BIRTH OF A SUPERHERO
My name is Samantha Reeves. At least that is what it used to be before I became the superhero you all know and love. You all may know me better by another name, but for now this is my story of when I was just plain old Samantha.
I was only 22, working in the cosmetics department at Eaton's in Winnipeg when I fell ill. I was in hospital for several days while doctors ran tests on me. I felt nauseous and light-headed most of the time, though by the end of the first week I was feeling better, if not completely well. I watched a lot of TV and read the same stack of fashion magazines over and over. I was worried of dying from boredom if nothing else. None of the doctors that saw me made much of an effort to explain the condition that was keeping me there.
On a Thursday morning another doctor came in to speak with me, a tall gentleman with round, weathered features. I did not recognise him as one of the many working on my case. He introduced himself as Dr. Vallaincourt and shook my hand firmly.
The doctor dropped his hand and cut straight to the chase. "Miss Reeves, I've come here to break some very bad news to you. I'm afraid you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I'm sorry."
The words shot through my psyche like gunfire. My mother had died of the same thing when I was ten. I cupped my hands to my mouth and gasped. I had never thought I would have to think about this sort of thing now, when I was still so young.
Dr. Vallaincourt continued. "I'm telling you this because I want to reassure you that all is not lost. I'm from a special private clinic in Ottawa that specialises in cancer treatments. You're still very early in the development stages, and several of my colleagues think that we can help you. No charge, no pressure."
He produced several documents full of densely written text and a fountain pen. "I will need your full authorisation here. Read these and sign at the bottom and we can leave today." I signed rapidly, without reading the paperwork. I didn't feel like I was going to get any better where I was. My mind was clouded in desperation and terror. I didn't want to die, not like this.
The doctor gathered up the paperwork, smiling paternally. "I'm glad you're co-operating Samantha. I'll be back after your lunch time to take you away. We can stop by your home along the way so you can pack your things." He tilted his head forward and left the room, closing the door behind him.
In the enveloping silence I stared into the mirror across from my bed. I nervously ran my fingers through the ends of my hair and looked across the room, staring my reflection in the eye. I was more scared than I had ever been in my life.
* * *
I boarded the plane with Dr. Vallaincourt and some female attendants that afternoon. Our plane touched down just outside Ottawa in an hour's time. By nightfall I was set up in my hospital suite, which was almost empty except for a ceiling-mounted television, a desk and table and Venetian blinds that I had trouble adjusting. On the desk were some discarded medical textbooks and more old magazines. Like the Talking Heads song goes: same as it ever was.
I used the downstairs phone to call my dad, and my friends back in Winnipeg. I had forgotten to get in touch with them before I left because I was so worried and my thoughts were so scattered. Dad wanted to come see me, but I didn't even know where I was. I told him to wait a few weeks, that everything was going to work itself out. I even called my ex-boyfriend Rick, and gave him the whole story. I told everyone I was sick, but I didn't mention the cancer. It was enough I had picked up and flown several hundred kilometres away without telling anyone. That night I tossed and turned in my bed, wishing the sickness out of my body.
Over the next few weeks I began the first of my treatments. I had x-rays, cat scans, strands of hair removed for repeated hair fibre readings, I was hooked up to all sorts of strange machines that beeped and spat out data on brittle graph paper. All this time I saw very little of Dr. Vallaincourt. Most of my time in the labs were spent with Dr. Fisk, a curt gray-haired woman who didn't talk much. Early on she mentioned something about radiation treatments and hair loss, almost in passing. I was starting to lose confidence in the whole operation.
At night I watched television and re-read the magazines several times over. I tried to use the downstairs phone again but it was gone, the paint very white and obvious where it used to hang on the wall. The receptionist could offer me no explanation as to why it was removed. I returned upstairs and sat at the desk, playing with my hair out of a lack of anything else to do. I was probably going to lose it to chemotherapy, so I figured I might as well enjoy it while I had it. I combed it with the plastic comb which was the only hair care product I had bought with me besides a bottle of Head and Shoulders, and ran it several times through my shoulder-length tresses. It was a bright red, brighter than usual it would seem, though I attributed that to the harsh flourescent lighting in my room. What puzzled me was how easily the comb passed through my hair. It was very wavy and usually snagged easily, but now for some reason I ran the comb effortlessly through it, as if I was dra wing it through water. It felt terrific, but it still seemed bizarre. Little things like this were making less and less sense to me, clouding the overall picture as time went on.
* * *
As Dr. Fisk had casually hinted at previously, I started radiation treatments two days later. I lay in a great metal cylinder for a half-hour at a time, wire coils buzzing all around me. I always felt sick to my stomach and dizzy afterward. Over the first week of treatment my fingernails and toenails blackened and fell out. My skin grew paler and paler, and I sometimes had to lean on whatever was available to keep upright. But my hair never fell out. In fact, it looked healthier than ever. I couldn't figure out why this would be, and neither could the array of doctors that followed me up and down the corridors, chattering endlessly in technical gobbledegook. I squinted in the mirror at the weak stick figure with the great hair, barely recognising myself.
They increased my treatments to twice daily the next week. Just as I had experienced back in the hospital back home, I started to recover, feeling the effects of the radiation less and less. It almost started to feel like being in a tanning salon, my body soaking up the invisible energy. I could walk without aid now, and the colour was coming back to my skin. I had even taking to playfully flirting with one of the younger doctors, a cute skinny blond guy who would smile meekly at me until Dr. Fisk caught him and stared him down. She was quite the mother hen, this woman. I never found out the young doctor's name - in fact I was never told the names of any of these people. No one wore any name tags, and they all refused to tell me their names when I asked. I had only found out Dr. Fisk's name when a nurse addressed her when she passed us in the corridor early on.
Through it all the hair I had worried about so much was thriving. I could spend hours combing it vigorously and it felt amazing for reasons I couldn't describe. It was the only pleasure I was having in this dump. Heck, I was ready to leave, but doctors kept talking me back to my bed, or to the radiation chamber, or the examination table.
I had started getting impatient with the coterie surrounding me. I felt great and I wanted to get back to my life in Winnipeg. I repeatedly asked them to leave, for access to a phone, anything, but was refused every time. Once during my pleading sessions Dr. Fisk sighed in frustration and said "Miss Reeves, cervical cancer is serious business, we must continue with the treatment!"
I stopped in my tracks. "I thought I had ovarian cancer."
Dr, Fisk stepped back. She backpedaled, pretending that nothing had happened. "The point is you are not well. You may feel alright for now, but you need treatment. We can cure you if you co-operate."
After the day's second session in the radiation room I brought up the issue again with one of the doctors, a George Costanza lookalike with a pronounced sniffle. He sniffed and said I had signed documents and that I had to stay for as long as the treatment was needed. I demanded to see the paperwork but he refused to show me a copy. I had never even looked at what the documents said that one time. What had I gotten myself into?
The next morning I awoke to hear voices outside my door. I pretended to keep sleeping in case they came in. I heard the voice of Dr. Vallaincourt for the first time in weeks. All I could make out of the conversation was Dr. Fisk saying I was getting better. "I see," Dr. Vallaincourt replied. He didn't sound pleased at all.
Later that morning I was fiddling with the blinds, trying to close them, and I looked down at the courtyard to see a military officer in full gear patrolling below my window. I stood back in case he looked up and saw me looking down. I was scared all over again, worse than ever now.
* * *
The next day one of the nurses said I was in for a treat, but she wouldn't tell me what it was. I was led to the first floor somewhere in the back of the hospital and left standing outside a lone door. I was not used to being left by myself like this, and I felt naked standing in only my thin hospital-issue dressing gown. I opened the door and went inside.
The room was high-ceilinged, with several wall-covering mirrors and cupboards full of various jars and things. Everything looked new, like it had only been set up days ago. The center of the room was dominated by a large barber's chair. I had a feeling that I would not like this surprise at all.
I heard the door open and swung around to see a thin goateed man in a medical smock. He had barber's scissors sticking out of his lapel pocket. "Samantha, dear, nice to see a fresh face! Sit down, sit down!" He took me by the arm and led me to the chair. He spoke in a high-pitched lisp and flailed his hands in exaggerated movements as he talked. He was every inch the typical gay hairdresser, the kind that always convinced you to take off several more inches of hair than you wanted. My heart was sinking at the thought of what would happen next. People like this guy made me dread my hairstyling appointments.
I sat obediently in the chair while he ran his narrow fingers through my hair. "My god, this is such lovely stuff. The doctors were telling me about the chemo, you poor thing..." The last thing I wanted was this creep's finger in my tresses. I sat stiffly waiting for the inevitable negotiation.
"Well it always grows back, don't worry!" He giggled like a schoolgirl and ruffled the top of my head a little too roughly for my liking. "What I can do is take some of the bulk out and shorten it. The less heavy it is, the less you might lose!"
I started to stand up. "Look I don't think this is necessary..." I had been in this damned place for a month now and I hadn't lost a single hair to the chemotherapy. I didn't see what this was all about. The hairdresser pushed me gently back down into the chair. "Oh, now, now girl, stop fussing. We're gonna have some fun here."
He leaned over my shoulder, looking at me in the mirror, his receding hairline exaggerating his already long rubbery face. "Doctor's orders!" he taunted. I exhaled and slumped in the chair. Oh fine, I figured, get it over with. I promised myself that if I ever got myself out of this mess that I would never sign a contract without reading it ever again. I just wanted to get back home and get back to normal. If letting this ninny go scissor-crazy was part of the bargain, then let's get it over with.
"Oh sweetie, this will be super! You'll love this!" He started describing the high bob cut he was going to give me, but I wasn't listening. I just wanted him to shut up and finish the job.
He brushed the length of my hair into a ponytail, held in his right hand while he pulled out his scissors with the left. "Oh this is such gorgeous stuff! You're such a lucky girl. Well, here we go..."
He placed the jaws of the scissors around my hair and squeezed them together. I screamed in pain, it shot like lightning through my whole nervous system. I jerked forward in the chair and he dropped the scissors on the floor. I stroked my hair, which had not been cut, while the hairdresser picked up his scissors, clearly flustered. "Okay, you're not making this easy for me here, sweetie. Come on."
"You were hurting me!"
He placed a hand on his hip and glared at me, shaking his head. "Dear, I'm cutting your hair, that's all, there's no need to be bitchy about this." I sat back down, still protesting. He hadn't touched any part of my body, but I could feel his blades as if they had been digging into my own skin. I couldn't explain it.
He re-gathered my hair in his hand and placed the scissors around the bundle. "He we go, easy now..." The blades cut into my hair and I screamed. This was real pain. "Stop it, you're hurting me!"
He struggled with the scissors, digging in harder. "Calm down already! Easy!" He couldn't close the blades no matter how hard he tried.
"Stop it!" I felt three hairs sever from my head. Only three. I couldn't explain how I knew. Everything was happening too fast. He squeezed again.
"I said STOP IT!" I felt my hair shoot up and wrap around his wrist, curling tightly around his forearm as he dropped the scissors. My hair clenched tightly and I could hear the bones in his wrist crunching. I jumped from the chair as he howled like a wounded puppy and staggered back.
"My god, you... you... my hand!" He backed up clumsily against the far counter, knocking over several vials and containers, cradling his crumpled forearm tightly against his chest. "How..." I hadn't laid a finger on him. I pulled the hair down around my head, but it stood back up as soon as I released it, as if charged with static. This was all just getting too weird for me to take in.
The door burst open. Dr. Fisk angrily stormed in, followed by another doctor, a large, heavy set man who filled the doorway and blocked my escape. Dr. Fisk was furious. "Miss Reeves, you don't know what you're doing! Get back in the chair!"
Before I could react she grabbed a pair of clippers from behind the hairdresser and turned them on, half-running towards me. "Hold still!" I saw part of my hair shoot three feet in front of me, smacking the clippers from her hand. Tendrils of long red hair were shooting out of my head in all directions now. Stunned, Dr. Fisk stooped to scoop up the clippers but my hair wrapped around her torso and flung her back. She fell on her hip and screamed in pain. The heavy-set doctor rushed me, but the hair twisted around his big torso and flung his body straight up at the ceiling. His head smacked the hard plaster and he flopped down like a rag doll, completely unconscious.
I stumbled backwards into the corner. My hair was crawling over every surface around me, rubbing over the cupboard doors, stretching and brushing the ceiling. I could not control its movements no matter how hard I tried, but I could feel every surface that my hair touched. I was overwhelmed with sensory overload. "What have you done to me?" I looked at the three bodies strewn before me. I could not believe that I had just thrown a man twice my body weight straight up into the air. "Damn you all, what the hell is going on?"
Two more doctors came to the doorway, but did not enter. Dr. Fisk tried to stand but winced under the pressure of her bruised hip. "Samantha, listen to me. We have to remove your hair for your own good."
Remove it? What about the cancer? I was too dumbstruck to answer her, cowering and pushing my body tightly into the corner.
"Samantha, things are happening to you that I know you do not understand. If we don't put an end to this now I can not promise what is going to happen to you."
As she talked I found myself swinging the tendrils of red hair around me. They moved clumsily around me, like numb tentacles, but I could feel their movements falling under my control. "No one is touching me, okay? Stay away!"
Dr. Fisk slammed her fist on the floor. "Dammit you, it's for your own good! Vallaincourt wanted to sedate you and chemically strip your scalp, did you know that? Of course not! I was trying to be humane with you, use some outside help to calm you down..." She scowled and lowered her eyes in the direction of the hairdresser, who was nursing his crushed wrist, mewling and crying. "I was obviously very, very wrong."
She turned and shouted at the lab-coated men in the hallway. "Get her, for God's sake!" The stood motionless. They saw what I had done to the others. Dr. Fisk yelled again. "Do something, dammit!"
I saw the barber's chair in front of me. I focused my thoughts on hoisting that chair in the air. I wrapped my strengthening tresses around the body of the chair and pulled upward. The bolts in the floor slowly started to crack, ripping up the tiles around it. One of the doctors gasped in horror. The hairdresser was looking up in shock, muttering "Oh my god, oh my god," over and over. I strained and pulled harder, and the chair ripped up out of the floor before me, pieces of tile and floorboard exploding everywhere.
Bodies scrambled out through the doorway as I hauled the chair above my head, gritting my teeth with the strain. With all my strength I hurled the chair at the doorway, smashing it loudly and sending wood chips and metal flying in all directions. Part of the wall-length two-way mirror closest to the door fell away in jagged pieces, the observation room behind it exposed for all to see.
I turned around looking for an escape. There was light streaming through under the bottom of the door. I tried to open it but the door was locked. Without thinking, I twined my hair tightly into a rough club and swung, bursting the door clean off of its hinges. The door crashed into the windows across the corridor. I ran out to the windows, looking for a latch to open. I turned to my left and saw two military men running towards me, hands on their holsters. As the first one went to grab me, I pounded him in the chest with my club of hair, downing him instantly. The next soldier approached and I grabbed either of his arms in my hands, but my mere hands were far too weak to overpower him. As he bore down I wrapped my mane forcefully around his throat, watching his eyes pop and roll into the back of his head as he strangled. I slammed his head into the wall over and over, leaving a huge dent in the plaster where his skull crashed into it.
I dropped his comatose body like a sack of potatoes and went back to the windows. I smashed several panes out and managed to leap out to the ground below (I was on the first floor, thank God!) I ran into the open field, hearing people shouting behind me. I ran and ran, as fast as my legs could take me, my hair billowing behind me, and my thin hospital gown flapping every which way. Suddenly I felt my feet leave the ground and my legs flailed into the empty air. Good lord, I was flying! After everything else, now this! Nothing amazed me now.
I flew faster and forced myself high into the air, scared witless of stopping and plummeting to the earth. The wind whistled past my ears and I could feel my hair pushing back, thrusting into the air currents as if I was swimming, brushing against my back and legs.
I heard a familiar voice far behind me and I felt myself stopping in mid-air to turn around. I was shocked to find myself hovering like a cloud several feet over the meadows, the hospital sprawled out below. Several figures scurried below me, mostly dressed in what I recognised to be green army fatigues.
Among them I spotted Dr. Vallaincourt, in his lab coat, waving his arms in the air. I looked down at him, but I didn't shout back. I saw his arms drop. He motioned toward one of the soldiers and he pointed back up at me. The soldier pointed his rifle at me and fired, the others around him joining in. Bullets whizzed past my face. I turned and flew as fast as I could, the gunshots growing fainter and fainter behind me.
* * *
I was on the lam for several months afterward, stealing clothes from washing lines, eating in soup kitchens, figuring out what to do now. I knew I could never go home, back to where I had come from. I cried over it once, but I realised that I had no choice in the matter. I finally found the secret hideaway of the Justice League, where those like me banded together. We were all renegades, blessed and/or cursed with strange powers we could not explain the origins of, but determined to use them for good. It turns out that several of them had met up with Dr. Vallaincourt in similar circumstances, and under different names. He had prevented many people from joining our ranks, their persons disappearing without a trace. No one knew how many people he had destroyed. He is my sworn enemy now, and for as long as I am alive I will do everything in my power to stop him once and for all.
And that, so far, is my story...
CLICK HERE to return to the Hair Tales index