Falling into Autumn

As I heard on the radio this morning, I am like the majority of Americans–fall is my favorite season. Fall brings weather I like (at least back home), clothing that makes me comfortable, a few of my favorite holidays, my birthday, and, because I’ve been tied to an academic calendar for so long, a sense of beginning, of possibility. The same feeling I get with a new notebook.

So it took me by surprise today when I thought it was all over.

I had gone to the doctor for an ultrasound because I’d been having some mild pelvic pain. It was over cautious, really, but as I’ve already experienced one breast cancer scare, I don’t like to take chances, and my doctor agreed. I have no idea how to look at an ultrasound, especially if it’s not a well-developed baby I’m looking at. So the technician is moving the wand around in there, and this big black blob shows up in the picture. She is interested in this blob. She keeps measuring it from all different angles. I am trying to remain calm, even crack a joke with her, but she is all business, which scares me. When she’s done, she tells me to wait outside the lab area for my blood pressure and other vitals to be taken. So I sit.

Before I’ve been there even a minute, my eyes fill with tears. I have cancer. My kids will have no mother. I am going to get very sick, have treatments that will make me very sick, and then I am going to die. I cannot stop. Maybe it is a panic attack. But there I am in the hallway with tears running down my face. I am not like this. I’m not much of a crier, not a hypochondriac, but I realize that I was terrified. My doctor walks by and sees this mess. “What happened? Did she find something? I haven’t even seen them yet! Come with me, you’re fine, we don’t need your blood pressure.”

She whisked me to her office, where she looked at the results and told me repeatedly that everything was fine and entirely normal. The blob looked big on the screen but was a typical follicle, unusual in no way. I mopped my face and blew my nose. She sent me on my way with a hug and instructions to freak out about something else. She probably thought I was nuts, but she was very nice about it.

For the rest of the day I should have been elated. I’d been to the brink of death, and I’d been pardoned. I could go home to my family. But I was in a fog. I wandered around in stores, hoping to find a dress to wear for Rosh HaShanah. Everything looked weird or meant for a much older woman. And I was dressed for the gym, not shopping. I bought a hair dryer.

Later when I went to pick up my daughter from school, I missed my turn and found myself on a bridge headed out of the city. A few careful moves later, I pulled up to her school just as she came out. I texted my husband. “I’m going to need a good long hug when you get home. I’m a mess.”

By the time I’d put away the groceries, I felt more calm, and I took the dog out for a walk. My dog loves me like no one else. You can see it in the way he looks at me. lookofloveWhen I’m in the right mood, the dog walk is perfect. It was cool outside, I was feeling better, and Max was being good, not pulling on the leash. He did his business, and when I bent down to clean it up, my back objected. Strongly. I stood up slowly and “ambled” home. My daughter helped me sit on the couch. My husband came home and gave me alcohol. The ibuprofen is kicking in, too. So I can feel the return of that September mood, that sensation that things will be clean and new, that I can make them that way and begin again. I can’t bend over right now, but maybe upright and eyes forward  is the best way to greet the new year. L’Shanah Tovah.

Covering “the Other Color”

  I’m wrapped up in another one of those what-kind-of-feminist-are-you debates with myself, and it’s making me more neurotic than usual. My hair, my dark brown hair, is salt and pepper, heavy on the salt. Sometimes when I look at it, I think it looks pretty cool, especially with the bright white streak up in front. Other times I wonder what has possessed me to go ahead and look so old. I mean, I’m not old-old. I’m still in my forties. Photo on 9-15-14

For a little while longer.

  And I have always been a fan of hair color, the weirder the better. I’ve had purple hair, and once I even had a streak that was blue, purple, and magenta. I’ve had “orchid” hair. I’ve used reds, too. But it’s not the same when you’re covering something. When you get roots you have to deal with, and the roots are white.

  I know I want to look younger for reasons that haven’t won my approval. I will feel more attractive. That’s because despite knowing better, I have bought into our younger-is-better culture. This is especially true for women. All I have to do to prove it is try to get service in a store when a younger woman is trying too. I have become invisible. I’ve fallen off people’s I-might-like-to-do-her radar. Men and women. It’s sad.

  But I should be happy!

  For many years I could not walk down a street without being verbally harassed by men who thought it was their right to comment on my appearance, who imagined I was there simply for them to look at. “Smile!” they’d say. “Hey, baby, why don’t you back that up over here?” And then some guys who liked to cut right to the chase: “Sit on my face, angel.” Mostly I ignored it, and sometimes I went after them, verbally. When a guy actually grabbed my ass, I chased him for two blocks. He said, “Jeez–sorry.” Like I was out of line or perhaps overly sensitive to molestation. A bicyclist actually once got in an accident because he was so busy staring at me. These are not boasts. It was disgusting and a constant source of stress. You don’t have to be gorgeous to get this kind of attention. But you do have to be younger.

  So now this doesn’t happen. Partly it’s because of where I live, but mostly it’s because I have white hair and a mom butt. How wonderful! No more rapey compliments, no more being forced to interact with creepy strangers or turn down drinks at the bar. So why am I sad?

  I have learned, as most of us have, to need affirmation from all people everywhere all the time. As a woman, I feel it is required that I am attractive. I know that’s not true, of course, but I still feel that way. I want people I don’t know to think I’m beautiful. The Claudia that sees this as pathetic has let the white hair come in, in all its glory. The other Claudia, the one who shaves her armpits, gets her legs waxed, and puts on makeup (though not in the picture above, for some foolish reason) is looking at hair color on Pinterest.

  Fight the Power! That’s what I tell myself. And that works, for a little while. Maybe it’s having a beautiful daughter who is growing up in obvious ways that brings this to light more starkly. She is at an age when she is ridiculously self-conscious and also completely lacking in self-consciousness. It is very easy for us to embarrass her–we just act the way we always do–but she’s oblivious to many things that surprise me. She does not shave her armpits or her legs. And she doesn’t seem to care. And no other kids have commented on it. And it didn’t stop the boys at summer camp for digging her in a big way. I respect this tremendously. I hope she always feels that she can do what she likes with her body, that she needn’t let others dictate her appearance.

  Ultimately, it’s up to me what I do with my hair, and if I choose to color it, I need to own that choice and not beat myself up for giving in to ageism and sexism.  As long as I choose what I want, as opposed to what I imagine I need, I’ll be fine. I will follow my daughter’s example, and try to move blissfully through the world with my self intact.