It is startlingly appropriate that I was introduced to my first gray hair this past evening, at about a quarter to 7 p.m. in the basement of the Logan Center for the Arts on the University of Chicago campus right around the corner from my home. I came out of a bathroom stall to wash my hands and there it was visible in one of the lavatory’s mirrors, uncooperative with my repeated attempts to rub it into what I thought was a dab too much of white coconut oil. I believe there may be another one at the very center part of my head, but I am too nervous to confirm. I am unsure when I conceived the one strand I can not deny, but it delivered itself to me at my left temple right in the area where I am at ironically at risk for a receding hairline; maybe I will have good luck, and my lone gray hair’s siblings will cluster in an area that is expected to evaporate a little bit anyway. Or, maybe this is a silver lining. There’s always hope.
Most comforting about the particular setting and timing of discovery tonight is the obvious: I could have just gone right back home. For what, I am not sure: to have a tantrum, to hold the public bathroom mirror’s verdict up to the scrutiny of my private bathroom mirror’s trustworthiness, to Instagram a photodocumentary no one but I would care to revisit, to wail and moan and get the Holy Ghost, to call my best friends and family with a long-awaited announcement (of the unusual sort)? Thankfully, I stayed where I was. The event in waiting, a film screening of the film My Brother’s Wedding with director Charles Burnett present and introduced by my mentor Jacqueline Stewart, was a grateful distraction to this new fact of my life. The former I love in spirit and the latter I love in person; if I would love the movie or not remained to be seen, but I would never know if I did not stay and follow the hunch that I would.
Therefore, that alternate person inside me who noticed the gray was forced to come and go, with little to trigger or say. The work of a great artist awaited. I was expecting to see friends. And, most basically, I was at the movies for the first time in a long time. I could not spend time to create analogies with my gray hair and the oddly loose lower half of my stomach, or the expansion in the back of my arms, or the fading glory of my teeth, or my missing big house with a white picket fence and family dog. I can not imagine if I had been home with nothing at all to do upon such a discovery, this new dimension to what a woman might call her little “friend.” With so much else to think of in the moment of discovery, my existential crisis could not linger. I told my friends there about the gray hair. And so she was formally born, just as inconsequential as a few extra pounds but nothing close to losing a virginity.
At present, I am 36-years old and this lone gray hair may be the only thing to remind others of it. Even worse, I need the reminder more than others may. I do not have pre-teens blowing up my Smart Phone with their catastrophes or loan requests to me, “Mom.” I do not have babies younger. I have yet to breastfeed. I do not have a mortgage in good standing or foreclosure, nor a husband with his own companion gray head of hair to clue others into how long we have been married–thus how old I could really be. For most of the people who know me, I remain fixated in a perpetual fountain of youth…most known for my dimples, bright smile, funny jokes and abilities to be there at the last minute with no extenuating circumstances to prevent such.
For the last 5 years, I have asked no one in particular to bring me my gray hairs. When I have been the only person at a table of fine food to be carded for my usual order of house Merlot, I have remarked: “I’ll be glad when I get my gray.” When I have walked down the streets dressed casually for the day or a bit more polished for work, but approached lewdly by men young and old either way, I have asked for gray hairs; surely, no one irritates my aunts or grandmothers on their ways about town. When I have walked into a community center or artistic venue seeking information or tickets, and had the blase attendant ask me my age after alerting me that I must come with my parents, I have almost pulled out my hair. When I have been in a high-end store or dropped more than an allowance on a necessary adult expenditure, my handlers in these moments have surveyed me less as an adult customer to respect and more as a little Black girl to suspect. I have wished for gray hairs, in hopes I may have been treated a little better.
In the self-deprecating and sad rages that followed the last most gross example of these occurrences, I have come to near tears and butterflies wishing for gray hairs I felt they would certify and dignify me at last: like a girl waiting for her period to get back at bossy adults, or an adolescent scorning the tooth fairy for her dollar under the pillow when one last baby tooth lost will reward so much more payment than that, or a Black woman sat-in at the counter of Woolworth’s to declare that she can not be slighted based upon how she looked. For, it seemed that a scalp of commanding gray hairs would assist me in exercising my full rights as an equal adult worthy of proper comportment and approach by other adults; that such thin and fine miracles could be my silent partners to shed any and all’s presumptions that I was young therefore subordinate, youthful therefore deferred, cute therefore “Seriously?”
And, so now, here they are.