Welcome to Volume 1 of my flash fiction (and non-fiction), photo series! For details on the project, check out the my intro post here! Hope you enjoy!!!
I want to be Rena. Look at that beautiful woman. While her face, and seemingly body, are gorgeous in their own right – I’m not saying I want to physically be her. No, I want to be the type of woman, a Rena, that truly takes pride in her appearance. She’s simply wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt; I’m assuming she’s not on her way to work. Which, mind you, is pretty much the only time I care about my appearance anymore. Right now there is not a stitch of makeup on my face, absolutely crazy hair and definitely no hoop earrings. Oh, and don’t forget pajamas, I’m wearing pajamas right now.
I’ve always wondered what stopped me from being a Rena. I do wear makeup when going to work or out for dinner. I bathe regularly. I brush my hair and clean my clothes. But, to me, those things are not innately me – well except the showering (mostly). I want it to matter, but going above and beyond a simple wardrobe and face just doesn’t register with me. Well, that’s the case until I see a Rena and wish I’d given myself extra time to get ready. 15 minutes is usually my cut off – if it takes longer than that, is it really essential? But, should it be? I’ve worked in the corporate world just enough to make me question whether my career trajectory would be different if I was a Rena? I have a few theories as to why I am definitely not a Rena.
I met my (eventual) husband at 16. (Yes, we were high school sweethearts and it’s cute and we’ve been together half our lives now.) It truly does change things when you’ve met someone that you are completely comfortable. Not for one day before we were married was I worried that we wouldn’t work out. So, that changes the way you live your life. I didn’t go to many college parties that required body-con dresses and big hair. Also, I didn’t spend a lot of time in bars and the like. So really my only instances of really getting ready involve big events: weddings, funerals, and random nights at fancy restaurants.
But, don’t worry, I’m not so far the other way either. I’m not the lady that gets married and then never wears anything but sweatpants – I do put effort into my outfits and make sure I look presentable. Honestly, though, I still don’t think he’d mind the sweatpants. He has consistently proven his “in sickness” vows during the last years of our marriage. There are no words to describe how much I have, and still am, dependent on him. Since my caregivers left after my transplant, he’s done everything – even if I’m just laying on the couch in sweatpants!
My mother is a woman that absolutely breaks the mold. As a teenager, with no background or education, she walked right into her local radio station’s studio and – confidence abounding – she alerted them that this is what she was meant to do and is a very fast learner. As crazy as this sounds today, she ended up getting a job. She and my dad moved around the country as she moved from bigger market to even bigger radio market. She really did help to break the mold for women in the radio industry. I’m so proud of her for that.
But, we’re here to talk about Rena, or rather, what about the relationship with my mom caused me to become a non-Rena. Well along with my mother’s force, her voice, her unwavering nature came, in my opinion, an interesting set of clothing decisions. We just have a very different sense of style and I’ll leave it at that. But, what I am just now realizing is that, on most days, my mom IS a Rena. She would never go to work without makeup, earrings, and some kind of big, beautiful oversized scarf. She does have fantastic taste in scarves. I can’t remember now whether or not she was a Rena in her “I’m a single Mom with two teenagers phase”, so maybe that’s why the look alone never rubbed off on me?
When topics of beauty would come up, her main advice to me was always to dress for your particular body type. That is right, it’s wonderful, it’s what I do as an adult, and you hear about it on the Today Show with each makeover they give. She is right. So, I listened to her then and about that, but really I don’t think we ever even talked about things besides clothes and hair in the beauty department. I don’t remember lessons on doing makeup or pulling accessories into an outfit. So I really think I just wasn’t taught this. Not like it’s even in the top 100 things a parent MUST discuss with their kids, but I wasn’t.
I think we also might have skipped *the* talk, but I’ve been with Darian forever and we never popped out a baby. I was always fine playing the wait and see game, the maybe once I’m settled/happy in my career, we need more money, every excuse in the book. But, now that I can’t, fucking cancer, I’d kill to have that chance back. Life is different when the opportunity is there, even if you don’t take it. It’s the finality that stings.
Now, looking back, I realize this is my fault. First of all, mom and I never bonded over traditionally “girly” things. Growing up I was more likely to be found with a nerf gun riding my bike, but I did have Barbies. And I liked them, too. The best thing about being a kid is being able to do or play with whatever strikes you at that moment. The fact that there’s a thing called a boy toy or girl toy is such a problem anyway, that I’m thankful my parents allowed me to play whatever I wanted.
My teenage years weren’t easy; very challenging for me. As a family we were broke. Mom worked weird hours to make ends meet (but really that’s the old radio life, isn’t it? She wasn’t choosing this); I played mom to my brother for as long as I can remember. But, even through that, we did have good times. That’s how I know it’s my fault that I’m not a Rena. We had downtime sometimes and I have a mother, I should have just asked. We would have gone to the store to pick up teenage makeup basics and she would have shown me how to use them. Why didn’t I do this? Well, we are talking about an emo teenage girl here. But, still knowing there was extra time and love to be had makes me sad as I get older. So, Mom, you’re officially off the hook here. You’re a Rena and I’m not.
As I was finishing up the last section, the reason I’m not a Rena came to me so hard it almost hit me in the head. What I have been slightly deceptive of throughout is that I already own everything it takes to be a Rena. I’m obsessed with makeup. I have an entire jewelry closet full of beautiful pieces. I don’t have much hair now but have all the tools, headbands, and sprays a girl could ask. I even have Pinterest boards dedicated to cool outfits and accessories.
Procrastination is the true reason I am not a Rena. Well, that and the help of the snooze button. More often than not I’m choosing the absolute smallest window of time to get ready. Usually (now for this short period I don’t have to worry about hair) I am alright with giving myself 15 minutes to be ready and out the door. I’ve always prided myself in the ability to “be like one of the boys” and get pulled together in seconds. But, why? Usually I’m not doing anything life changing right before getting ready. Typically I’m either sleeping or trying to get to the end of a chapter. Why don’t I allow myself the pleasure of not rushing? Give myself just a little more time and look like a Rena? It wouldn’t be hard at all. I love that I sought out to find the reason behind my lack of Rena-ness and it was within me all along – just like Dorothy!
It’s here, I see it. Now, will I actually do anything about it? On the one hand, I’m really proud that I am now comfortable enough to leave the house bare-faced. That wasn’t always the case. Errands, whatever, required at a minimum about 8 products. Cancer changed that about me. Everything changes when even getting out of the door for a clinic visit feels like running a marathon. Where I’ve always been the laziest is in the realm of clothing and accessories. But, I know that now. Half the battle, right?
My bare-faced (always some sun protection, obviously! This Scottish skin has already had enough burns and will absolutely result in SO many wrinkles! Fact.), happy, liberal blood keeps saying why? Can’t I be free? Free of makeup, chemicals; free of the stigmas and requirements of being a girl.
Losing the hair, that’s the culprit. Hairless baby AK (Darian’s super loving nickname for me) had to get used to looking different. The hair was such a crutch, a shield. I’d been too afraid to truly cut it for more than a decade. Plus, once I moved to CA, I added the cool, violet ombre. Trust me, I did this before it was the “in” thing to do. At least that’s what I tell myself. I could start seeing pieces of the new, more enlightened me coming through.Then, on a rainy December day – about 2 weeks removed from major chemo and about a week after transplant – I woke up and there were clumps of that long, beautiful, violet-tinged hair resting on my pillow. It was as if I placed them there perfectly, carefully for a sad cancer movie or a great Instagram shot.
It was time. As soon as my favorite nurse entered the room I told her. This shocked everyone. Most people waiver, wait until it’s more noticeable, or just come in bald, or cropped already. She came back with scissors and clippers. Honestly, I wanted my dad to do this so badly, but it wasn’t possible. My immune system too weak to handle an accidental nick – heck, I couldn’t even have flowers in my room, or outside food, or anything. You can tell that my hospital month was SUPER fun. Don’t even get me started on the bed. My living nightmare.
She put my hair into a long braid and snipped it right off. I absolutely intended to donate it – it’s more than a foot of hair. I even have a friend that found a donation group that accepts dyed hair! Instead the long braid is in a ziploc bag (the gallon size one so you can really see it and it’s not too cramped!) pinned to my favorite DIY bulletin board hanging in the kitchen. I barely notice it now; so easy to just look past things that are always there.
Then, the really scary part, the buzz of the clippers started and before I knew it, the start of Hairless Baby AK. There was still so much stubble and stuff, but a close shave just wasn’t allowed. You know, immune system again. By the time I left the hospital I had fully succumbed to the nickname.
As a show of love, solidarity, support, everything, my dad, “Papa Frank”, and his partner Jerry said they would shave their hair off with me. I still give Darian a (jokingly) hard-time for not opting in as well. But, in reality, I love his hair. It’s long, and those twists! Plus, it stopped growing about a decade ago. I get it. But, once I was bald, I was shocked. Other than a super weird line/lump on the back of my head (neither parent would admit to dropping me as a baby), I could kind of pull it off. Of course Dad and Jer joined in on the praises – I knew they saw this as their out. They kept their soft, puffy locks and I was bald. Even though I looked like an alien, a boy, a weird confidence came over me. I’ve rocked the bald, the stubble, the pixie, and now the “shaggy” pixie (ie. I need a haircut but it hurts my heart to chop it, any of it). I was loud and unapologetically bald. Not one part of me felt the need to cover it, really. I tried it, obviously at home, but if was just awful. I am not a hat person. Kelly will vouch for that.
Without the hair to shield me, protect me, cover me I had to actually face the world. I don’t know if you’ve ever been that level sick, but trust me, your appearance is the absolute last concern when trying to leave the house, or even the bed/couch. Like Tina Belcher, I “put my bra on one boob at a time” and then it was t-shirt, sweatshirt, leggings, uggs. T-shirt. Sweatshirt. Leggings. Uggs. Rinse and repeat – every clinic visit. I have very few memories from these months; this is a big one. Miserable.
Once I started feeling better I surely wasn’t going to waste a moment of energy, of a “good” day, on anything superfluous. I wanted to be outside. I wanted to do anything. I was stir-crazy. So, I began to get very comfortable leaving the house bare-faced. Once the hot flashes started, a side effect of the chemo, I was sweaty, wearing shorts even in the cold, and grateful to even breathe fresh air. So, again, no makeup.
As I’m getting better each day, I have added things to my routine. I might throw on some lip gloss, something. Trying to remember to add earrings or a necklace. But, it’s still not my top concern. Trying to be gentle and forgive myself. It’s ok. It’s better to be a Rena because I want to and not because I feel like I have to.