Loss: a short story

He stands naked in front of the tall mirror, the kitchen scissors in one hand, his testicles held gently in the other.

He thinks of the group meetings with men that had spent tens of thousands of pounds on transplant work, each surgery leaving them worse off than before until their heads just resembled raw meat stitched together with thread and scars; he thinks of those that had bought miracle creams, pills and shampoos and their bent hope until notices from the bank streamed through letterboxes; and he thinks of Simon and his unhappy penis, the pills he’d purchased over the internet instead of stimulating follicular expansion giving him permanent erectile dysfunction at 26; he thinks of Brandy, formerly Jeff, whose hair loss treatment had turned him transgender, choking back his testosterone until he developed a liquid figure.
Middle-class professionals with families and mortgages and fraudsters raising money for surgery through false causes, husbands whose wives had left them for men with regular foreheads, all the desperate men, emotional and insecure, human, the men you point and laugh at in the street shouting “Slaphead!”, “Fivehead!”, “Turtle Waxer!”, he thinks of the small rooms and chatrooms online where they’d gather to share and understand and try to recover from the cruellest malady of them all.
Just for the meetings he wouldn’t feel lonely, the mutual understanding and familiarity that for two hours every Wednesday and Saturday evening filled that house of mirrors in which everybody is everywhere, reflected in every shining forehead.
He thinks of how his hair used to be, long and wild and thick, and of all the time wasted, no, not wasted, he thinks, coiffuring and straightening and fiddling with it until it might have been sculpted by Michelangelo himself. He thinks of the lonely panic at its retrocession; of listening to his friends make jokes, acting as if they didn’t hurt. It hadn’t happened to him suddenly as it had to others. He thinks of the birthday inches, the increasingly greater efforts to hide it, of locking himself indoors on a blustery day afraid to go out for fear of being exposed.
A trait as prominent and relentless as male pattern baldness must be present in the human genome for a reason. Certainly not for reproduction, he thinks, not anymore. For many, their hair was one of the few effective items of mating display available. Now we’re more invisible to the world every day, he thinks, the only people we hate more than those men with full frontal animal hairlines is ourselves.
He thinks of poor Bill, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, losing his hair at 19 and now battling feelings of self-harm and anxiety. He thinks of Bill telling the group the story of his first panic attack, of how he was shopping for groceries, waiting in line to pay, when a little boy said “Look!”, and in that moment Bill stopped breathing and dropped his basket, and the little boy says, “Monster!”, and Bill ran from the shop leaving his shopping rolling out on the floor.
(How could Bill know the little boy was talking about the film poster behind him?)
And he thinks of the man in the hospital and of the nurse that would go out of her way to see him. Even on her days off she’d visit and they’d talk for hours and it was always easy. The man imagined them falling madly in love with one another and he was recovering so quickly the doctors couldn’t believe it. It was a modern day miracle.
His head was wrapped in dressings, metres of tight gauze and bandages with metal clips so that it wouldn’t unravel, and when it was finally time for the bandages to come off the nurse did it herself, but when she saw the pink, arid pate hiding underneath all of the wads of cotton, she stopped what she was doing, murmured a prayer, then fled from the room. The man never saw her again.
They say that eunuchs don’t go bald, for the same reasons Jeff’s pills turned him transgender. Castration arrests the supply of testosterone in the body.
He thinks: testosterone. Testosterone is naturally converted to something called dihydrotestosterone, an androgen that affects the natural growing cycle of hair follicles. Follicles go through resting and growing phases and this particular androgen chokes follicles of proper nutrition so that growing periods shrink and rest times lengthen. The follicles get smaller and smaller, until the only hairs that can squeeze out are too fine to see.
He thinks all these things, desperate and alone, sun-starved and narrow in the mirror, and he fits the scissors in place, his other hand pulling tight, and he squeezes the scissor grips, begins to, he thinks: how can you fear loss if you have already lost everything?

 

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