Hair turning gray is natural. Until it happens to you. In her early fifties, when my mother first saw silver sprouting at her temples, she dyed her hair a shade she called "Diane Sawyer Blonde."
"I was a blonde when I met your father," she insisted. Strange. I could've sworn Mom was brunette. Neither my father nor I objected. Mom was a stunning ash blonde and her weekly pilgrimages to the beauty salon were sacred. The only time I questioned her choice was when I visited her retirement community in Boca Raton. When I called out "Mom" at the crowded pool, two dozen Diane Sawyers waved back at me.
Flash forward twenty years. Mom was in her late seventies when her doctor delivered the news no woman wants to hear. "You have to stop coloring your hair," he said. "You're allergic to the dye."
Mom was in total denial. Allergic to hair dye? That's like being allergic to oxygen! She hadn't seen her natural hair color in almost a quarter of a century. Who knew what was under her double-processed, $120 dye job? She worried that going gray would make her look "old," a fate to be avoided at all cost in Boca and all points West.
"Old is for people in their eighties," she said.
Finally, Mom relented and, to everyone's amazement, her hair didn't come in gray. It was a dazzling, gleaming platinum. Like a brand new Lexus. But soft as a cloud. Friends and family gushed, "You look gorgeous!"
That's when I decided I will never cover my gray, which, of course, is easy to say when you're fortysomething and already helping Mother Nature along with blonde highlights.
I had always wore my curly, dark-blond hair long and looked forward to going au naturel in the manner of singer Emmylou Harris. And I had a fallback. If not 100% gray, I would emulate Bonnie Raitt, who sports a blazing white streak on her forehead and dyes the rest of her long mane an audacious red. I'd be loud and proud.
Then, one day, I looked in the mirror and there they were. The enemy! Not shining, platinum threads like Mom, but dull, gray, wiry hairs that looked as if I had Brillo implants. Highlights wouldn't cover them. I had three choices: Go gray; dye my hair; or have a large-brimmed hat surgically attached to my scalp.
I caved and joined the ranks of 99% of my female friends, camouflaging my first gray hairs. "It looks so natural," they said of my L'Oreal Paris Medium Natural Blonde. "Because I'm worth it." But I knew. I was a fake.
Whenever I wavered, friends reminded me that "we" looked so much younger than our peers who had let themselves "go." But, then, I'd see a stunning woman with shoulder-length gray or white hair and I'd go out of my way to tell her how great she looks. Could that be me?
After several years of covering my gray hair, I finally got the nerve. I stopped dying it and waited. And waited. "You're crazy," said my oldest friend who dyed her hair a sizzling shade of red. What I saw in the mirror, after several agonizing months, wasn't Emmylou Harris or my mother. But it wasn't me, either. And it certainly wasn't a new Lexus.
I went back to coloring my hair myself. The cashier at CVS was always happy to see me. But I still have a vision of a Future Me with pure white, shining hair down to there and, just maybe, a lavender streak to make people wonder. Does she or doesn't she?