Aging Grays-fully

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I was a few months short of my twenty-eighth birthday the day that I found my first gray hair, the whitish, stick-straight strand defiantly poking out from the top of my head. Once I recovered from the shock and the sting of plucking the solitary offender, I pledged full-out warfare against a bold and tenacious enemy: the ravages of age. Although at twenty-seven, getting old seemed far off, the inevitable passage of time and the physical decay it would bring suddenly popped my youthful bubble. In response, I committed to action, sooner versus later.

While I was far from needing a full-on dye job quite yet, I responded to the call like a stormtrooper. I adopted measures designed to stave off the other signs of aging. Within months, I had committed to a skin care regime of a full compliment of Mary Kay products: toners, cleansers, moisturizers, and eye creams. Slathering on the thickish goop morning and night, I hoped that the wrinkles just under the surface heard me loud and clear: GO AWAY! And having seen pictures of Mary Kay herself, by then in her seventies, these products must be potent. Her skin was a smooth as a baby’s behind! As weird as it sounds, I could only hope for such a result.

While my skin, bathed in a dewy glow, held its own, my hair steadily lost ground. By the time I hit thirty-two, the grays, abundant and stubbornly protruding despite gel and other extreme measures, overwhelmed the rest of my now-fading, once-dark brown hair. In the initial stages of haircoloring, one stylist tried some highlights in an effort to camouflage the lighter strands but it was futile. The whole head approach was the only way to go.

I now realize I have religiously dyed my hair every 4-6 weeks for thirty years. Initially, I was able to manage with the economical at-home variety of hair color. But there came a point when no amount of Clairol Nice and Easy was enough to mask the problem. When I finally gave up, my hair was more than fifty percent gray, which coincidentally coincided with my fiftieth birthday. I passed the hair dye baton to my hairdresser, Cathie, who, by now, had been with me for twelve years. In hairdresser years, that’s like forever.

For over more than a decade, we’ve played with color–a tinge of auburn, a hint of ash, a little bit of dark blond. One of our early experiments made me as coppery coiffed as any member of Celtic Woman. So much so, that when, on one of our many Irish adventures, Tim and I stopped for gas in Bantry, County Cork, Ireland and the attendant asked me, “Where are your people from?” My green eyes coupled with my raging red locks denied my Italian roots.

I stumbled over my words while I tried to come up with an answer that made sense, or not. “Uh, uh, Avellino?” He took a minute to process the comment. “You’re not Irish? You have such light eyes and red hair?” As a pretend Irishwoman, I was pleased but, when I returned home from the trip, Cathie toned my hair down to a boring light brown, restoring me to something more ethnically generic.

Yesterday, I went to see Cathie armed with pictures of hairstyles. The pandemic has made me itchy to try something new. I swept my finger over the screen of my iPhone. I could tell she was not impressed with any of the choppy, short styles. Her comment: “You’re showing me a few things here? Do you want to do gray or cut off your hair?” I knew that doing both in one session would be more than I could handle. But the idea of going gray had been tugging at me and my ever expanding roots. Was it time?

Hours in the making, and three refills of dye and countless strips of foil later, I embarked on my life of gray hair. I wondered if I was giving up on pretending to be young, waving the white flag of surrender, in the form of steely, silvery hair. Like pretending to be Irish, pretending to be young was equally fraudulent. As for the total gray switch-over, I wasn’t there quite yet. The whole process takes time and, in the midst of the conversion, I could always change my mind. But, for now, gray hair was my fate.

When I walked out of the salon, my hair, previously medium brown, sported a light blonde-pearly color, designed to blend with the one inch roots that would become my new permanent hair color eventually. As I approached the car where Tim had been waiting twice as long as my appointment should have taken, he looked pissy. More importantly, he didn’t say anything about my hair, twenty shades lighter than a few hours earlier. Later, he said he didn’t want to upset me because, clearly, the color did not take.

Tim didn’t look any less shaken when I told him I was letting my hair go gray. I’m not sure he likes the idea, but judgment coming from someone who has had gray hair since he was thirty falls flat in my book. In the meantime, I’ll keep slathering on the moisturizer in the hopes that a youthful glow and a wrinkle free face belie the passing of time and the painful truth inherent in full mane of gray hair.

And, unlike getting old, if I don’t like it, I can always change my mind.

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