Reading: Transition Man

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Transition Man

He could help when her husband could not. Would it be worth it?

By Nancy Brier

Woman getting her hair done
Illustration by James Orchard-Hays

I met my transition man today.

Friends tell me it won’t last, but for now he’s exactly what I need.

Unlike my husband, he’s tall and dark and uber-Christian. All day long, he has conversations with God, alternately mumbling or laughing out loud at jokes only he and God are privy to.

My husband found him on the Internet, encouraged me to contact him. I wasn’t going to, but my husband kept urging me on.

“Just call him,” he said. “You might actually like the guy.”

Finally, I picked up the phone. Jon answered, and he sounded nice. After a few conversations and major hesitation on my part, I booked a trip.

“Who goes to Minneapolis in January?” my friends chided. “Especially when you live in California?” I shrugged and found long underwear, a thick hat and my only winter coat.

When I pulled my gray wheelie bag down from the top shelf of our closet, photos of our little girl spilled all over the floor. What am I doing? I thought to myself.

Then I headed to the bank, got a stack of $100 bills, and tucked them carefully into the inside zipper compartment of my handbag. I didn’t want a paper trail coming in later to remind me of my folly, my vanity even, if things went wrong, if I regretted this crazy decision.

I boarded the flight and planned to meet Jon the next day.

It was negative six degrees in Minneapolis and piles of snow and dirty ice were mounded up along the sidewalks. I pulled out my phone and typed in Jon’s address. After twenty years of marriage, it felt odd to wander this unfamiliar city alone, searching for Jon while I tried to ignore the icy air on my face.

When I pulled open a glass door, the surge of warmth shocked my frozen cheeks, and I felt my anticipation surge. Christian rock blared from an unseen source. In the empty shop, I sank into a black leather chair, staring at myself in the mirror. It was cozy, with neat rows of product making pleasing symmetrical designs along the walls.

Jon, charming and handsome, draped a plastic cape around my shoulders, tucked a towel around my neck, and rolled his table near my chair, wheels making a creaking sound on the linoleum. Tentatively, I took off my wool hat.

He rubbed his palm over my head, my baby-soft new hair fuzzy, only an inch long. “We can do it,” Jon smiled. “It’s long enough.”

Someone else’s hair lay on the table along with a hot glue gun, pliers, and strips of white paper. Jon grabbed a few strands of hair, dabbed one end in hot glue, rubbed it in paper and then attached the bundle to a wisp of my own hair.

“The glue is made from tree sap,” he explained, as if that fact was the most natural thing in the world.

I felt detached, as if I were watching a scene from a National Geographic documentary about a situation that is odd and could never happen to me.

Then I remembered that it is me. That this expensive, surreal experience is my life.

Methodically, Jon went about his work. Strands of hair, dot of glue, attach to head. Repeat. I watched the transition, my chemo head disappearing under a canopy of blond. Nodules of glue butted against my scalp, each one attached to wavy prosthetic hair, each one hardening into a rock the size of a pea.

Across the room, I spotted photos of another woman who had undergone the same process, before and after shots. The first showed a nearly bald head. The second showed the same face with long, luxurious hair. They hardly looked like the same person.

“She was my first chemo girl,” Jon told me. “Now you girls come from all over the world. Earlier this week, a lady came from Peru.”

My guilty feelings for having indulged in this extravagance started to abate, and I settled in to watch the process unfold.

Seven hours later, I saw a new me. It wasn’t chemo me. It wasn’t cancer me. It was just… me.

Jon guided me to another chair and the heavy, exotic scent of Moroccan oil filled the air as water caressed my head, my first shampoo in months. Breathing in, I felt like a woman, a normal woman at a hair salon. He combed out my hair, 22 inches of femininity.

When I looked in the mirror, my cancer was gone.

Jon, my transition man, hugged me goodbye.

Flushed with satisfaction, giddy in fact, I picked up my coat, my scarf, and my mittens. But I threw my hat away.

  1. Michele Cone

    Beautiful. The author was so brave to share her vulnerability, and because if that I’m sure others, like me, will keep her in our prayers. Thank you God for people like Jon, reminding us there are light workers among us.

  2. Karen Levy

    Having recently lost my mother to cancer, this story literally had me crying, but in a good way. I felt like I was looking in the mirror during her transformation and was elated at the end imagining the cold wind in her hair. Thank you for sharing such an intimate experience.

  3. Liz Merrill

    The story showed that we can never give up..Life is precious .. There is Hope for everything!!

  4. Becky Madison

    I can’t imagine the combination of emotions the author was feeling–fear, anxiety, shame–and yet hope reigned. The gift Jon gave her was only matched by that of her husband in sending her to him. Beautiful!

  5. Jon Richards

    YOU young lady are a beautiful writer. I remember that day. So much, so much fun and transition from short to normal…Thank you

  6. Jon Richards

    Nancy, what a great story. Congrats on being published. As the old saying goes the squeaky wheel gets all the grease…
    Wonderfully written Nancy. Thank you for sharing…,😎

  7. Cheryl

    Absolutely beautiful Nancy! Jon has touched so many lives and helps woman feel whole again after cancer. I remember crying the day my daughter had her visit with Jon. He turned around the chair and tears of joy rolled down our eyes as we couldn’t believe the transformation. In the mirror I saw my beautiful girl was not going to let cancer define her! He is an amazing sole!

  8. Nicole Gate

    Thanks for sharing! This brought tears to my eyes, as I can relate to the exact person you were describing as yourself! Jon does amazing work! I loved my extensions! I went from an anxiety ridden, unsure person walking in those doors and came out feeling free of cancer and confident! I was back to me!!

  9. Susan St Louis

    What a lovely story, full of hope and sunlight for those who are struggling with pain and gray days. Thank you for speaking of such intimate and difficult feelings, and letting others share your joy. Good luck and stay strong!

  10. Ruth Setlin

    What a beautiful story!! It brought tears to my eyes,It is written so well and the happy emotion shows thru as you regain the person You were before!And happy life starts over .Also your husband gets a award for not being selfish loving you and bringing the girl he married to her happy self Thankyou for sharing. How long does the new hair last? Im going Bald on top I would fly to cold minnesota for a fix..

  11. Corrine Sussman

    I know and respect Nancy, her writing and her ways. I am a licensed esthetician who has volunteered for cancer organizations and has been member of professional beauty organizations. I will share this story and hope readers will be inspired and enlightened.
    Thank you for publishing Transition Man.

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