It was about 5 p.m. on an October afternoon. I was early for work so I decided to hang out at the coffee shop downstairs. A friend of mine was working so I decided to chat with him. He wanted to step outside for a cigarette so I followed. I was trying to quit so I thought this would be a good test of willpower if I could refuse a cigarette. I refused and chewed gum.
We began to talk about high university tuition fees in Canada amongst many other things. He told me he was from Syria which I didn’t know and then told me he lived in London for some time. His stories were amazing. He had come to Canada with nothing and had to start from scratch. Can you imagine starting your life over from scratch in a new country? New language? New culture? I can’t imagine its difficulties and challenges but I admired his persistence and drive to succeed. He had been accepted to Concordia University, he was going to study…ummm…the business I think he told me.
We were huddled under the coffee shop’s sign because it was pouring rain outside (I didn’t want my hair to get wet but the company was good so I stayed) when all of a sudden this blond curly haired, blue-eyed homeless man came running up to us asking if he could hang out under the sign with us for shelter. We reluctantly accepted.
The man was speaking loudly, yelling almost and getting closer to me (I don’t like when people are too close to me) so I moved closer to my friend. The man was talking about the money he was making a day, a week, and in a year. My friend and I were wondering why he was homeless and asking us for change if he made so much money but, like some homeless, mental issues, drugs, and alcohol are an issue so we just played along. He asked for again for a change and unfortunately, we both paid with plastic so we told him we didn’t have any. This, this is the moment that will be forever etched in my memory.
He pulled a gun on us.
I nearly shit my pants.
My friend grabbed me and moved me behind him (a heroic move I must say) and after an exchange of words between the two (I don’t know what was said I was so fucking scared, I thought I was going to get shot in the stomach on Maisonneuve Street downtown Montreal). We ran inside and locked the doors to the coffee shop. My heart was beating out of my chest. I felt like throwing up (my worst fear, throwing up). I was on the verge of having a panic attack. I sat down in the back of the coffee shop and began breathing exercises. This was the only way I knew how to calm myself down a tiny bit. So I was breathing. Breathing. In and out. Breathing. In and out. Breathing didn’t fucking help, I thought I was about to die!
My friend managed to call the police. I, still frightened, sat there as pale as a ghost about to yack. Worst of all, I needed to go to work in one hour to teach Chinese students some English. I was clearly in no shape to go to work but, duty called. I needed to come to my senses. I had half an hour to so. I sat there, shaken up pretty badly.
After the whole fiasco was over, I had to return to my table and pack up my things. Everyone was looking at me as if I head 5 heads growing out of my neck… I hated that feeling so I threw everything in my black Italian leather bag I got while on my trip to Florence and ran out of the coffee shop quickly and went straight to work.
I looked around to see if the psycho was still around but he was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t feel very safe going to work that night, especially knowing that I would be alone in the classroom with only one student. What if something happened to us, I would have to be the “brave adult” but fuck, I probably would have been more scared then the kid. I couldn’t think about these things. I sat down, took my teaching material out of my bag and pretended as if nothing had happened.
After teaching for a few hours (the longest hours of my life!) I quickly walked in the dark to the metro station which was not very far from the building I worked in. Ran downstairs where it was light and hopped on the Metro. My boyfriend was waiting for me at the exit when I got to my stop and he accompanied me to his home.
That night, any noise would frighten me. I couldn't sleep and every time I closed my eyes I saw that psycho's face. Traumatized, I always run home when it's dark and I'm done working late.
Needless to say, today was the day I nearly got shot by a homeless man.
It was a cold-ish November day, about a week after my mom’s birthday (I remember because we had to go to my cousin’s for a late birthday dinner for my mom that evening). My sister and my brother-in-law had decided that they needed to step out to go Christmas shopping for their kids at the mall. I needed a haircut so I figured I would tag along and go get a trim. I knew the hairdresser and he knew how I liked my hair, pin straight, and square.
I sat down on the chair. He put the batman cap on, you know the one that chokes you every time they put the damn thing on. We then went to wash my hair (the most uncomfortable part of the whole process. It feels as though your neck is about to break and that a river of water will flow down your shirt. Freaks me out every time.
We returned to the chair and he started to part my hair. Combing slowly and making sure everything was equal (I’m the kind of client that will have a panic attack after getting my haircut if it’s not extremely straight. Getting my haircut gives me severe anxiety in general). He then looks at the reflection of my eyes in his mirror and tells me “Anik, you have alopecia”. I laughed and said, “No I don’t, my mom has that, not me!” Little did I know that what I was referring to was actually called Rosacea. He parts my hair again and shows me while saying convincingly “you have alopecia!”.
I leaned forward in the chair to get closer to my reflection, my glasses were off and my vision wasn’t the sharpest. I squinted a bit…and there it was. A big bald patch of skin in the middle of my head. I couldn’t believe it. He told me to touch it, I didn’t want to touch that! I was fucking freaking out! Thinking to myself “Holy shit, this is it, I will have to shave my head. Fuck. What do I do? Where’s my mom? I need to call my mom!”
What could I do except sit there and proceed with the haircut? Nothing.
So I sat there.
I began to cry. My Lucious brown thick hair was falling out at an uncontrollable rate and causing bald patches on my head. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. Was I dying? Did I have cancer? Was I sick? WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME!
He hurried the haircut and I left the hair salon with bloodshot eyes walking frantically through the mall trying to find my sister. I found her in a girly kids store. She looked at me and before she could utter speak I told her we needed to go home NOW! She got upset and told me to calm down, that they needed to finish shopping, blah blah blah. My heart was pounding. I was on the verge of having a severe panic attack and collapse in the middle of pink clothes and glittered hairbrushes (the sight of any hair accessories only increased this feeling). I pleaded her to take me home to my mom. Reluctantly, she agreed.
We got into the car and she finally asked: “what’s wrong with you?” I began to cry again and parted my hair without saying a word. She looked quietly and said “oh! I had that when I younger, it’ll grow back”. I couldn’t believe that once again, she was downplaying how I felt about something that gave me great anxiety.
We finally got home. The five-minute drive felt like an eternity (we hit every god damn red light on the way home). I rushed inside and yelled for my mom. Where was my mom? I needed MY MOM. She came downstairs into the kitchen where I was standing sobbing, once again. She asked me “what’s wrong with you?” And again, I parted my hair quietly and she, to my surprise, got very worried. She touched the bald patches. I don’t know how she did it, I didn’t want to touch that alien skin…I knew it was mine but, I don’t know, I can’t explain it, it’s like it wasn’t mine.
She took me to the bathroom and she looked at it closely without anyone around telling us that I was fine and it would grow back. My mom knew how I was. She knew what caused me anxiety and she didn’t always have the answers to solve my panics but she would be damned if she didn’t try to help.
I remember her being sad. She cried. I cried. We didn’t know what was causing my hair to fall out. A week later I went to the wonderful doctor (he was cute, it made me feel slightly better about going there…). I showed him my hair and he told me I had Alopecia. What the fuck is Alopecia I thought to myself. He proceeded to tell me something about an autoimmune disease and that there was nothing I could do to change it. He also told me that stress could, in turn, cause my hair to fall out. I thought…GREAT! I’m always stressed. I will be bald in a matter of no time. I panicked. Crying in front of my cute doctor…what I fool I was but, I was terrified.
He gave me two options. To get needles in my head that would promote hair growth in the areas affected or…to let the hair grow back. “So, it’s either I get needles in my head or I let my hair grow…what…the…heck, DO I DO?!”
I let it grow back. I was embarrassed. The spots were so big that if I let my hair down people could notice them so, I would always tie my hair up. But there was a catch. I had another spot behind my ear and when I tied my hair up, that one would show. There was no winning so, I had to take the lesser of two evils. The hair was always up.
Since then, I’ve developed a complex. I hate when I see hair on the floor in the bathroom or in the shower or in my hand while I wash it, so, I close my eyes and sing loudly to myself. I hate when people touch my hair. It causes me anxiety. I’m scared that it will all fall off like leaves in autumn, one gust of wind and there goes all of Anik’s hair. Silly fears, I know. But I can’t help it. I hate brushing my hair, it pains me to straighten it or even touch it myself.
It’s a terrible thing that hair on someone’s head defines who they are. I look up to girls who are brave enough to shave their heads and I deeply sympathize with the children, girls, and women who lose their hair due to cancer or other illnesses. It’s like losing your identity. And I know this is not a healthy way to think but I can’t help it and I’m sure the women who’ve gone through this can’t either. The anxiety and the depression it brings when I get new bald spots is something I would not wish on my worst enemy (not that I have many)…
This is my Alopecia story.
He was much taller then I was (I’m 5’8’’), very thin with a strange haircut. Maybe it was strange because his hair was so curly that he knew no other way of making it look “cool” other than with this haircut. His eyes were a warm brown and shinned through his Hunter S. Thompson-like glasses (without the green tint). His long arms always knew how to make me feel at home. He had long legs too, strangely long but somehow, his awkward body shape worked for him.
He listened to terrible 80s music and made fun of whatever I liked (mind you, not everyone likes Black Metal) which I let slide by. We’d sit on his brown leather sofa and sip our sparkling water vodkas and talked about pointless things that got us nowhere. You know, those useless conversations you have with the guy you like because, well, you want him to think you’re interesting...or something. He thought I was, at least for a little while.
He was 38 and I, 26. We worked for the same shitty people yet somehow found laughter in our miserable jobs. We’d hang out with his odd and depressive friends (as most were mentally unstable, alcoholics or just fucked up) and I remember thinking to myself that I hated every moment of being with these people but, when I saw his face light up when he was with them, I’d convince myself to stay 10 more minutes.
We’d go eat Chinese food at this crowded restaurant and we’d watch television huddled on his couch. He’d talk about his past only when he was drunk and I would sit and listen as tears flowed down his face. He didn’t have it easy, but who did?
He would tell me how he wanted to make art and he thought that I could inspire him. I was completing my Master’s in Art History and loved art very much. I had these ideas and thoughts and convictions about art that I was dying to share with him. Have heated debate on what we thought “art” was and what “good” art consisted of but all we did was…talk about pointless things. You know, the conversations you have with someone when you don’t care about what they have to say. So, you sit there and nod your head and agree.
It was the beginning of summer, cuddling season was over and he told me I was too young for him. After months of courtship the truth came out, I had been used. I wasn’t heartbroken. I wasn’t even sad. I was just dumbfounded. The kind of dumbfounded that just makes you say “What? What the fuck? Really?….WHAT THE FUCK!!" I could not believe that I had let this happen to me. That I had allowed a man to enter my life (rarely did I let people in) and allowed him to take what he needed and walk out as if the door was already opened and waiting for him to exit.
I stopped speaking to him. I stopped wanting to “reconnect” which we all know means “wanna fuck one more time?”. I let go. I no longer cared for him. His desire to be an artist. The music he made or the parties we'd attend. A few weeks later, however, I realized something. I realized that I had truly appreciated this man in my life and even though our discussions weren't profound or as philosophical as I had hoped, he taught me to be more vigilant with the people who enter my life. That some people out there are vampires and will just suck your energy out and leave with a smile on their face.
I was grateful for the lessons learned even if it meant wasting months with someone who was entirely wrong for my person.