Here I stand in front of the mirror, her words seeming to have taken on profound meaning now. My hand follows my auburn hair, cascading down my shoulder, all borrowed from a bottle. I trace the lines along my once-young face.
About a week ago, I was visiting Bennie in the hospital, she lived there permanently by that point. There were so many treatments, what was the point of her going home, only to have to return in a day or so. She’d lie there on her bed, tubes and wires protruding from what seemed to be an increasingly small body. She’s a teenager now … eighteen. Yes, I think that’s her age.
After greeting Bennie, I sat down in the chair, her hand remaining in contact with me as I slowly lowered myself. “Why do you colour your hair, Gran?” she said. I gave her some nonsense about how I always have and I just like the colour.
“Why do you ask me such silly questions?” I said. She smiled.
“Rather than the silver?” she said, not waiting for me to respond really. Bennie seemed almost obsessed with my hair for some reason at that time. “I think the silver is so beautiful and regal. You’d look like a queen.” She smiled again, her eyes distant and yet so vibrant and alive.
I look at my reflection again. Gravity’s pulled me here and there—a lot of which I can conceal under my clothes, but I can never hide entirely. I’m having more difficulty standing up straight, these days. Who knows how long it’ll be before even that becomes a chore. I have to say I don’t feel much like a queen. I can colour my hair, but it’d be impossible to pay for any surgery I’d need to get rid of these bags under my eyes. Although, I would of I could.
I think of her question again. Why do I colour my hair? I pull open the parting in the middle of my hair, the silver, a blatant mark of disrepute in my eyes. To be honest, I’m not really sure why. Or, maybe … yes … maybe I am sure. Change.
Yes, that’s got to be it. Oh, I’ve never liked change. Who does? I think back to when I was younger and no thought of silver hair or wrinkles ever entered my thoughts then. I’d always let my hair hang loose. I’m lucky to have a natural wave in my hair and for as long as I can recall, my hair was always very thick. Luxurious. My soon husband-to-be had always preferred it that way. It makes me smile. Goodness, how long has he been gone … almost ten years now. More change.
That same day, I remember her telling me how she’s tired of her “old car.” That’s what she called her body. Silly girl. “That’s how it’ll be, Gran. I know my body’s dying, but that’s just my body, you see. It’s my consciousness that’ll continue,” she said, closing her eyes and smiling. I asked her what happens at that point. “Well, we transform and then at some point, we forget who we were and then, like magic, we become someone else. All done. In that life, I’ll get a chance to grow old.” She laughed at the thought of it, like it was an obvious and blissful gift. “So, you don’t have to be afraid of dying,” she said, her face serious all of a sudden.
“Oh, I wouldn’t go that far. I’m not afraid of dying. It’s not that or, well, maybe it is in part. But not entirely.”
“What else is there, Gran? Why would you bother?”
I had to think for a moment. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because everyone just wants to remain young. You see it all around you,” she said, gesticulating with her hands.
“Well, if you remain young, that means you’ll never die, but just like I told you, when we die, we don’t die. There’s no reason to be afraid,” she said, her face earnestly trying to impart some kernel of supreme truth.
Looking back at my reflection, I wonder. “Maybe when I dye my hair, it’s like some emblem or symbol of youth. Maybe I am trying to remain young forever …. Maybe, in the end, I am scared of dying. Could that be it?”
I remember her telling me with such pride. “And I know in my new life, I won’t die young like I will now. This time. I mean to grow old and grey.” She put her head back and smiled, closing her eyes. She looked so graceful and exquisite at that moment.
She died about a week ago now. Given everything she spoke about, who knows where she is now. Well, all I do know is she will no doubt grow old elegantly, taking pride in every bit of silver that graces her head. Maybe being old and grey isn’t so bad, after all.