I used to wish that my hair was lighter. Or thicker. Or had extra red highlights. I wanted it to curl more, or less. What I failed to appreciate was that it was beautiful. It was a flow of brown, shot through with rays of blonde and auburn, and it shone in the sun. It changed shades almost imperceptibly as the light shifted. It wasn’t lesser than anybody else’s hair. It was glorious. It was the hair of youth.
I notice this all now, of course, because it’s sprouting gray. At first, it was just a few strands above my left temple. I plucked them out with my fingertips and no one was the wiser. But then the originals had babies, and those babies had babies until my gray felt like a pack of rabbits, endlessly multiplying on my scalp. I knew I was in trouble the usual way: when my hairdresser, Israel, said, “Sweetheart, have you considered highlights?”
Have I considered them? Does hair grow? Of course, I want to look my age, and that cannot possibly mean a salt-and-pepper head. Because I am young, you see. In my mind’s eye, I am always merely a hop, skip and jump past 21. The real me does not have wrinkles tracing fine lines from the sides of her nose to the edges of her lips. The real me does not need glasses to surf the Web on her iPhone.
The real me was born January 18, 1968, but is no-way, no-how 45 years old.
So it seems my follicles must be mistaken. They are giving in prematurely. They are wimping out. After all, I look at the 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds around me. They are as blond, red-headed and brunette as college students.
In a culture that stubbornly prides itself on throwing everything out in the open, it turns out there is a secret: Aging is not reserved for senior citizens. We’re faking it. All these pre- and post-menopausal women with nary a speck of gray in their hair are undergoing serious transformation at the salon. It’s the only answer, the only way.
And so, my newest amusement in religious services these days, when I’m supposed to be lost in prayer or contemplation, is studying the heads of the women around me. Does she dye her hair? Does she highlight? Does it make her look younger? Older? Bizarre?
Inevitably, there’s a lone dame or two with a head of silver. I consider: Does she look distinguished or grandmotherly? Classy, or kooky? Would I allow that, one day, to be me?
Meanwhile, the gray procreates. I could go back to Israel, sigh and say, “Do what must be done.” I haven’t. As with most decisions, it’s complicated. First off, I’m cheap. I can’t bring myself to shell out that kind of cash to a salon. I’m also pinched for time. I see how long those women have to sit there, flipping through magazines with their hair sandwiched in squares of aluminum foil. Not one of them is ever on a laptop, so I guess that kind of thing is considered déclassé, working and all during pampering time.
Then there’s the chemicals. I’m cleaning my house with a homemade concoction that does not harm the earth but that cannot hold a candle to Formula 409. It seems to defy logic to put that much effort into scrubbing a bathtub only to turn around and dump all kinds of horror on my head.
But ultimately, it comes down to reality. I’m getting older. There’s no denying it. If I color my hair, I will still get older, only with a brighter head. Is that necessary? I honestly don’t know. It might be. My mother-in-law let her hair grow gray when she was my age, and by the time she was 50 she looked 75. She began dying it after a few years, and decades dropped away. I can attest to this. I’ve seen the before and after photos.
So I am not out for martyrdom. In ten years, I may once again be a vibrant brunette. But first, I want to see what transpires. I will let the gray bunnies do their thing. They will take my hair and my face to a place they have not gone before. I fear they will come bearing premature hints of the grave. I hope they will bring me beauty of a new variety.
Either way, this time, I will pay attention. I will appreciate.