a Few Words
Published in

a Few Words

Photo by Max Simonov on Unsplash

Bald: A Meditation


At the nursery, in the perennial section, a bald tire sprouts purple coneflowers with petunias mixed in. Cartoon colors — violet, pink, red — sparkle in the sun, against the canvass of the tire’s white-painted surface. The tire sits on the ground, but the soil it contains? I marvel at how that soil is both on top of the ground and part of the ground at the same time. Do the roots of the echinacea grow deep into the earth?


On the I35/I70 interchange, I’m kissing distance from the back end of an eighteen-wheeler. There’s a 12-foot retaining wall on my left, a 70mph SUV on my right, and a pickup riding my bumper. An explosion cracks the whine of traffic. Tire tread hurtles past my windshield. The eighteen-wheeler is machine-gunning tread in all directions. Oh-mi-god. Blowout. Jackknife. Mangled Dawn-corpse. But, no. The behemoth glides across two lanes to the uphill slope of an off-ramp. As I thank my resident guardian angel, the superhero driver brings his big rig to rest on seventeen good tires and a bald one.


In Ottumwa, Iowa, my grandmother wore an auburn wig to church, when she walked there every Sunday to play organ and piano. She wore the wig as she walked all over Ottumwa, spine straight, stride confident, though slightly pigeon-toed. She wore it after a stroke forced her to live with my parents in California.

I found her in our front hallway one day, rattling the doorknob. “What’s wrong, Mon?”

“Get out of my way, I’m walking home.” She rattled until it seemed the door would come off it’s hinges. Her piano hands were strong, her fingers nimble, but she couldn’t work the lock. She was in a wheelchair, wearing sweat pants that would have slipped off her bony hips, if she could have stood. The wig sat askew on her head — a bald-faced lie.


In my bedroom, yesterday, I was the personification of graceful aging.

In the bathroom, today, I am not.

The dreadlocks on top of my head have grown as sparse as patches of grass in a neglected lawn. No. No. No. I can’t be getting bald. I rearrange my hair. It’s probably the light in here. Surely, the downstairs bathroom will prove the upstairs bathroom wrong. It does not. I grab a lotion bottle to fling at the betrayal in the mirror. A brief scent of lavender settles me. My eyes brim. I refuse the tears, along with the baldness.

I crave … anything. Chocolate chip cookies leave me feeling empty, as do handfuls of cashews, followed by chips. Nothing relieves the hunger for lost hair.

The top-of-my-head disaster is really an inside-the-head-problem.

May I steer clear of mental disasters. May I disregard the bald-faced lie of yesterday. When I come to rest in the sun, may my pate sprout petunias and my roots grow deep into the earth.



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Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey writes about love and pain. Her latest book is Blindsided: Essays from the Only Black Woman in the Room. DawnDowneyBlog.com.