My hair is gray. I know this. My husband knows this. Carmine, who colors my hair medium brown with red highlights every few weeks, knows this. Anyone who looks closely at my roots a week or two after Carmine does her magic knows this. It is an open topic among my friends -- how almost all of us color our hair.
The question isn't why; of course we dye our hair. The question is for how long. Do I want to be like Mrs. Lafreedi who lived down the street in my hometown and who dyed her hair jet black well into her 80s? We laughed at her.
Many years ago I asked Richard, my former hairdresser, if it was time to think about letting myself go gray. He just looked at me -- was he hearing right? I said, Richard, how many women have you taken through this? The half-inch roots stark against the deep color. The spiky short haircut needed to get rid of the remnants of dye.
Two, he said. I think two. He'd been doing hair for 30 years.
Still, I know the time will come. And of course there will be the cries of astonishment at the transformation. Will they see me as one of those chic older women who flagrantly announces she doesn't have to live by the rules anymore? Or will I just be suddenly an old lady.
Nora Ephron wrote in "I Feel Bad About My Neck" that hair dye had "changed everything." That it is the most powerful weapon older women have against the youth culture, one that "actually succeeds at stopping the clock..."
But forever? And now Nora is lost to us, too.
Some years ago, a close friend of mine got tired of having to restore her hair to resemble the beautiful strawberry blond she'd been born with, so she let it go. A few months later, her husband asked her in a sweetly embarrassed way if she would mind putting off this transition for a while. She did. At the time her husband gained this concession, his hair was mostly gone and the wisps that were left were - well -- gray. These days, my friend is neither a redhead nor a gray-head -- she's beautifully blonde.
I wake up thinking about this in the night. I think about what my husband would think if I grayed myself. Would it change the way he thinks about me? Or change the way he thinks about himself? I am thinking these days about what time I have left and what I should do with it and what I will need and how things will go. I think, won't I be lucky if I don't have to go gray the hard way, by first losing my hair from chemo?
The night hours have become my time to wander through the terrain of my life. I lie there, sometimes for hours, sometimes until dawn. I start off with daytime worries, about money, or work, or the friend I should have called last week. I move on to other obsessions: my uncle and what he went through during the war; the safety of a child.
Many times, though, I think about whether or not to go gray.
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