Using the word silver to describe the thin line extending from my crown is probably more symbolic of, as Monty Python would say, my struggle against reality than my descriptive powers. It’s really more of a shiny grey. And, while it has been mostly solitary for the last few years, it manages to drive me to distraction.
It won’t be plucked – I’ve tried. It doesn’t break off with the mass of brown hair that ends up in the trap after every shower. Every effort to rout this symbol of my impending maturity only seems to make it stronger.
For most of my adult life I had to struggle to remember what my real hair color was. In a span of a decade it was literally every color of the rainbow, so having thin grey line reflect a color in nature shouldn’t cause this much consternation. The irony is, that for someone who’s never been shy with the dye, for some reason I can’t bring myself to color it now.
Lately, it seems to be recruiting new members to its team, but I’m starting, not just to get used to the invaders but also to recognize that they are weaving a tale of my life. There’s one for the firstborn’s first visit to the emergency room. There’s another for the Big Guy’s week in intensive care. There were more than a few for the years we were choosing between bills and groceries, but they didn’t take a strong enough hold to stay.
The thin grey lines that survive, however, are determined to grow with me. They are not friends. But they are reminders that the years and events that spawn them might actually be making me stronger, not older.
Lately, the company I work for has had the lucky misfortune of having too much business. For the Tech Support staff, this has meant confining ourselves to our computers almost from dawn till dusk. Our computers are all at our homes, but the long days, coupled with winter weather and roads have helped spin a thick cocoon around our earth-sheltered house. I am not naturally extroverted, so retreating behind a protective shell of snow and work has been quite comfortable. It was only when I responded to an invitation from another confined friend that I realized that my insular shell was missing something.
I am ashamed to say, that in the months since knee surgery has confined my friend, I have only been to visit at the beginning to bring flowers picked by our youngest son. When the phone rang last week, I answered with a mix of happiness and guilt. By the time I hung up, guilt was mostly gone and I was looking forward to a date on Friday afternoon after work.
Friday morning was another grey winter work day, and I was really excited to go have talk and tea at the end of it. A light snow had just begun to form a blanket over the roads and mountains when I headed down the road to my friend’s house. For a brief moment, I had to quell my natural instinct to return to my cocoon. A flare of guilt kept my car moving forward, however, and I would be glad it did.
My friend and I were once in a writing group together, and grew quite close at the time. We may not see each other for months except passing on the road or at the country store, but there is rarely any uncomfortable silence when we get back together. Friday was no exception.
I let myself in through the mudroom door and, after hugs, we remarked on the changes in each other’s hair and physiques before retreating back to my friend’s cozy bedroom behind the kitchen for a huddle. I took a quick look at my clock – 4ish it was – knowing I had to leave by 5 to get to the grocery store before dark and settled into a comfy chair.
The kettle on the wood stove hummed every now, serenading us as we talked of doctors and cats and neighbors’s recent departures and returns. Through the window, I could see the now-heavier snow that only seemed to insulate us more as we talked of writing and iPads and husbands.
I had not written a word all day – a late Thursday night and early start at work had put the kibosh on creative expression for 48 hours. I knew the weekend schedule would not allow for much writing or drawing, but by the time I stood up from my chair and made a plan to visit again next week, I felt my soul had been fed. And the feeding of it guaranteed that when the time permitted, the work I want to do will happen and happily.
It was mostly dark and well after 6pm when I stepped out into the wet snow. There was a snowy trip to the grocery store ahead before I returned to my cave. Dark, snowy drives usually fill me with trepidation. This one, however, was a few minutes more of quiet, and I used it to relish the enlightenment I had found in the fellowship my friend and I had reformed.
Now, back in my cocoon, it’s warm and safe, as always. But I will not wait months again before I return to the chrysalis where ideas and friendship grow.
Sometimes, after wrapping up the end of a day doing tech support while refereeing Thing1 and Thing2 as they try to avoid homework and chores by revving up for World War III, I take off. It’s only a short escape, and in the summer, it’s still light, and I’ll drive along the Battenkill River, absorbing the sights and smells of Vermont as the pinkish-gold light of evening makes everything magical. Now it’s winter, and my mini vacations tend to lead me to the local country store for an extended errand.
A few evenings ago I used a forgotten ingredient as my pretext for a quick break. Most evenings the Mom of the Mom-and-Pop store is there, guiding her crew as they make closing preparations. Traffic comes in fits and spurts, and I’ll usually grab my purchase and head to the large round, oil-cloth covered table at the back of the store by the deli to peruse one of the magazines strewn about and to chat with Mom who is also a close friend.
Most mornings this Round Table is surrounded by her Knights. These (mostly) men of the town – retired or on their way to work – convene in shifts for a couple of hours every morning as they solve the world’s problems and discuss the deer population (which is just as heated as the politics). The other night, however, the circle at the back of the store took on a distinctly less knightly aura.
At my bachelorette party umpteen years ago, an aunt told me, “It’s not the big things that’ll kill a marriage, it’s the little things that drive you crazy that will do it.” It was one of those little things that had driven me to the store in search of potatoes that night. It was my second ingredient trip in two hours and the third in two days, and when I sat down I was ready for some commiseration. My friend took a break from her closing chores, and we began trading our anecdotes of marital merriment and madness. We had just started to vent when a mutual friend joined us with her own war stories to share. It wasn’t long before the chatting turned to laughter and the laughter to cackling, and I realized we’d become a coven.
As our laughter rose and my friend’s employees patiently waited out our hysteria till they could ask the boss for guidance, I remembered that gatherings like this might once been subversive enough to spark a witch trial or two. A casual listener might have heard our conversation and thought we were plotting the downfall of men and marriage. The reality is that, in seeking company for our momentary miseries, we each left our gathering actually appreciating our situations – married or not. Our shrieks of laughter had fallen over me like stolen fairy dust, exorcising my exasperation over the little thing that had propelled me out of the house. It was just the bit of magic I needed to get back and finish dinner with a smile.