The Lady in Red

They say that redheads are fiery, tempestuous, moody and sexual, and even though my hair is gray now, I am still these things

Simply red.

Most of my life I had a genetic mutation — red hair. Not light red hair or bright red hair, but more like a deep auburn. I have the blue eyes and fair skin to go with it, though my skin has toughened with age and become more compliant with the sun. At one time, I had constellations of light-brown freckles but I haven't had a new freckle in years; they've mellowed into age spots, but I'm OK with that, and "sun damage" as the dermatologist matter-of-factly says.

My daughter has red hair, too — lush, thick hair with waves. The same kind of hair as mine, but hers is the color of fall leaves. On a cloudy, drizzly day, you can see all the colors, all the different shades of red, and it dazzles. She was born with bright red hair while I was an uninteresting brown/red mix. We both darkened and changed hue with age.

They say that redheads are fiery, tempestuous, moody and sexual. Even though my hair is gray now, I am still these things, but not all at the same time like when I was young. And tempers — redheads have tempers. It's been a long time since I've had a temper tantrum and nowadays I usually calm down before flaring up, unless you count a week ago when a train conductor rudely barked orders at me: "Move your bag!" "Hold the handrail between cars!" "Go to the other door!" until I finally yelled, "Stop telling me what to do! I've had enough of you!" At which point, he slunk away and everyone looked elsewhere rather than at me, the crazy person. That's what happens when you have gray hair.

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A few years ago, a twentysomething with a backward baseball cap nosed his souped-up black car into a parking space that I was obviously backing into. He parked, got out of his car and, with a fuck-you smirk, hitched up his pants, adjusted his cap and strutted into a building as I stared over my shoulder, dumbfounded. I parked my car further away in a lot, waited until the street was empty and keyed the shit out of his car. That will show him not to mess with a gray (formerly redhaired) woman.

Redheads are known for having pleasing pheromones and sweet, musky skin that has a strong smell. Perfumes can smell odd on me so I'm careful and have never worn deodorant (except one time in my life when I had to give a paper as a grad student and then spaced-out during the Q&A because I was aware that I was smell-less).

Supposedly redheads need more anesthesia because they have a lower pain threshold. I have a high pain threshold (two babies, no anesthesia), but I do need a lot of anesthesia, or a frying pan to the head, to knock me out because I am generally distrusting of anything being done to me. (Stubborn: another redhead trait). Redheads also have more allergies, and I do.

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Being a redhead while out and about is a whole other matter. If you live in an urban area like New York City, in addition to the comments from men just because you're a woman, there are a slew of other comments because you're a redhead. Most are lewd, but there are the guys who just say, "Hey red!" and then wink or something like they're in on your secret – whatever that is. Women often want to know if you dye your hair (I've hennaed it over the years to shockingly bright effect), but I'm also asked now that I'm sort of multi-colored gray if I dye my hair or if I have highlights or "low lights."

My red hair didn't vanish suddenly. I never had a big swath of gray growing-in down the center of my head. Rather, the brightest red hair turned gray first, in my early thirties, which I thought of as errant strands (my father was prematurely gray) and a lot more gray came in by my late thirties, virtually eradicating the red and leaving white and brown. I still thought of myself as a redhead but I think I was a little delusional. More than one person referred to me as "ash blonde." Ash blonde!? I am not a blonde! I have a redhead's personality. Dammit!

Now my hair is entirely gray, silver and white. I use a special shampoo to keep the yellow out of the gray hair and it has the cumulative effect of turning the white purplish. I'm tempted to do a purple rinse throughout my hair like in old women's hairdos, though my hair is long and wild — so it would be "ironic," like a hipster thing to do.

I won't mess too much with the color though, because occasionally a friend who never knew me as a redhead says, "Oh look, you have a red hair!"

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