You know how when you turn 25 you’re like, holy shit, 25, I’m a quarter of a century now, I’m getting old, etc., etc.?
My 25th birthday blues (okay, not really blues, more like OMGs, but I liked the alliteration) were exacerbated by some tiny discoveries: grey hairs.
Yup. Not one, but some. And not a few, but quite a few. I don’t remember the very first time I found one, but I do remember looking in the mirror in my bathroom one day after not dying my hair for a few weeks and seeing something gleaming in the light. I pulled my hair down to look at my roots and BAM, there they were, sprinkled around my scalp. Shiny and bright.
Was my first reaction. Probably because it was some time around my 25th birthday and all of a sudden I felt really OLD. And like, unaccomplished somehow. Like having grey hairs somehow diminished everything I had done because my follicles had failed me. All of a sudden I was going through my mental checklist of things I wanted to do before turning 30 and none of them seemed relevant because clearly I was OLD and my life was OVER.
But I have to say, luckily (and thankfully), that reaction didn’t last long.
Ever since I was little, I’d get tiny reminders of how much I look like my paternal grandmother and her side of the family. I’d be sitting on the sofa holding my mom’s hand and she’d look at mine and say they looked exactly like Manuela’s, right down to the shape of my nails. My fair skin, but dark, dark eyes, the dark circles I naturally have under my eyes, heck, even my tendency to be on the chubby side: all of these things were attributed to her side of the family.
When I was little, I didn’t really get it. I think mostly because I didn’t get to see my grandma, like, ever. So while I knew she was a real person, she was also kind of imaginary in a way. Intangible. My family is from Portugal via Mozambique, Africa, and the majority of them still live in Lisbon and Portugal, so visits weren’t often feasible when I was growing up. One of the only memories I have of being with my grandma in person is of me sitting next to her around our dining table at my childhood home, teaching her the Canadian national anthem. I think I was about 6 or 7, I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but I was holding up a yellow plastic cup from Mac’s (the convenience store) and singing into it for acoustics, and together we belted the national anthem at the top of our lungs. (Let’s not forget about my childhood penchant for opera.) And I just remember feeling really happy.
As I grew up, my grandma became that relative that I felt inexplicably connected to (we all have one, right?). Even though I didn’t see her, or even speak to her often, I always felt like we were connected. And the older I got, the stronger that feeling was. When she passed away in 2008, I was shattered. Especially because I hadn’t gotten a chance to see her again in person since I was a little kid.
When my brother visited me in Scotland in 2010, he went on a trip to Portugal that I was supposed to go on, but didn’t because of my monster rash. He returned with a photo of a picture frame that was in my grandparents’ old apartment, and when he showed it to me, I lost it.
I couldn’t believe how much I looked like her. It was like looking in a weird mirror and it caught me off guard to the point that I sat down in the middle of my kitchen floor and cried. Now, I know I’m not the most traditional looking girl, what with the tattoos and everything, but here’s a photo of me – in a wig, don’t ask – where I think the resemblance is pretty striking.
FOR THE RECORD: That very picture frame from my grandparents’ apartment is now in my room, on my side table, and I look at it all the time, especially right before I go to sleep at night. It makes me feel safe.
In that photo, my grandmother was about the same age as me in 2010 – early 20s. Now, here’s a photo of her in her late 20s:
I couldn’t find my favourite photo from this time, but as you can see, her hair is mostly grey. I think she looks amazing. My dad said she was entirely grey by the time she was 26 or 27.
Remembering this, I came to not only be cool with my grey hair, but also kind of love it. Sure, I dye it (my grey hairs have become like the timer on a Brita water filter – it’s like, hey little guys! Time to buy hair dye!) but I also find myself smiling when I see them. And when I look at my hands. And when I dab concealer under my eyes
Just a few days ago one of my friends said to me, “I love that you speak Portuguese! It’s so good – I mean to really hold onto your roots like that, you know?” And I do know. And I plan to hold onto my roots – even the ones in my hair – until the day I die. It’s like, good or bad trait, it’s part of where you came from and who you are, and I’ve learned to not only accept those things, but love them.
Even if it means I’m always on the chubby side, and so fair that strangers tell me I need to get a tan.
P.S. Just for fun, don’t my grandparents look like movie stars in this shot?
Why don’t photos look this amazing anymore?