are you losing it, they’d ask. Or do you just like having it shaved. My reddening cheeks would answer for me. Those who hadn’t seen me for a year or two would greet me with raised eyebrows. My brother bought me a Bald Eagle for Christmas.
After two years of denial and baseball caps, I dragged myself to the hair clinic. Returning home with the treatment as I described, I began to apply a grey cream to the top of my head each morning with a spatula. Is this all I am now, I would ask myself. A bald guy. I had joined a club with a lifetime membership, a club all members of which share the same identity, an identity they wear without choice, not on their sleeves, by dint of the little beam of light reflecting off the tops of their shiny heads.
As the morning broke on the third day of my new ritual and the paste I was applying began to congeal, matting the hairs together in a sticky clump, I looked searingly into my soul and heard myself say…
This is fucking ridiculous.
Then and there in front of that mirror, I stopped giving a fuck.
I disposed of the cream in the bin with some joy, and since that day I haven’t cared very much about my hair. It doesn’t affect me all that much anymore. That’s not to say I wouldn’t prefer to have loads. It just means I’d rather not care than waste time consumed by something I have no control over. Once I’d come to the realisation it was a battle I couldn’t win, it became pointless to try.
My insecurities about my hair were wedded to the delusion that the people in my life might be judging me on any grounds other than what was inside me. When it came to the dating scene, I told myself that if a woman didn’t fancy me on account of my shiny dome, I probably wouldn’t fancy her either. If this didn’t always hold true, I could always reference the scientific literature surrounding bald men and their prowess in the bedchamber.
When all else failed, I could resort to denial.
Having not much hair is great.
The maintenance of it is negative-nothing, in terms of the amount of thought it requires. Fearing a bad day out at the barber is no longer a thing, the dread of a shit haircut was something I had to process six years ago, before realising it wasn’t even that bad. I’ve grown to like my hair.
Somerset Maugham once wrote that in each shave lies a philosophy. No matter how mundane something might appear, by repeating it in a quasi-religious manner it can become a contemplative and even meditative act. The weekly ritual of shaving my own melon comes pretty close.
Every single person has something going on in their life they hate themselves for and berate themselves for without end, that nobody but themselves even know exists. Not because they don’t care, they just don’t have time to. Because in turn they are busy worrying about their thing. And if they did know they wouldn’t care anyway. Not out of apathy but because they would know it doesn’t matter. People matter, the stuff on the inside, the sticky emotional treacle we are made of that makes us nobody but ourselves.
I mean I’m also full of shit.
I still see photos of myself from time to time and wince. But I used to think before I didn’t want to be just the bald guy. But now I don’t care. The cool thing about life and getting older is that you learn what not to give a shit about.
The softening of time and drying up of follicles has led me to think people might actually like me not in spite of my baldness, but because of it too. After all it is a part of me. A glass neither half empty nor half full but a glass twice the size it needs to be. Almost like a calling card. No longer just Domingo the guy with no hair. But… Domingo, the guy with no hair.
Not a source of weakness and of shame.
A source of love perhaps too.