For fifteen years after my father’s death, my mother dated a man with whom she had a rather cool connection. My sister and I believed that she kept him around mainly to avoid going alone to events attended by couples, perhaps to increase her chances of being invited to such events. At some point, she remarked that she liked having someone “to drive her to things.” This probably meant “to drive her home from things,” as single readers who enjoy a drink or three at social functions may understand.
Eventually my mother’s beau had a health crisis that required the services of a private day nurse, with whom he often lunched at the golf club. At this point he began to see my mother far less, then not at all. Though not heartbroken, my mother was insulted. “If he had paid me $100 a day, I would have been nicer, too,” she said haughtily.
Once it started seriously turning gray, I dyed my hair back to its original brown for quite a while, but the roots seemed to grow in ever thicker and faster. I did not want spend the time and money to have it done once a month, as my mother did. But I didn’t want to look like an old lady either, so I settled on every two months. This, it turned out, had the disadvantages of both options: expensive, time-consuming and still plenty of gray on view most of the time.
The prospect of slowly growing it out to whatever color or colors it was at that point would mean months of bizarre-looking two-tone hair. I knew I wouldn’t get through it. I asked my friend Kim the hairdresser if we couldn’t just somehow dye the whole thing gray, showing her a stunning picture of Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada. She said dying hair gray is very hard, and very hard on the hair.
About a month ago, I decided that, as I close in on 57, I am already so old that it doesn’t matter whether I have gray hair or not, and flat, dark, all-one-color hair is no better. Then I saw a woman my age whose hair I liked — a Frenchy mishmash of gray and blonde and brown. I took pictures of her with my phone, and when I showed them to Kim, she nodded thoughtfully. Maybe we could. It took about half a day at her salon — first she cut it all off short, then pulled sections through a frost cap, bleached them out, and toned them silver. It was exciting and glamorous.
That afternoon, I was approached by a large, frantic man in a royal blue velour tracksuit who said he had locked his keys in his car at Penn Station along with his tux (nice touch) and the locksmith would only take cash and he had almost enough, he just needed $26 more. He was talking very fast and I knew I was being scammed but I was having a hard time saying no. He seemed so desperate. What if it was the one time in the history of the world that this tired old story was true? “I don’t know,” I said, waffling. “I don’t have much cash on me.” He just kept talking, searching for the magic words.
“Listen,” he said, his eyes round and serious, “I would never con a senior.”
Well then. My eyes were as round as his. Perhaps I could say no after all.
A few moments later, after he had bolted off and I had staggered over to the building where I teach, I comforted myself by thinking of the discounts I might get at the movie theater.
Aging is full of surprises, including the mysterious expansion of the bust. I’ve had to give all my old bras to my daughter and acquire some structurally impressive D-cups. Where will it end? In a novel I just read, one character gets a faint whiff of lilac and asks the other what perfume she’s wearing. Just a little scent called menopause, she replies.
We were talking about gray hair, as we so often are, when one friend observed that when we are young, we track time by our periods, and when we are older, we track time by our roots. Perhaps with this Frenchy mishmash, I will be timeless.
I met a man at a party and I liked him, and the next day I found out from our mutual friend that he was single. I recalled how much I had enjoyed our conversation in the kitchen, how smart he had seemed. At first I hadn’t thought he was that cute, but he had grown on me. I was impressed by the fact that when I had tipsily decided I had to have a cigarette and there wasn’t one single person at the party who had one, he drove me to the CVS. But they don’t have cigarettes either. So he patiently located a gas station, then took me back to the house.
“He seems like a nice, gentle man,” I said. “And he could, like, drive me around.”
My friend looked surprised. “Standards have slipped,” she said.
I was thinking, as I do in so many situations now, that I may have been too hard on my mother.
Little old ladies don’t have sex on the first date. They remember the disconnectedness of it, and the awkward feeling afterward, and they think it would be better to let the emotions catch up to the body parts. So they are very proud of themselves when, after a long, lovely evening, they send the nice man home with only a preview of the new D-cup situation.
But how about those jingle-jangle hormones, still coursing through one’s veins the next morning? Whoa. One puts in one’s contact lenses. One will lose 10 pounds this week without even trying.
Then one gets the email. Of course, it’s not you, it’s me. I mean, it’s not me, it’s him. Whatever. Remember when there was nothing sexier than a seriously depressed man who had intimacy issues? Now they’re all on SSRIs anyway.
Maybe you do have to pay, as my mother’s friend determined.
I was driving away from my house, all by myself, having failed to acquire any assistance in this regard, when in my rearview mirror I saw a little gray bunny hop right under the wheels of a moving car. I gasped, then gasped again when the car passed over the bunny and she hopped away unharmed.
In the middle of thinking what a good omen this was, I saw that, instead of scurrying to safety, the bunny had zigzagged back into the middle of the road. What a dumb bunny. And now another car was coming.
I was relieved and amazed to see no furry corpse in front of my house when I came home. Perhaps that bunny was at the hair salon, doing what the rest of us do with our borrowed time.