It was winter, and I was Christmas shopping with my dad in a far too crowded suburb to the south of Cincinnati. I was driving, and we were trying to navigate our way out of a Walmart parking lot; so, as you can imagine, literally hell. It makes sense that we would be in such an awful place when my dad said, “Stop the car, and don’t move,” leaning in close to inspect the side of my head.
I obliged, staring straight ahead with my hands on the wheel as my dad brought his thumb and index finger close to my scalp. I felt a concentrated, quick surge of pain on a pinpoint spot on my head. “Ouch, why. . . ?” but my question was cut off when I turned to my dad and he was holding a very long, very gray, strand of hair.
My dad was laughing. I was nineteen, with a full head of chocolatey brown hair, and I was certain that the hair meant my days with beautiful locks would soon come to an end. “Give me that!” I said, snatching the strand of hair from my dad’s hand, but taking care not to break it. After all, it must have been fragile, right? Gray hair is a sign of getting old, which means feeble and all that kind of stuff, obviously. The experience was so traumatic, that I did what any millenial with an iPhone would do. I took a picture of the little menace.
Of course, as soon as I got home that day, I spent over an hour standing in front of the mirror, searching my scalp for any other signs of aging. “I was about the same age when I found my first one,” my mom said, standing in the bathroom doorway. “Maybe a few years older.” This was not the reassuring news I wanted to hear from my mom at that moment, so I kind of just glared at her until she finally walked away. Growing up, my mom had always joked that her gray hairs were a result of my brother and me driving her crazy. But I didn’t have kids. I didn’t deserve to have any signs of stress or growing old sprouting out of my head.
I didn’t find any more gray hairs that day, but I realized that I had some golden hairs sprinkled throughout my tresses, and I was mildly pleased with that. I thought, perhaps, that the gray hair had just been a random fluke, and maybe someday instead of going gray, my hair would simply fade to a beautiful gold. I even asked my stylist if this was possible the next time I got a hair cut. “Probably not,” she said, and when I looked with her with desperate eyes she added, “but hey, who knows. Maybe.” She seemed doubtful, but I decided to hope against all hope that I might be spared any more gray hairs for the rest of my life. (Very realistic of me.)
I mostly forgot about the gray hair over the next few months, occasionally remembering when I scrolled through photos on my phone. I’d see the picture, wonder why I had taken a picture of my leg while wearing jeans, open the picture and see the gray hair laying against my jeans, remember that awful day, shudder, then keep scrolling. However, it wasn’t too long until I found another gray hair—this time, much smaller, around my temple.
As soon as I found the hair, I grabbed a pair of tweezers and plucked the thing from the root. I examined the hair, and hated it with everything in me. I continued this process every time I’d find a gray hair, which was about every six months or so, over the next couple of years. To me, it was embarrassing, something I didn’t want anyone to know about. Even the old wives tale about two gray hairs growing in place of a plucked gray hair didn’t deter me; if that was true, I’d just pluck both of those, too.
I hadn’t seen any gray hairs for what seemed like a while, when I found one on my head last summer. It was on the right side of my head, where I part my hair, and sticking straight up like many of the baby hairs do around my hairline. I looked at the hair closely. I pushed it to the left side of my part, and I pushed it to the right. I reached for the tweezer, but hesitated. “I’ll pluck it tomorrow,” I thought, then went on with my day.
Tomorrow came and went, and the gray hair remained. Nine months later, the tiny gray hair is still sitting on my scalp, and if it had ever been worried about being uprooted from it’s home, it need not anymore. In fact, that little gray hair now has two other companions, one very close to it, and one about parallel with it on the left side of my head, and all three of them are here to stay.
So what if I go completely gray by the time I reach thirty? So what if I won’t always have the appearance of eternal youth every time I look in the mirror? I’m not worried about that anymore. Sure, maybe I’ll decide to color my hair one day if I’m not totally loving my gray hairs. If I do, more power to future me. If I choose to rock the salt and pepper look until I’m a total silver fox, that’ll be awesome, too. I don’t have to be ashamed about my gray hairs, I don’t have to be afraid of growing older, and I certainly don’t need to fear the way I will look as I age. I’m over age-shaming my head.
Kathryn Negard is a writer from Cincinnati who’s currently working on her first novel. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her reading, knitting, or rock climbing. She believes pizza, ice cream, and doughnuts make up the perfect food trifecta. You can read some of her unfiltered thoughts on Twitter, @kathryndragen, and some of her longer thoughts on her blog.