Two weeks ago, I got a package in the mail that I had been anxiously awaiting. I took a deep breath before unwrapping it, nervous, hopeful. It was like I was carefully measuring hope, not wanting to get TOO hopeful and be disappointed, but still really hoping.
That package was a wig and I have had a complicated relationship with wigs.
When I first took on the mitzvah of hair covering, I actually told my husband, “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wear a wig.” I had good reasons. In my family, riddled with cancer, a woman wearing a wig meant one thing…death. I can remember as a very young child walking in my grandfather’s house to my great Aunt Ruth’s room. There were these little squares of blue and aqua trapped in the linoleum, like a fake version of tiny mosaic tile. I tried to stomp on them with my hard-soled shoes, the shoes that were supposed to be better for walking and I tugged at my tights and my scratchy Sunday dress. I loved my Great Aunt Ruth, but then everyone did. She was a woman who could set anyone at ease and she loved me especially, the only little girl in a family that had once been filled with women.
Those women had been dying off, one after another, each of cancer. I was too young to know.
When I reached her room, I went to her bed where a white nubby bedspread beckoned. It felt good to run my hands over those little nubs in their pattern. There was a sunny window and I moved closer to it, there, on top of a round table was something that frightened me. A blank face stared back at me, without eyes or color and on top…was my Aunt Ruth’s auburn hair! I screamed and cried and my mother came to find me and quiet me.
My Great Aunt Ruth died not long after.
During my childhood, I learned to be an expert at how to behave at funerals and it began to seem normal that my Great Aunts and Uncles died. They seemed so old to me, but now I realize they were my age now or a bit older. A part of that dying process was the wigs. They were like a shadow that settled on the dying woman. I looked at the sheitels Orthodox Jewish women wore and shuddered.
So, I first began covering with scarves. Colorful tichels seemed to speak so much more of life, of vibrancy. However, as I moved into an Ashkenazic community, I wanted more and more to fit in…and fitting in meant a sheitel of my own.
My first sheitel was cute, but scratchy and it always seemed to be trying to escape my head. At a gala, where we were all dressed up, an Israeli woman came up to me and, in characteristically blunt fashion, very pointedly said, “You MUST cut your hair!” I agreed, partly so she would move on. (She was a very nice and kind woman and it was good advice, but at times I felt intimidated by her directness!) My husband, though, didn’t want my thick hair cut short. I hoped my next sheital would be better, but again, it was a scratchy, head-ache inducing mess. I covered my hair for 7 years, with a break in the midst of that. I snuck in my scarves any time I could!
So, I looked down at the box and hoped. I’d ordered this wig specifically because it had a “large” sized cap. Would it be large enough? Would it still fit right? I’d even compromised on the color and style in order to get this “large” cap. I took it out, eyeing it skeptically. Finally, I went and put my hair up. It’s a process to get it all pinned up properly under a wig. I usually make two low ponytails, one on either side of my head, near the nape of my neck and just behind my ears, then twist each one, wrapping it up onto my head where I pin it. Next, I put on a wig cap, which keeps any stray hairs contained, then, finally the wig.
And the wig.
Suddenly, it wasn’t as itchy! I didn’t feel like I needed to tug it back into place when no one was looking! It might not be the most stylish look, but it’s so much more comfortable than I thought it would be!
I have worn my new sheitel now for 2 weeks straight, with a brief break to wash it. I’ve actually chosen it over my scarves. It’s short and easy and matches anything. Plus, it fits better with the community our family are part of. I also like that I blend in more with everyone else and get fewer stares.
I feel like, in some ways, I have finally made peace with that frightened little girl, confronting a wig of death. Letting go of that association has been part of letting go of so many others and being more open to the possibilities life offers.