A Visit with Walter
The sandwich is a clue. Only a few bites taken out of a roll filled with tunafish. "My wife puts things in it," Walter says, dismissively. It was well after noon and he should have been hungry., but instead his mouth is protesting. "My tongue is funny," he says. Understandably, since he is recovering from several weeks of chemotherapy, during which he dropped nearly 30 pounds. His voice has changed to a lower register, ("sexy," I tell him - but he doesn't warm to my comment.) He is slower in his movements now. But I knew he wanted to meet and had even texted me to ask when could I come into the salon. He offered to improve my wanton graying hair by suggesting a date the next week; after that he would be going to the ocean for the first time since he knew he had restrictions on his schedule, his life.
I was both delighted and flattered to hear from him. To think he took the initiative to reach out when I had not thought he was up to working again. This vibrant talented man, challenged by the prospect of cancer that may or may not have spread, he wanted to join the world again. A definitive test would be coming up in early December, he says.
This is Tuesday in mid-September when I found Walter, my longtime stylist and colorist, a changed man, only very slowly returning to normalcy - and work. He would work only one day a week, he says - Friday. I suspect he had contacted me, knowing I might be good for conversation that would involve lighthearted banter of the kind we had together in the past. Or maybe I flatter myself. I don't know whether I am there for him or for my own need to improve long neglected locks. I sense he is hungry for public life again, for interactions with customers whom he knows appreciate his talent. He has a rare gift, being able to improve and improvise a most unruly part of the body - thinning hair.
He has weakened considerably, relying on outsize amounts of protein and respect for the virtues of plain water. He shows me the tubes of edible protein 'my wife makes me take.'. He holds up his arm to show me the loose skin on his under arms. I sit in the chair while he selectively lathers some blonde dye on my head- nothing that I had asked for but he insists in his own confident manner and reasoning, saying simply 'you will look younger, you are energetic." Yes, at 86, I have an unusual amount of that mysterious force . My old dyed highlights were fading; the back of my head was entirely white."To have the best of both worlds," I say jokingly. He doesn't smile, so I'm not sure his humor is back entirely. I am philosophical about the process of aging and resigned to ignoring some of the vanity involved in 'keeping up appearances.'
But I am there, I realize, to be an agent for his rejuvenation -willingly so.
Walter was always wanting to talk. About his music, his family, his clients, the world. He is an accomplished professional guitar player. Nor is this time any different - no chance of a quiet engagement. I hear only a little about what the last few months has been like. "Terrible' is all he says.
Snip, snip, lather lather.