(Published on The Huffington Post July 2, 2015)
I was 12 when my mother sat beside me, nervously cleared her throat, and gave this serious admonishment: I was never to shave my legs. I solemnly nodded but neglected to mention that I secretly had been shaving for more than a year.
My mother never had shaved her legs, mainly because respectable women of the era didn’t engage in such pretentious behavior and also she didn’t have any noticeable hair. On the other hand (or leg), my sudden eruption of hair rivaled a tangled clump of Spanish moss growing on two logs in a hot swamp. At age 11, I endured a cataclysmic growth spurt of such epoch proportions that my legs mutated into furry poles covered with twisted hairballs. All I saw between my plaid skirts and saddle shoes were two mangy pelts that should have been hanging from a trapper’s rope. Within months, my legs were hairy enough to attract nesting rodents.
In my young angst, I noticed that hair was sprouting in other places, too. After a private examination of my changing body, I was convinced that somehow there had been a big mistake and my new carpet of pubic hair wouldn’t stop where it should. I feared that soon there would be one long growth of hair that reached from my crotch to my ankles. My World Book Encyclopedias didn’t provide any answers, except to show freaky photos of bearded women in the circus. I inspected my chin and didn’t see any beard but decided I had to act.
Our small home only had one bathroom, so we all stored our toiletries in the cabinet beside the sink. That’s where I saw my father’s razor and made the decision to attack my fur. Looking back, I’m mortified that I resorted to such drastic measures, but there was no time to waste. Summer was coming I didn’t want to resemble a monkey in shorts.
The first attempts were painful as I scrapped the stubborn hair from my legs. Nicks and cuts bled onto the floor, and I quickly blotted the wounds with toilet paper. I saw a bottle of aftershave tonic so I smeared some on my battered legs. That’s the first time I learned how to scream in silence. I cleaned up the mess, returned everything to the cabinet, and hobbled to bed. The next day I read the bottles more closely and decided I would use shaving cream and warm water, as soon as the scabs healed.
I perfected the routine over the next few months and was proud of my smooth, long legs. I noticed my mother was buying more razor blades, and she mentioned that my father’s beard was getting so mature and healthy that the blades were wearing out faster than normal. Again, I solemnly nodded, secretly delighted that my legs no longer belonged on a buffalo.
Disaster stuck in late July. I broke my leg and needed a plaster cast from my knee to my toes. I worried about what was happening beneath the cast and inspected the casing daily for tuffs of fur that might emerge while I continued to shave the other leg. After two months, it was time to remove the cast. I nervously sat on the doctor’s examination table with my legs stretched out in front of me. My mother focused on the cast to be sure the doctor’s noisy saw wouldn’t accidentally cut off my leg. Finally, the plaster broke apart, and we all gasped as we saw the grim limb. The leg was twice as small as the other leg, the muscles had disappeared, and the skin was buried beneath a carpet of black, wayward pubic hair. I would have run away, but my leg was too weak.
“Oh, dear,” muttered my mother. “Do you think the dark cast caused all that hair to grow? I read in Reader’s Digest that strange things can happen like that.”
The doctor looked at me and noticed my panicked expression. He winked.
“Sometimes hair does grow without reason,” he said with authority. “This will probably be gone within a few days.”
He was correct. That hair disappeared before morning. The mangy mess almost clogged the toilet, but I shaved it off and limped to bed. Dr. Scheele passed away several years ago, but I often think of him and smile.