I Was So Afraid I Would Die


“I was so afraid I would die, you know,” said my barber as I sat in her chair, while she cut my hair.

We all have these moments when we are not in control.

I sat down in the barber’s chair, politely asked her, “How have you been?” and then relaxed as she started her story.

She tied the neck strip, and draped the barber’s cape around my body. “Oh, I just came back from Vietnam. I was visiting my family there, you know. I had just got there, when I started getting pain in my stomach,” she said. “It was so bad, I thought I was going to die. I thought, ‘Am I having a heart attack? I’m vomiting, I have a fever. Why does it hurt so much?'” The scissors clipped my hair as I saw her reflected in the mirror.

“I went and saw a doctor, and he said, ‘You have gall stones, and need to have surgery right now.'” Her eyes were focused on my head as she kept going around the chair, her hands darting and taking off errant hair, the click-clack sounds creating a rhythm, puffs of hair dropping in my lap, onto the barber’s cape.

“I had to go in for the surgery, and I thought – if I die, what will happen to my clothes, my shoes and my handbags? All my things, you know? Back in the United States? Who would take care of them? Where would they go?”

We don’t like to think of what will happen after we are gone, and when we do, there are more questions than answers. Answering these questions requires too many hard conversations with loved ones. So we maintain the patina of normalcy, and don’t have the conversations – unless, of course, we cannot ignore the premonitions of mortality provided by our bodies. Then, all of a sudden, the questions are irresistible, overpowering, suffocating, beating down the carefully maintained door of our consciousness, demanding attention.

“I had my surgery and it went well, and I am back here, you know, but I was so scared of dying in Vietnam.”

As I sat and looked at her reflection, I suddenly saw her as a full human being. Not just with physical scars visible on her body, but also hidden psychological scars on her mind, received through her experiences.

Just like all of us.


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