In my mother's day you dyed your hair, but now you color it. I often use the wrong term, which sends my hair stylist into a furious Rumplestiltskin-like jig. At any rate, moments ago I colored my hair and am now sitting at the keyboard waiting for it to take, as my grandmother—whose color for forty years was “Saucy Brown”—would say. With my membrane-sheathed hair plastered to the top of my head, I resemble a cross between a Cupie doll and a calf so new to the world, it hasn’t yet shed its caul.
Some day I hope to be able to stroll blithely into the world in this state—to pick lettuce in the garden or walk to the mailbox on the corner—even to chat with the teenage boys who gather in front of my house every afternoon to spit and smoke pot. But I’m not there yet. Far from it. I’m housebound for the forty minutes it takes to brown up, scuttling from room to room, ducking when I pass in front of a window, freezing if I hear someone coming up the steps.
I never thought I’d color, but when I turned forty and saw a picture of myself fresh out of the shower with a suffering look on my face and long, mousy hair, I was struck by the resemblance to paintings of Christ on the cross. Christ, only older. “Gray Jesus,” I said to my girlfriend, who promised then and there that if I decided to dye, she would always do the dying. She’s been true to her word. She even reminds me. I might be grinding coffee, checking out at Walgreens, or waiting for the train. All she has to say is, “Gray Jesus,” and I know it’s time to dye.