Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Gray Area

Click here, then read.

The semester is finally over: I’ve submitted final grades for a jillion students, I’ve put everything that had anything to do with Spring Semester 2012 away, and I can turn now to my future: gearing up to leave for Minnesota next week, and prepping for my summer classes. I have new teaching software to learn, my school is ripping away e-mail as we know it and replacing it with something newfangled, and…did I mention I’ll be going to Minnesota next week? For ten days? To stay with my parents in the little house on the scary?

It’s no wonder that I’m finding more and more gray in my hair.

I’ve often been accused of dying my hair since it’s stayed so dark and healthy for so long, but I never have. For now I just use my black Sharpie marker to color the grays that pop up and out in front, and I live with the knowledge that very long gray hairs grow from the back of my head, out of my Sharpie’s reach.

I was sitting at the sushi bar with Manfriend last week, telling him about my increasing number of grays.

“You can’t even see them! Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Just don’t grow one of those skunk streaks.” Manfriend moved his hand to demonstrate where the offensive skunk streak should definitely not appear, dragging his fingers around his own hair as if smearing white manure into it. He screwed up his face. “You don’t wanna look like Cruella.”

I cleared my throat. “Well, my grandmother Lotus had a white streak and my oldest sister has one too, and I have a patch on the left. I mean, it’s growing like that now.”

Manfriend shrugged. “Whatever. You’ll look fine.”

I stuck a piece of salmon in my mouth and wondered how a man could go from warning me about the worst possible stinkiest rottenest thing he could imagine regarding my hair to saying it didn’t matter.

Then last night, after my shower had washed most of my Sharpie ink out, I pulled my hair back into a ponytail only to see all of my gray in front—each hair about three inches long, since I’m letting it grow now instead of plucking it out—standing on end in patches, poking through all of my other long dark hairs. I didn’t have time to Sharpie them because Nabe was coming over, so I tried to tuck in the straggles. No deal—those gray hairs are strong and stiff, and mine will be standing on end until they grow another few inches, in another six months.

I walked out of the bathroom au naturale, hair pulled back, looking basically like myself except for patches of gray squiggly wires sticking up here and there from the smoothness created by my pony. Nabe had never seen me without my hair being Sharpied. Nabe is eight years younger than I am.

He was waiting for me on the patio, smoking, having let himself in. We’re that friendly. We pulled up chairs to watch the rain, always an event in Phoenix. “Look at my hair!” I said in my complainy voice. “Look at all the grays sticking out!” I tilted my head towards Nabe.

“I don’t see anything,” Nabe said, flattening my conversation topic like a lawnmower might a weed. “You girls worry too much.”

I sat back and tried to decide if I was pleased or upset. Had he even looked at my hair? Did Nabe ever pay attention to me? Or did he think I was pretty no matter what? I can never tell where Nabe is coming from, where Nabe is going, or what Nabe is talking about. I can never figure out what I am to Nabe, other than the live version of the Kate dolls he keeps at his house: the blow-up one and the voodoo.

We sat then in silence, except for the noises that a rainstorm makes, passing the peace pipe back and forth. Nabe has already forgiven me for accidentally shaving his sideburns off during that one haircut gone wrong. I’m sure he’ll forgive a few gray hairs.

I wish I could be as forgiving as Nabe. I wish I could be easygoing, like Manfriend. I continue to blow smoke and remember what my grandma Lotus used to say…and I can still see her saying it as she sat behind her makeup mirror at our kitchen table, powdering her nose and using a pick to curl her skunk streak just so: “You can wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which one fills up faster.”

A true statement from a true lady.


  1. I passed gray and went directly to a silvery white. I'm basically blonde where I'm not white (so a sharpie wouldn't help) and have a lot of ambivalence about my white hair. I used to say I got my hair highlighted, and I suppose that was the case for a while, but it hasn't been for at least a few years now. Lately, though, I've had my hair dresser leave some of the white untouched when she colors my hair; I think it looks more natural and provides me with a way to ease into the white if I choose to do so. I'd like to think I will at some point, but I think I'd like to be closer to 60 than to 50 when when I do.

  2. Funny how those grey hairs are a completely different texture from the rest, isn't it?

    For what it's worth, there really are guys out there who don't care if a woman has grey hair; they just care if she's kind and makes them smile :) My two cents' worth of unsolicited advice, sorry if I'm overstepping ...

  3. Sixty nine last birthday, and my hair won't turn. I has turned a kinky curly new color on top, causing a friend to say "New hair do. Looking nice." I said no, I just need a hair cut.

    Enjoyed reading about the kitty. I'll be back. Have a good trip.

  4. I'd love to have met your grandmother; she sounds like my type of woman!

    I like your style, so I have become one of your followers. If you're insterested in male angst about the ageing process, please drop in on my blog.