“Where are you?” I desperately text, “I need to see you.” I’ve been following this person like a lovesick puppy for years—panicking when he takes off without telling me, bursting into tears of relief when I find him once again. My dependency knows no bounds. Does he feel the same way about me? Not a chance. This is a thoroughly one-sided affair.
“C,” as we’ll call him, holds the key to my youth, if not my heart. Behind a curtain, like the Great and Powerful Oz, he mixes the potion. Every 35 days he spreads the elixir, carefully and (on a day when he hasn’t over-caffeinated) tenderly, bringing me back. Nothing flashy, no highlights or Brazilian smoothing. I don’t aspire to turn myself into a blond bombshell–which, incidentally, would take a hell of a lot more than hair-dye–I’m just trying to shave 15 years off my age.
My own mother went gray in her 20s, and those pesky genes being what they are, I too noticed the first harbingers of inevitable decay on my own head before I hit the big 3-0, before I even had kids to blame. I held off addressing the situation until I could no longer look at myself in the mirror without conjuring Barbara Bush.
My mother colored her hair herself. Like a teenage girl mortified at the thought of being seen in the bra section of the department store, she dispatched me each month to the local pharmacy to buy her box of Preference by L’Oreal, 8a, Ash Blond.
I would have no part of that do-it-yourself thing. I tried it once. In my zeal to cover every inch of my scalp, I abandoned all control of the squeegee bottle, permanently staining the floor, walls, and ceiling of my white bathroom, and came close to losing an eye. No, I would be a grown-up, and I would treat myself right. Little did I know what I was getting myself into with the man mixing the cocktail.
My steadfast commitment to C and to my maintenance regime means that I spend more one-on-one time with my hairdresser than anyone else in my life. And this is concentrated, quality time–not like the hours I spend with my husband and kids, when I am simultaneously doing laundry, checking my Facebook, and stuffing my face with last night’s leftover enchiladas, all while pretending to listen to the thesis paragraph of my son’s research paper on Hirohito, or feigning interest in my daughter’s latest music obsession.
My interactions with C are intense–me in the big swivel chair with the goop applied, doing my best Medusa imitation, C standing behind me, eyes laser focused on mine in the mirror. An hour of “me time”.
Except it isn’t actually “me time”—it’s “C time”.
They say that opposites attract, and C is pretty much everything I’m not. Hip, jacked, and strikingly good-looking in a longhaired, scruffy, in-your-face sort of way. In contrast, I have hit middle-age with a vengeance, effortlessly adding that layer of mush around my middle that prevents me from even approaching my favorite old jeans, and giving in to a nap punctually at four p.m. every day.
C isn’t actually young–he’s exactly a year older than I am, and yet he exudes youth in a way that I exude exhaustion.
He’s a devotee of hot yoga and has a metabolism that allows him to eat greasy French fries and molten chocolate cake, whereas I gain weight just being in the same room with anything more caloric than a celery stalk. And although I know I should find C inspiring, in truth, I mostly want to do him bodily harm.
C and I are mismatched in more than just the obvious ways. I define myself, admittedly to an unhealthy extent, as a mom–my kids are my life. C hates kids. He never asks me about mine, even when he has my daughter in the chair, cutting her hair.
When I politely inquire whether he’s going away over the winter holiday, he stares at me, aghast. “I would never go away at the same time that people like you take their children on vacation.” And C is not trying to avoid the crowds or save a buck by going at a less costly time of year. Rather, he just can’t stand to be around anyone not legal to drink. Let’s just say that C does not hold motherhood in high regard.
In fact, C’s general view of me has declined over the years that I have been slavishly devoted to him. C used to think I had the coolest job on the planet. When I was a criminal defense attorney, C would pepper me with questions, endlessly fascinated by the murderous husband leaving bloody footprints in the snow, the hapless burglar caught running down the driveway with a 64 inch flat screen TV, the drug dealer, clueless as he plied his wares on an undercover cop. My proximity to danger and depravity was intoxicating to C, and made the endless process of de-graying pass more quickly for both of us. And it was a boost to my self-esteem—I was an expert in something C knew nothing about.
Since I quit my job, I’m a disappointment to him. Not only does he think (possibly correctly) that I now spend my days loafing around with my kids, but he finds my as yet unsuccessful foray into novel-writing hilarious. When I explained how difficult it is to break into the business and that I might eventually self-publish, he looked me straight in the eye, in the mirror that is, and said, “Go big or go home.”
Guess I know where he stands on that one.
I’ve read enough self-help books sitting on the floor of Barnes & Nobles to know that this is a dysfunctional relationship. In fact, it’s toxic. C isn’t faithful to me. He sees other women, often humiliating me by making me wait in line while he tends to their needs. And C doesn’t give of himself freely–I pay exorbitant sums for every encounter, not to mention the “something extra” I give him on the side to prove myself to him. Sometimes, I’m not sure C has feelings for me at all.
Someone with more self-respect would have ended this painful liaison long ago and accepted the inevitable march of time. But I’m weak. With C in my life, I will stay forever young. Or at least I won’t look ancient. It’s feel good or look good. And I’m choosing the latter.