Youth in a Bottle

When I turned 60 years of age, I made a decision. I was proud of having been around the sun that many times, and I decided that beginning on my 60th birthday, I’d start celebrating my years rather than trying to deny them.

Part of that celebration included welcoming the ever-increasing gray that was sprinkled throughout my hair. In truth, I hadn’t seen my natural hair color since I was about 15 years old, so even that tiny decision sounded like an adventure. Turns out, that’s exactly what it was.

When I was 60.5 years old, I had a major surgery on my foot; it was, in essence, fully reconstructed. That may not sound like such a big deal, but any foot surgery is a big deal. Mine required that I stay off that foot for a full three months, using a knee scooter to get around. I’ll spare you the details of those mechanics, but suffice it to say, that was a difficult three months.

After that 90-day period, I graduated to the use of a walker, which allowed me to walk using both feet but not fully bear weight on the injured foot. After about two months of using the walker, I graduated to the use of crutches. Now I’m no stranger to crutches, having had three knee surgeries. Still, I am far from a pro on those things. I went back to using the walker untiI I could be fully weight-bearing.

I share all that to bring us to this point: one day I walked into our bathroom and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The image of my gray-haired self hunched over the walker was like a bucket of ice-cold water in the face. It was both alarming and disturbing to me. I appeared to have aged 20 years in the course of six short months. It was all too much.

One of my favorite authors, the late, brilliant Nora Ephron, wrote an amusing little book titled  I Feel Bad About My Neck. In that book, she opined that the invention of hair color was the single most important anti-aging weapon in a woman’s arsenal. Oddly, in that moment that I glimpsed my crippled, graying self in the mirror, her book and that assertion popped into my mind.

Fast forward to today. As you may have guessed, I went to visit my hairdresser as soon as I could get an appointment with her. She’s a cut and color genius, and she’s done my hair for at least ten years. I poured out my heart to her, declaring that my pursuit of gray hair was a knee-jerk mistake, one made much too early in life. I must have been out of my mind, I explained. “Maybe we’ll try this in a few more years,” I said. “Now just doesn’t seem the right time.” She quickly agreed, a fact that told me all I needed to know. Normally, she goes along with my whims and reinforces my illusions. It’s part of her job, like a therapist or a bartender. 

Incidentally, I’m not as brave as many of my girlfriends are, because I do not color my own hair. I tried that years ago, and I ended up looking like Sissy Spacek in the movie Coalminer’s Daughter. Somehow, I managed to take a reddish-brown box of hair color and turn my hair jet black. Not the look I was going for.

Needless to say, I now have my red, brunette and blonde locks back and I’ll be honest, I truly feel much younger. The process is expensive and time-consuming, but it’s still cheaper than therapy. I know that may sound shallow. I know it may sound hypocritical. I also know that it’s true. All these colors in my hair just make me feel better. I’ll embrace my gray again someday but for now, I’m sticking with lots of color.

Nora, you were right, may you rest in peace. I thank you for your wise words. 

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