It happened again. It’s amazing to me how many times it has happened — four, maybe five times.
I was standing in line at the Dollar Store (of all places) when the woman in front of me glanced at me and did a double take.
“Your hair! Your hair is beauty!” she exclaimed with her not-so-perfect English, indicating with her eyes the three inches of silver hair growing from my roots.
I smiled. “Thank you,” I said back, laughing lightly. “Thank you so much!”
What is it that people are seeing? I wondered to myself on the way out to the car. What is it that the woman in line at the Dollar Store, the woman walking through the parking lot at the doctor’s office, the woman in the elevator—all perfect strangers—are responding to?
“Your hair looks like a silver crown,” said one of them.
She saw a silver crown, not the roots of a 70-something “old lady” who has decided to stop dying her hair and is letting her gray roots grow in?
I got in the car, put it in reverse and looked at the backup camera—which device I once thought was ridiculous and which device I now love—and pulled out of the parking lot.
That’s when it occurred to me. Such a simple thing. I wondered why it hadn’t occurred to me before.
Strangers look at me with “clean” eyes. They don’t look at me through eyes that are clouded with memories of being the only girl with dark hair in my teenage clique of blond girls, or of my mother telling me that she couldn’t stand the sight of me when I cried, or even of the boys calling me “four eyes” when I wore my first pair of glasses to school.
I still cringe inside when I call up those memories. They still “blur” my vision.
Having recently moved to San Diego, my husband and I decided to take the electric trolley in order to see the city and its environs in one long uninterrupted ride.
“Oh, my God, look at that,” I exclaimed out loud, joyfully, as we took our seats and a panorama of hills, ocean, and even freeway passed by out the window.
“It’s so beautiful!”
The man in the trolley seat facing us smiled broadly.
“You must not be from here,” he laughed. “That down there? That’s just a freeway?”
To me, it didn’t look like “just a freeway.” To me it looked like a moving ribbon of tiny cars passing under the embrace of green, curving California hillsides that were dotted with houses, the Pacific Ocean sparkling in the background.
What if, when I looked at myself and my silver hair growing in, I looked through the same clean eyes that didn’t see “just a freeway” from the trolley window but that saw a gorgeous San Diego panorama instead?
What if instead of bringing my history and the pictures and voices in my head forward to blind me and distort what I saw, I looked at myself and my gray roots through the eyes of a stranger?
On the way back from the Dollar Store I turned the corner onto our street and just as a car pulling out of the parking space in front of our house had left an open space for me to park, I felt a space open up in my mind.
I walked into my kitchen, put the new ice cube trays I bought at the Dollar Store on the counter— yes, there are people who still use ice cube trays– and went over to the mirror.
There it was, my new silver hair shining for all the world to see.
I felt a kind of pride and a kind of small victory.
I couldn’t deny it.
When I looked through clean eyes, I too saw a silver crown.