My boss let me off at 2:00 on a Friday afternoon to keep a medical appointment for a biopsy of breast lumps. Because I bled a bit too freely, I was kept under observation a while. After my wounds were dressed, I called my husband to come for me.
Later, in the kitchen, I tried to prepare a simple supper. I could hear my husband in the bathroom. “I’m heating some tomato soup, Dan,” I yelled. You can make a sandwich, too, if you like.”
Dan came to the table looking disheveled and depressed. He had been silent in the car on the way home.
The phone rang. It was Dan’s mother.
“Earl’s dead!” she wailed. “We can’t believe it!” Earl was her second husband, Dan’s stepfather. “Can you come? Today’s been so terrible. I’m wiped out.”
“Yes, of course, we’ll come,” I said, “as soon as we can.”
“Earl Clark is dead, Dan,” I said, hanging up the phone. I didn’t think the news would upset him since Earl was not blood kin, and, in truth, Dan had never really liked him.
“Earl’s dead? Earl’s dead?” Dan repeated, like he couldn’t quite grasp it.
“Yes. Sounds like he had a massive stroke. He died before they could get him to a hospital. Your mother wants us to come over . . . needs us. We might help her make plans for visitation and the funeral.”
“I can’t go,” Dan said. He crossed his arms on the table and laid his head on them.
“Of course you can!” I said. “Your mother has lost her husband. She needs you.”
“I can’t do it,” Dan repeated. “You go.”
“She’s your mother. And don’t you realize, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time for me? I’ve lost blood. I’m dizzy and soreness is starting to set in.”
He kept shaking his head, his face buried.
“All right. I don’t feel like arguing, and we don’t have time anyhow.” I served the soup and ate mine quickly. “Please do the dishes while I’m gone, and put things away. This’ll be a hard weekend for everybody. We must put your mother’s feelings first.”
I got back home after ten. In the kitchen, the soup pan was still on the stove, dishes on the table. I could hear water running; the bathroom door was closed.
I tapped on the door. “Please help me clean up the kitchen when you’re done in there,” I said. “Your mother has gone to bed. Earl’s son is staying with her until Clover comes.” Clover was Bernice’s younger sister, Dan’s aunt.
“Did you hear me, Danny? Come out of there and help me clean up.”
“I’ve got to get this damn binding from around my brain,” Dan said, sounding distraught.
“You what? Open the door so I can hear you.”
“I’m trying to cut this damn wild hair. It’s wrapped itself around my brain again.”
“Again? What are you talking about? Open this door!” I demanded, rattling the knob. “What’s going on in there? Let me in so I can see.” I was in no mood for nonsense.
I heard the lock release and opened the bathroom door to find my husband, glassy-eyed and ashen, standing in front of the mirror. He had a bloody razor in his hand and a bloody towel draped over his left shoulder. Blood was on his hands and face and hair, on the basin, the towel, the floor.
“What on earth are you doing?”
“I’m trying to cut this damn wild hair, I told you. It wraps itself around my brain and gets tighter and tighter until I can’t stand it.”
“Let me see!” I pulled him out of the bathroom, toward a kitchen chair. “Sit down here!” I looked at his head and scalp, where he had made several small cuts. “Wait a minute while I get the first aid kit.”
I hurried to the bathroom and back.
“Don’t use iodine. It’ll burn!”
“Think of the burning as killing germs,” I said. “You could hurt yourself seriously with that razor, Dan.” I parted his hair so I could see the cuts, and dabbed the red medicine on them. “Give me the razor. I’ll cut the wild hair.”
“No,” he said. “Call Aunt Clover. She’s the only one who’s ever been able to help me with this.”
“This has happened before?”
“More than once?”
“I don’t know how many times.”
“Clover’s spending the night and they’re probably asleep by now. It’s getting late . . . almost eleven. We shouldn’t disturb them.”
Dan jumped up and hurried back into the bathroom, where he examined his scalp in the mirror again. “This wild hair grows through my skull and….”
“Through your skull? Get serious! How can a hair grow through bone?”
“I don’t know, but it does, and it’s driving me crazy!”
“Give me that razor. Let me help you.”
“You can’t do it, I’m telling you. Aunt Clover’s the only one.” He started for the living room to use the phone.
“No, Dan!” I said. “We mustn’t upset your family further with some figment of your imagination. Sit down here!”
“It’s real, I tell you. I can feel it and Aunt Clover can always see it. She’s never thought it was a ‘figment’. She knows I’m not making this up.”
“I’ll massage your scalp and help you relax,” I said, pushing him back into a kitchen chair. “I’ll call Sam on Monday and tell him you’re not coming in. A death in the family . . . he’ll understand.”
“A pox on Sam and his dumbass trucking business! I have a wild hair tightening around my brain. It’s like a hot wire, and it’s getting hotter and hotter!”
“That’s hard to believe, you know.”
“I guess I know what it is. I’ve been through this before. Aunt Clover can….”
“It’s too late to call, Dan. Your mother needs her rest right now. Her husband just died.” Throughout this conversation, I was parting Dan’s hair, inch by inch, looking at the superficial cuts he had made with the razor and gently massaging his scalp.
“That’s not helping,” Dan said, jerking his head away. “Nothing helps but to cut the band of hair.”
“Oh, now it’s a band, is it?”
Dan tried to rise from the chair, but I pushed down on his shoulders. “Be still! I have good eyesight. If there is a band of hair, I’ll see it . . . if you’ll just hold still a minute and let me help you.”
I picked up the razor which he had momentarily laid on the table. I parted his hair again. “There it is,” I said. “I see it. Hold real still now.” I pressed the razor hard to his scalp, trying not to actually cut. “I think I got it. I saw two dark ends jerk away and disappear . . . like roaches when the lights come on!” I smiled.
Dan didn’t laugh. He rolled his eyes left and then right—left and right again—testing. Back and forth, again and again—eyes open, eyes closed.
“That’s better now, isn’t it?” I kept massaging his scalp, hoping he would relax and calm down. “Now we’ll put an icepack on the bad spot. What you’re feeling is just muscle tension. That’ll pass. You can help by trying to relax.”
While I was getting more ice, Dan darted back into the bathroom. When I took the icepack to him, he was standing at the mirror, changing blades. The used blade lay on the bloody sink. He was still trying to see the culprit hair and sever it.
“You didn’t cut it. It’s still there. My brain is pulsing. . . that’s how I know you didn’t get it.”
“I can’t stand it, I tell you. I can’t!”
“We’ve got to get some rest, Dan. Your mother will expect us tomorrow.”
“How can I rest?”
“You must try.” I took his arm and pulled him to the living room couch. “Lie down here and try to relax. I’ll bring cover and pillows.”
“I’ll call Aunt Clover,” he said, breaking my hold and reaching for the telephone.
“No, Dan!” I said, pushing the telephone out of reach. “I’ll give you one of the pain pills Dr. Miller gave me,” I said in desperation. “It’ll help you rest. We’ll both take one. I’ve got to get to bed. I have to function tomorrow, you know, for your mother’s sake.”
“Oh, oh, oh…”
“Please try to cooperate, Danny.”
“Ahhhhh!” he cried, grabbing at his head.
I put the icepack on the bloodiest spot and guided his hand to hold it in place. “Hold that while I get the pills and water. Lie back now and pretend you’re in a boat.” I kept talking. “The boat is rocking gently in the waves, Dan. Hear the waves slapping lightly against the sides of the boat. They will lull you to sleep. Let yourself feel the motion of the waves.”
I made sure he took the pill, after which I went to wash my face and brush my teeth. I cleaned up the blood in the bathroom and threw the bloody towels in the laundry. I was dizzy, seeing spots. I fell into bed in my underwear.
Off and on through the night I heard Dan moaning and moving about, but I was too exhausted to do anything about it. The jangle of the telephone woke me Saturday morning. I realized at once I had failed to set the alarm. It was Clover, urging us to come.
"Dan, it’s ten o’clock. We’ve got to dress and go comfort your mother.”
“I’m not going,” he mumbled, looking away. His face was wet with perspiration. “Mother will understand,” he said, pressing his head into the pillow and turning away.
I dressed hurriedly, picked up my purse and keys, then went back into the living room. “Get in the car. I’m taking you to the Emergency Room. You need help.”
Dan lay rigid. The bloody towel and now warm icepack lay on the floor. He didn’t react.
“Get up!” I screamed. “We’re going to the emergency room. Maybe ER doctors can cut that wild hair. Surely they can if anybody can.”
He rose and stood in front of the couch, holding his head in his hands like a basketball. His clothes, the same he’d worn the day before, were rumpled. He looked terrible and badly needed a shave.
In the ER, I filled out the necessary papers while Dan waited, silent and morose. Soon after we were put in an exam room a young man in a white jacket introduced himself.
“I’m Dr. Allen,” he said, turning from me to Dan, whose gaze was fixed on the tile. “What seems to be the problem, Mr. Wilson?”
I spoke for Dan. “My husband thinks a wild hair has grown through his skull and wrapped itself around his brain. We’ve both tried and failed to cut it.” I smiled at the young professional, knowing he would perceive the nature of the problem at once. I felt I had done the right thing. In fact, I was hopeful Dan might be admitted for a few days, during which time I could visit my grieving mother-in-law and get some rest.
“How are you feeling, Mr. Wilson?” Dr. Allen asked, studying the yellow ER sheet. Meanwhile Dan, arms crossed and wrapped tightly about his person, was rocking back and forth rhythmically, moaning.
“Let me have a look at your head,” Dr. Allen said. Using a penlight, he examined Dan’s scalp inch by inch.
“There’s no wild hair, Mr. Wilson,” the doctor said, snapping off the penlight with a gesture of some finality. “I see nothing unusual here except of course the cuts you’ve made. Everything looks quite normal.”
I stared open-mouthed. I couldn’t believe how the doctor was handling the problem. Surely, he realized Dan’s behavior was not normal.
“Get a bigger light!” Dan yelled. “A brighter one!”
“All right. I can certainly do that.” Dr. Allen said, leaving the room. Other lamps were brought in and Dan’s scalp examined again and again as he lay face-up and then belly-down on the table.
“I assure you, Mr. Wilson, there is no wild hair.”
“Cut the hair with your sharp surgical scalpel,” I suggested, pronouncing each word slowly, prompting the doctor, dropping an eyelid. “I can show you the trouble area – exactly where to cut.”
It was no use. He refused to play any games. “There’s no wild hair. You’re overwrought, Mr. Wilson. I’ll give you something to help you rest. The pharmacy is on this same floor. The clerk will direct you.”
“But you don’t understand,” I whispered to the doctor, following him out into the hallway. “This has happened before.”
“I’ve done all I can,” he said, striding away.
Walking back to the parking lot, I said, “While we’re so close, we should run by your mother’s house for a few minutes, Dan. She must be wondering where we are.”
“No. Take me home and then you go.” Dan crawled into the back seat and lay with his arms wrapped around his head, knees drawn up.
I drove home. My surgical site was throbbing. Blood was soaking through the front of my dress. I experienced discomfort with every bump in the road, every turn of the wheel. I knew exactly what Dan would be doing while I tried to meet our obligations with the family.
I thought Saturday would never end.
Sunday was much like Saturday—another nightmare. On Monday I went alone to the funeral. Nobody commented on Dan’s absence. I began to realize Dan had spoken the truth. The family understood he had problems coping.
Back home, I sat down, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes for a few minutes. When I opened them with the thought of rising, Dan was standing in front of me in the same rumpled outfit, disheveled, unshaven, with the razor and bloody towel. He looked like a creature from another planet.
“Please call Aunt Clover, Susan. I’ve got to get some relief!”
“She’s probably still at your mother’s,” I said, handing him the phone. “You know the number.”
I went to bed.