Of Lice and Men: III

"How dare she put my hair in a rubber band," Cole muttered once we were alone. After his diagnosis, we walked dejectedly through the school parking lot and on our way to the car.
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"How dare she put my hair in a rubber band," Cole muttered once we were alone. After his diagnosis, we walked dejectedly through the school parking lot and on our way to the car. We stopped and I took it out. His long, beautiful blond hair returned to its rightful place, braising his shoulders. Now Cole was Cole again. Cole always seemed to derive some machismo pride from his long hair. I assessed the elastic. It was a good one. I dropped it in my pocketbook like a found nickel. I always seem to be short of elastics.

At Starbuck's, Cole ordered a hot chocolate with whipped cream. I got a latte. He chose Jurassic Park at the bookstore, while I got a box of Rid at the pharmacy. I sipped as I read the instructions, and I braced myself. I am a single mom. The battle against the nearly microscopic enemy was mine and mine alone.

At home, I stripped every bed and stuffed the sheets into the washing machine. Holding the aerosol can at a distance, I squinted, turned my head to the side and sprayed the air. I watched uncomfortably as particles of insecticide parachuted through the air and landed on his mattress. I squirted pesticide on his head and then rubbed it in and insisted he sit with it for twenty minutes.

I tried to make de-licing fun. We put on our bathing suits and stood in the shower while I combed out his hair with the pathetic plastic purple comb that came in the kit of Rid. The water hit us and we imagined the panic in the lice population.

"Oh, no!" cried Lisa.
"It's the purple comb, Larry!"
"Hold on Lilliana!"
"I love you, Lucy!"
"I'll never forget you, Lindbrooke!"
"I forgive you, Liam!"
"All is not lost if one or two of us can just...hold on!"
We were sopping and laughing.

Only this wasn't just funny; it was true. If Cole and I were not perfect in our efforts at extermination, the lice would survive.

And multiply.

Our hell lasted all spring. It was a season of itching and bed-stripping. The washing machine was always churning and the dryer whirled all day. Pots on the stove boiled furiously, bobbing with guilty brushes and incriminated combs. I did Rid. Then I did Nix and that didn't work either. I tried other things. I smeared mayonnaise on Cole's hair and wrapped his head in a towel turban. I squirted Cetaphil on his hair and fashioned a helmet of Saran Wrap. I got organic and bought Tea Tree Oil at Whole Foods. I got vengeful and bought a comb with batteries that claimed to electrocute them. Still, Cole itched.

I tried anything that had once worked for anyone anywhere, any time or any how. Except Hair Angels. Other mothers took their kids to the local professionals: The Hair Angels. Other mothers swore by Hair Angels.

They are so thorough! The got rid of the lice -- at once and for all! They did such a good job! And they were so nice!

How much did nice cost? Hundreds of dollars.

Dear Reader: I refused to take Cole to Hair Angels. I would allow nits to drain me of my time, energy and happiness -- yet not my financial resources. There was a rumor that the woman who started Hair Angels lived in a mansion near Griffith Park, purchased with her earnings as a nit-picker.

I'd sooner scalp my son than pay those prices.

My sister has four children. She suggested scissors.

"Just cut his hair," she said.

Yet Cole is as stubborn as I. His beloved stuffed animals began disappearing from our house. I crammed them into Hefty bags, snuck outside and dropped the bags in the garbage bins and tried not to look guilty when the garbage trucks idled, dumped, crunched and churned on our street. I even tossed his fluffy unicorn pillow. I shooed him off every sofa and chased him off every chair. Any child who crossed our threshold was suspect, a possible carrier; I cancelled play dates or locked them outside to play. Sometimes, I failed to tell another mother of the possibility that he might still have lice and sent him on play dates anyway -- and lived in fear. I knew Cole would endure anything, except a haircut.