I’m getting ready for my childhood friend’s 30th birthday party when I spot it.
“Is that a white hair?” I ask, shoving my head underneath my boyfriend’s face, pointing to the area where the light caught it just a moment ago.
“No,” he says reassuringly. “It’s three.”
He’s been going grey for years now. I’ve spent that time telling him that “it’s not a big deal” in that holier-than-thou way people do when dishing out advice from a place of relative comfort. He reminds me of this as I start to freak out and so I’m forced to keep my horror to myself, to tuck it inside my tightening chest where it will live next to the revelation that this is, in fact, A Very Big Deal.
We take the train into the city. I forget about the fact that death is now breathing down my neck in a very tangible way until hours later when we’re doing celebratory shots of whiskey. The Jameson slides down my throat and settles next to the wine. I grab my friend’s arm, stricken.
“I found my first white hair today! Can you believe that?”
I explain the obvious irony of this happening this exact day when our other friend turns 30, ignoring the fact that I am literally surrounded by the all men in my life who have been going grey and bald since we graduated high school. I consider myself fairly astute, but I’m currently navel gazing on my downslide to drunk, so the nuance is lost on me.
My friend says something kind about how I’ve always looked so young and so it must be hard. It’s true — I was once ID’d at a PG-13 movie at 16. My sister, who is ten years younger, is sometimes mistaken for being older. I’ve built a reputation on looking and being young my entire life. What else is there?
I start to think about all the ways in which my life is fundamentally changing with this physical manifestation of aging and the panic starts to rise, but then someone is calling for more whiskey and I’m thankful for the distraction.
“I’m sorry that Jameson made you question your entire life,” my friend texts me the next day.
I make a joke to play it off, but in the words of those younger than me, who’s melanin levels are thriving, I have absolutely no chill about this. Not about my hair, and certainly not about the omnipresent passage of time.
Growing up surrounded by adults waxing poetic about their 20s, it’s no surprise that so many of us face 30 with some level of dread. 30 is the age you become a “real” adult, after all. For a society that worships the Cult of Youth, of course we interpret that as The End. Even when people tell you it’s not a big deal, they spend the time leading up to it making it a big deal. People older than me can’t stop teasing me about the fact that I’m about to be 30 like it’s some sort of hazing ritual, an initiation into the ranks of people who like to joke about going to bed at nine, who pretend that binge drinking on a Saturday is somehow healthier than doing it on a Tuesday.
The fact of the matter is I don’t feel any older. I don’t feel like the kind of person who should have white hair, or who should even care. I feel like the person who eats an entire package of Oreos in one sitting, who worries about being an artist in that naive, disassociated way you do when you’re comfortably taken care of, who leaves cryptic messages in Death Cab for Cutie lyrics scattered like breadcrumbs and thinks it’s meaningful.
(And maybe I’m not entirely different, because through the panic I keep making jokes to myself about force fitting new meaning to a song, “If you feel discouraged/When there’s a lack of color here/Please don’t worry lover.”)
I wake up the next morning and the mornings after that and fret about this brave new world of white hairs. Each time my eye catches one in the bathroom mirror I do an immediate sweep of my scalp, wondering when three will turn into four. It has to happen eventually.
Eventually, maybe, it’ll all be white.
Time will tell.