Phyllis Green

When the surgeon said she was going to carve out or possibly slice away one of my pearls I suddenly felt the need to preserve them. I was never one to flaunt my upper body, never showed cleavage, but I was a preservationist, hell I even made jelly and canned green beans. The only thing I ever tossed around was my orange mane and I tossed it like crazy. My red hair was thick and lustrous, long and voluptuous just like those models on TV. And I may be plain Janie Tibbits but man, I could swing that hair.

          My paying job had been axed (sales down, massive lay offs) so my health insurance went Cobra. I called photographers and found I couldn’t afford them. My pitiful savings would have to be used for rent, Cobra, and important things like Cheetos, dulce de leche ice cream, and pumpkin pie with cool whip.

          So that’s how I ended up being a life model for a day. The instructor told me she’d pay $75 and I could have the pick of the drawings. My body would be preserved and immortal.

          Yeah so me, this modest gal, this maybe mousy gal, with the swinging red hair was going to take off all my clothes and walk out in front of these art students and pretend like it didn’t bother me like I’m not shy like a baby dove or a newborn fawn.

          I slowly disrobed in the ante room. My white blouse was pulled over my head; my jeans got tugged off and dropped. I slithered out of the white lacy underpants, sloughed the Nikes, peeled the white socks, unhooked the last covering–my sensible white cotton hold-‘em-in bra, and draped it on the chair. Quickly I covered the pearls with my fingers then realized they couldn’t be protected now. It was ShowTime.

          I peeked out. They were waiting, tapping the charcoal, straightening the large off-white papers on their easels, shifting in the wooden folding chairs, whispering to their neighbors, laughing, clearing throats, somebody sniffled, and I panicked because I saw someone I knew. Is it him, is it him?

          Clayton Middleton! Who knew he drew? Oh god the last thing I said to him was, “You’ll see my naked body when I’m dead and buried and maybe not even then!”

          I grabbed my purse and maniacally rummaged for my sunglasses. Of course they were at the bottom and now tissues and lipsticks, Q-Tips, breath mints, quarters, pennies, cell phone, keys, and paper clips were all over the floor. But I didn’t care about that. I looked in the mirror. Oh god, my hair. He’d know me in a second by my hair. Why had I flaunted it so? Everybody in a ten-mile stretch knew this hair.

          I grabbed my blouse and held it in front of me as I stood in the doorway and signaled the instructor. I had to whimper to get her attention. “JUDY!!!!!!”

          “Where have you been?” Judy asked. “The class is waiting.”

          “Scissors?” I pleaded like a besieged little piglet, running in place, shivering and chilled, barely covered by my white blouse.

          “Why?”

          “SCISSORS NOW!” meek little me screamed.

          Judy brought scissors.

          “Five minutes,” I said. “Just give me five minutes.”

          I slipped into the grimy black and white bathroom, locked the door, and pulled my gorgeous hair to the top of my head and then I lopped it off. It wasn’t happening in one fell swoop. No, it was thick and I had to snip snip away and so I got it to about one inch in length and then I carefully cut it in sections, close to my head, sure I missed a few little wisps but I got it pretty close to bald. Hell it was going to fall out anyhow. When I finished the bathroom looked like an orangutan had been slain in there.

          So bald me, without my unbelievably breath-taking, award winning, community-praised red hair, and wearing my tiny round sunglasses that barely covered my eyes, walked out among the art students looking like a naked Mrs. Potato Head.

          I went into my first pose sitting on the platform with my arms on my knees trying to look like I did this all the time. And I began to wonder why I was doing this. Was my body more important than my life? Wouldn’t it be better to live with a deformed body? I thought of all the people who died young. Anne Frank, at 15. I have ten years on her and I feel sorry for myself. Lou Gehrig, 37. And he suffered so. Mozart. Look at him. Dead at 35. And I never composed a symphony. Heck I never even sang in the shower. I never even sang the national anthem. I was always a hummer.

          When I moved into my next position, a full frontal with my arms like I was cheering on a football team and wondering how long I could keep that pose without cramping, I realized I had never loved a mountain! My mother used to read me this long poem before I went to sleep. It was “Loving a Mountain” by Judith McCombs.

          It begins “Loving a mountain is not
          easy. You will have to take it, stone
          by stone, into your hands & your skin
          & into the space in your head that is prepared
          for mountains …”

          and I had never climbed one or loved one. So what was I doing here worrying about the little bells on my chest? In my time on earth and I hoped it would be long, long, long, I was going to have to do things, important things, like loving people and singing in the shower and talking with my Grandmother and finding out how she and Grandpa fell in love and what they did on their first date (important things like that) because suddenly I knew what was important. And as I was thinking these great thoughts I noticed 1. My shoulder hurt like hell and 2. Clayton Middleton was waving at me. So he recognized me after all? I responded by looking right through him as if he wasn’t there. He waved more enthusiastically. Gee Clayton, I thought, why don’t you stand on your head so I’ll notice you? Yep, I’m a bitch.

          But a bitch that wants to survive. I wish I could say that when the session was over I refused the check from Judy and the generous tips from the artists and I said “No thanks, I won’t need any drawings” but hey, I’m human, and broke, and I’m vain enough to want to hang those drawings somewhere, maybe I’ll share them with Grandma when we have our talk.

          Because right now if I can get the kinks out of my knees and shoulders and finally get clothes on, I’m off to the Pound. Going to buy me a furry bundle of puppy. I want someone to take care of and someone who will lick my toes when I’m feeling icky with the chemo and mostly someone to love and live for, plus my friends and folks of course and plus that special guy I’ll meet some day (Clayton Middleton, you need not apply).

          And maybe, just maybe, I’ll love a mountain someday or write a symphony or fly an airplane or throw a penny in the Fountain of Trevi. Wish me luck. And look for me. Everywhere. You’ll recognize the hair.

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