by Nancy Hambrose
Gray at 17,
coming in as a stormy, churning hurricane
Like my teenage years.
Coloring my hair
for the first time
the night before my high school senior prom.
Afraid my date would notice the tiny, snowy strands
saluting from my tousled pixie cut
across my temples, around my ears, along my nape.
Left in Revlon’s Espresso an extra ten minutes,
washing away my nervousness down the drain.
Relief in the mirror.
My secret covered.
Tender-age feminine ego restored.
A monthly ritual afterwards.
I am in captivity, bound by
Darkening my roots,
hiding my truth,
delaying the process of revealing reality
subconsciously rooted in the fear of aging.
Stained sinks and shirts, skin and self-esteem
altering natural maturation.
All from a bottle of ammonia and peroxide.
Silver slivers by 22.
Dyeing layers of hair protein
Moment by moment
In all the spaces and places
college dorm bathrooms
a wedding day
my daughter’s birth
night school classes
All the rushing
making a house a home.
Lava strands at 35.
An eruption from the fissure of a first marriage.
Volcanic, I am a hot mess.
Picking up the pieces
of my hair
of my life
to dye and to die
to begin again.
My mettle produces metal-hued roots, coarse and wiry
Like armor, yet
leaving me vulnerable, still.
So I continue
highlighting strands into my 40s,
foiled attempts to find me.
Woven and separated,
Cutting away the dead ends
Covered in Clairol’s Autumn Brown
Feathered into French Roast
Swept over hazel almond-shaped eyes
For class reunions
For friends’ celebrations
For online dating profiles.
And then, an awakening begins.
Letting my hair grow, thick and strong
Like the deep and lasting love
From long ago
for a freckle-faced boy with chestnut-colored hair
His salt-and-pepper low fade
His Irish Sea blue eyes
His Leonian spirit
His familiar laughter
His safe presence
His hand in mine, husband and wife.
Together, we turn 50.
The world is uncertain,
Collapsing familiar notions of stability, ego, and vanity
Together, normalcy fades, like color
Giving rise to the highlights of freedom to just…be.
Aligning ourselves in all the quarantine quiet.
And like a pervasive disease, a decision creeps in and envelops my world
To release control
To escape confinement
To strip camouflage
Inviting and finally
Allowing my brunette bob transition to gray.
My line of demarcation
a brave, organic ceasefire,
a growing, striking division of past and present.
His hair sprouts thinner, his whiskers advance whiter.
His smoky goatee drags smooth on a dirt torpedo.
Running his fingers through my hair,
He encourages me to join him on the journey.
“No fear,” he says. “Let it go,” he assures me.
His insight is simple, soulful, profound.
I surrender and say,“we are left with living wisdom wisps of gray.”
He smiles knowingly.
We are one others’ platinum in the pandemic,
resistant to tarnishing.
Nancy Hambrose is a celebrated thirty-year veteran in education, teaching literature, writing, and ESL to students – kindergarten through college. Finally emerging from the closet as a personal essay writer and poet, Nancy’s honest voice, coupled with resiliency, is her gift. Her work has been published on Motherwell, Dreamers Creative Writing, and Metaphor. An avid birdwatcher, backyard astronomer, and plant enthusiast, Nancy lives in joy with her husband Christopher in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. K. Nizar, a multi-disciplinary artist from Kerala’s Kozhikode, who began his career on movie-sets doing art works before becoming a visualization artist for a leading newspaper in Kerala.