Sometimes the things you stumble upon as a child affect you in surprising ways. When I found my mother’s container of henna powder, I felt a thrill as I opened it up and inhaled its earthy tones. When I asked her what it was, she said it gave her hair some shine and a red tint. Immediately, I wanted that! When would I get to do that?
As a 10-year-old, I remember standing behind my mother’s head, plucking the gray hairs from her scalp, one by one, while she applied makeup in the mirror. As the years went by, she told me to give up. The bottles of color came out then, reeking of ammonia. Didn’t the henna work anymore? Still, it was pretty cool.
I was obsessed with the one long strand of white hair that grew on the left side of my head, back behind my ear. I would search and search for it–the needle in the haystack of my mane–and then, when I’d finally found it, I’d fondle it and wind it around my fingers, then yank it from my head. Always with immediate regret. Because then it was gone.
It always grew back.
When I was 15, my mum let me dye my hair. I don’t know why she gave in so easily. Perhaps she had been worn down by the years of battles of begging to buy bras, shave my legs and get my ears pierced. Only henna was allowed at first. But that sneaked its way to “wash out” color and quickly onto the permanent stuff. The Christmas we went to France when I was 16, I’d unfortunately tried the black-hair look. Oh, it wasn’t my color. By the time I was a junior in high school, after attempting every available option to turn my hair purple (without first stripping it of all it’s color) it had developed into a stunning shade of maroon. It was ironic that was my high school’s color. I could have been a human pom-pom at a football game–had I ever deigned to go to one.
My obsession with purple hair faded to red. And it seemed that during every life change, stress or breakup, I became compelled to dye it red. I even wrote a song about it. But it was a lot of work to keep it up. When you have really dark hair, it’s hard to get it to take much hair color. You have to use a lot of developer to first take your natural color off the hair strand to make the new color show up. Which meant dyeing my hair every 3 weeks–or suffer with black roots.
On the morning of my 24th birthday, I was horrified to find that a true white hair had sprouted from my head, seemingly overnight. I was 24 years old and the mantle of aging pressed down upon me. I’d also just broken up with a boyfriend. We were still living together. It was awkward and I’d had to go out and buy my own bed. I went into work, bemoaning my white hair, and coworkers laughed at me. I was the young one, the unaged. Had I no idea of what was to surely come?
I was 28 when my son was born. After 2 hours of pushing (he was 9 lbs 3 oz) before I could hold my baby boy, I got up to pee and saw myself in the mirror–broken blood vessels on my face and, I swear, a white hair sticking straight up from my scalp. Had I pushed that out, too?
The last two years haven’t been kind to me in the stress department–you can tell by my hair. I stopped coloring it for a while. I figured it was my last chance to not worry about it before I had to chose whether to age “gracefully” or not. I’ve never been accused of having too much grace, certainly not the physical kind. On my wedding day, as it poured with rain and I ran around happy in my muddy white dress, my brother-in-law complimented me on my grace. I remember that so distinctly because it’s not something I’ve often heard about myself.
I’ve gone back to henna these last few months, as the white hairs make themselves more apparent. Of course, no one else sees them. But I know they’re there, slowly greying me into oblivion. I know that plucking them out, even as they taunt me, is futile. Yet still…I can’t quite resist. And perhaps one day I will go back to highlights and salon color. Or not. Maybe I will find my inner grace again.
Update: I found a selection of my red hair photos to illustrate the many shades of red I once sported. I miss the red highlights…maybe I’ll get into them again.