I’m sitting in the chair in my taxidermy-adorned hair salon waiting to get the dye painted onto my hair for my four-times-a-year highlights, when my hairdresser lifts up my hair and inspects the underside of my scalp. “You didn’t get this taken care of?” she asks, clearly disappointed in me.
The “this” she speaks of is dandruff, something I’ve dealt with in varying degrees since college. It’s one of those conditions that I’d rather not think about, because thinking about it makes it all too real (note: I’m extremely skilled at pretending problems don’t exist). Yet the last time I was here, three months before, she prompted me to get it checked out, but I never did. This time, she doesn’t mince words, and it’s not a mere suggestion. “You have to get this checked out before you see me again. It’s probably nothing, but it might affect your health.”
I feel like I’ve been sent to the adult equivalent of the principal’s office, but back in junior high the biggest thing I’d ever done was read a book under my desk, and even in high school, when I cut school with my friend Yolanda to go to the Village and hang out, calling in sick in a very poor approximation of my mother’s voice, and my father had run into us on 8th Street, because I was so boring and went to the same places over and over, even that wasn’t so bad. “You’re good girls, we trust you,” they said, then sent us on our way to in-school suspension.
With my hairdresser, I care. I already feel awkward and schlubby no matter how carefully I dress when I go there, like I’ve been let into some special club simply by getting my hair done there. Obviously, I’m projecting, but it’s true; while I think they do an amazing job, I’m also paying for some perceived glam factor that I wouldn’t get at, say, Supercuts. I eavesdrop on other clients’ conversations (it’s hard not to while I’m waiting for the dye to set in) and invariable, I get the impression that theirs are more glamorous/exciting/fun than mine is. Sometimes I hope a little of their hipness will sink in along with the dye.
Now that I’m on the verge of being banished, I want to hold on to my membership. Plus, the part of me that hates being deemed “bad” by authority figures desperately wanted her approval. So I asked around and found out that in fact several of my friends had used dermatologists. I didn’t specify what exactly it was that I needed to see one for. I was referred to a doctor whose office was near mine named Zoe Veritas. As a fiction writer, how could I not go to a woman whose name seemed straight out of a novel?
The day of my appointment, I waited nervously on the table in my gown for her to inspect me, marking off a few spots on my skin to make the visit truly worthwhile. After a few minutes, in came Dr. Veritas and I showed her the parts under my hair, close to my scalp, that were not just flaky but dense with whiteness, seeming to connect my head with my hair in a way that was painful if I tried to separate the two. “You have seborrhea,” she said after examining my scalp for maybe two minutes, maybe less. She said it so quickly, I was shocked that she could make a diagnosis that quickly. I was expecting an extensive examination, the kind with tongue clucking and squinting and deep thought. I’d been letting all my worst fears about what it might be seep into my brain that her answer seemed almost too easy. While I was there, I showed her the bumps on my skin, the raised areas that if I wear a low-cut dress I get comments on. “That’s nothing to worry about. If you ever wanted to have them removed for cosmetic reasons, you could, but you don’t ‘have to.”
She gave me a prescription for a special shampoo and a spray to use, and said that if they didn’t work, to come back. That was the good news. The bad news was that there was no cure, not even the promise of one. Or maybe that wasn’t such bad news, because part of why I hate going to the doctor is that all too often they suggest things like one allergist did: “Well, if you really wanted to get rid of your allergies, you could come in once a week for a shot, for, oh, about a year…” I’d rather live with my intermittent sneezing, thank you very much.
Now, I must confess that I am far from the world’s best patient. I didn’t go to the dentist for five years, even though I have health insurance. I always fantasize that the doctor will just press some magic button, zap me or give me a pill or simply give me some words of wisdom and I’ll be all better. I know it doesn’t really work that way, but wouldn’t life be awesome if it did?
So, I confess that I haven’t exactly been using the shampoo three times a week because…I sometimes go a week without washing my hair (and while I’m in true confession mode, I often fall asleep in my clothes without having brushed my teeth…with the lights on). But I do use it when I wash my hair, and I’ve noticed a vast improvement. Am I totally cured? No, but that area of my scalp is no longer tender or painful, and it isn’t clogged with the thick whiteness that felt like peeling off a layer of my skin. It’s more like a few stray flakes when I brush my hair, like they are lurking, waiting to be dislodged. I never wound up using the spray, but I have it on hand if I ever get the urge to be truly diligent.
Anyway, I’m happy to know that I’m dying of some horrible scalp disease, and that my roots will not have to suffer at the hands of a new hairdresser, and, most importantly, that I still belong in that special club, even if it’s just in my imagination.