There are moments in life that acutely remind one of their mortal transiency, and while a feeling of youth and vibrancy might be reigning vigorously on the inside, externally one is, matter-of-factly, decaying.
The funny thing about finding your second grey hair in a bathroom at 35,000 feet is realising you’re now actively in the process of dying and you can’t even make a scene about it.
Grey, formerly quite an agreeable colour; the perfect Winter wardrobe palette, the pigment of the majestic elephant, the perpetual shade of an English sky, and now a menacing symbol of my fading youth and imminent death. My previous enjoyment of the colour grey has now reached its swift and acrimonious end.
Standing there prominently at the front of my head just where the landmass of hair begins, my second grey is acting as some sort of filamentous lighthouse, only instead of courteously guiding me to safety, it’s blinding me with its ‘thereness’ as I crash up against the rocks, seawater rushing in from all sides as I choke up mouthfuls of my own salty vanity.
Finding one’s first grey hair is novelty. Like bird poop on a shoulder. It’s random, a fluke, good luck perhaps. Afterall, one isn’t evidence of anything. It’s just one. Inconsequential. Even fun. It’s not a sign of one’s aging, but of one’s maturity.
Two is an entirely different matter.
Two is a priority telegram typed in all caps and hand-delivered by reality to inform me that I am now fully engaged in the ageing process, to communicate that which one grey hair does not: that my position on the pendulum of life is now firmly in the downswing.
If finding one grey hair was a fun paintball shot to the left bum cheek, finding two is a much more unpleasant battle axe straight through one’s steadily overripening skull.
Right now, actually.
It’s not so bad that the thought of alternatively shoving a fine point Bic pen into my eyeball would seem like a walk in the park, yet not so harmless that I can continue to walk on the pavement upright like a fully evolved member of the human species.
While everyone around me seems to be producing human offspring, I’m producing uncomfortable cysts on my ovaries. Well, one to be exact. But it’s not one of those gentle, water-filled cysts that shows up every now and again to read you bedtime stories and tell you that you’re smart, pretty and capable and then leaves out the window with her flying umbrella and spoonful of sugar. But the dark, bloody and brooding kind that shows up for good with an itchy trigger finger, a bad attitude and a fetish for holding you hostage in your bed while bludgeoning you with a sledgehammer. Yes, my cyst is Kathy Bates from Misery in case you were wondering. She’s a shape-shifter and is living inside of me. As is Ellen Page’s character Juno from the seminal film of 2007 Juno, which is ironic given the premise of the film, but I have a real affinity for anyone whose native language is deadpan sarcasm, so it actually may be that I’m holding her hostage. I can’t tell anymore.
If you’re stood directly in front of me, the cyst is sat on the left side, or stage right for you theatre folk. Its location is not altogether surprising given that the right side of my brain seems to be the only living part of my whole brain, the other side, the left side, is just an ornament, helping give balance and a kind of feng shui to the interior of my cranium. Not that this observation has any scientific basis whatsoever, but for all intents and purposes, my left hemisphere is not an actual living thing. Come to think of it, I haven’t used the left side of my brain since 2003 during a statistics lecture when the professor asked me to find the probability mass function of Y=2x. What instantly followed were the contents of my head exploding all over the lecture hall seats and my asking if I could turn in an essay about feelings instead. So I suppose the left hemisphere wasn’t used then either. But the ovary, it’s a mutinous insurgent. It’s an organ whose existence I never thought nor cared about until the age of 30. Other organs I’ve not thought about: gallbladder, spleen, pharynx, appendix. Well, I did concernedly think about my appendix for a few minutes last month but it turns out the acute discomfort was just accumulated wind from my brussel sprout phase. Perhaps my cysty ovary, Kathy Bates, is simply taking a stand against the norm and has decided that growing a membranous sac on herself is the best way to achieve this. And, after what I can only imagine was a careful pro and con analysis, she is self-destructing as a kind of defense for me against ever having to utter the words “poo poo or tinkle.”
Can you blame her?
You know how at Santa’s workshop if the elves come across a faulty toy in the factory they snatch it from the pile, put it in the bin, and replace it with a better one? I mean I assume this it what goes on it seemed to be the case in Elf. Well, I’d like to do that for my ovaries. I’d like the elves to snatch them from inside of me and refashion them into something better. Or I’d at least like to get back in the queue and trade them in for something jazzier, something that would really enhance my quality of life. Like a pair of in-utero castanets perhaps, so whenever I feel the urge for an impromptu flamenco dance all I need for musical accompaniment is to shake my hips from side to side and the soft percussionist clapping will accompany me as I bring shame upon the entire Andalusian culture. Or maybe a set of kettlebells. I heard regularly swinging those things around works absolute wonders on the glutes, so imagine what having them permanently affixed to you would do.
An NHS gynaecologist, a fertility doctor, a clinical psychologist and an acupuncturist all walk into a bar. That’s it. They all go to a bar and do diddly-squat for me. Except maybe the acupuncturist. I do get to take a very expensive forty-five minute nap every two weeks while he sticks needles in me. Bargain.
But really, there are so many more interesting topics to talk about than the furthering of the human race am I right? Is there anything duller than a constant and steady stream of inquiries about one’s reproduction, or lack thereof? As soon as one enters their thirties all anyone wants to know is the potential of your uterus to birth a living humanoid. As if when you become thirty-three, are in a stable marriage with full time employment and intact anatomy, the rest of yourself, the so many different parts of yourself that you’ve worked so hard to become, have literally evaporated into thin air. You are now a one-dimensional walking talking (potential) womb. It is the foremost subject in all conversations, or speculations, regarding your existence. Um, what about my thoughts on the current state of US democracy? What about my opinions on the works of my favourite authors, what about my work, and my recent findings in experimenting with permaculture and my theories on a multitude of subjects that have nothing to do with my uterus and can we talk for a second about Lucovido Einaudi as a classical composer? His song “Divenire” literally gives me life especially at that part where the bass and violi—sorry what? You want to know if me and my husband want kids? Oh ok, weird segue there as we were just discussing the majesty of contemporary classical music but sure let’s get into it. I’ll make it quick. Yes, no and yes. Yes we want kids, I mean I think. Not sure I’ll ever have clarity on whether volunteering to have dependents is a wise thing to do, but no, it’s not happening for us and yes, we’ve been looking into it. Now, back to those glorious violins.
I miss the days when people didn’t see me and secretly wonder what my reproductive situation is. Not because it upsets me greatly or something, but more so because I like to think of myself as inclusive and none of my other organs are being thought of as much and maybe that’s unfair. Maybe someone should ponder how my pancreas is holding up? Or how my translucent epidermis is dealing with all the sunshine we’ve not been having lately here in southeast England. I’d rather they not think of my reproduction at all and instead think of my respiration, or my digestion. I bet not one person has looked at me lately and thought “I wonder whether she’s having regular bowel movements, I hope she is, afterall, a healthy colon is a healthy body.”
Despite our years of voluntary attempting to produce an heir, I’ll admit the idea of parenthood terrifies me. Almost to the degree a shark would a lone swimmer in open seas; vulnerable, open to attack, life as you know it likely over. Either mangled irreparably from the trauma or swallowed whole, is there any hope of escaping a neverending vortex of school runs and pushing buggies of screaming children through grocery stores and sitting alone in the coffee shop with the pram in the only peaceful twenty minutes of the day when the newborn sleeps and the constant and unabating sacrificing and the relentlessness of it and I feel bad because not only is this what my worst nightmares look like, I also fear it’s in that very space where my dreams might go to die. I don’t want to lose me, or my quiet. Or the space I have to pursue my dreams. That’s what scares me the most. Maybe it’s not that I’m being deprived of something here, but that I’m being saved from something. Maybe it’s not for me. Or maybe it is. Because I realize I can never know intimately all of the light that accompanies the dark, or the good that outweighs the bad, and unfamiliar territory can tend to surface fears more readily than enthusiasms. Life is such a paradox. I want and I don’t want. I don’t want the very thing that I want. Or is it the other way around?
If one is being thoroughly and objectively analytical about it, I’m not sure I’m mother material. I once snarkily told a toddler on the Southbank of the Thames he was selfish as he screamed throughout the entire encore performance of a Charlie Chaplin impersonator. Why don’t children understand the beauty of mime as a theatrical medium? Is the art of silence dead? I also hate mashed fruit. And those child leashes give me the creeps. Though admittedly if I had to chaperone a small human around all day this would most likely be my accessory of choice. I might like to acquire an adult-sized one for my husband. Sometimes he impatiently walks so far ahead of me in public places it looks like he’s my bodyguard. So then I pretend to be Kristen Stewart or some other brunette actor even roughly my height. One time I was Juliette Binoche and at the Pret I ordered a croissant in the way it’s properly pronounced, not croy-sant, and was feeling pretty Cinéma français but then stuffed it up when the cashier asked “Oh très bon accent, parlez-vous français très souvent?” Anyways I don’t have a lot of toddler walking experience but I was always pretty below average at dog walking, and with those you can pretty much just leave them at the park when they act up, so this probably isn’t a good start.
Or maybe I’m destined to be a mother of dragons, like Khaleesi, Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, first of her name, the unburnt, Queen of the Andals and breaker of chains. Dragon children seem like they’d be a lot more fun than human children. They fly, fire breath is incredibly useful I would imagine and you don’t have to clothe them. So if that option is still on the table I’d be very keen to explore it, especially if ruling the seven kingdoms is part of the deal.
I don’t think I’m responding to this in the way people, and society, might expect me to. I’m supposed to be sadder, tense, more anxious. Like the way a Chihuahua always looks. But maybe I’m getting high off of knowing how much this phase is teaching me about myself and the world, that I’m in the process of becoming, and maybe I don’t want to rush out of that. Maybe I want to be so fully in this process of becoming more than I even want the result. Maybe that’s selfish, I don’t know. Maybe I want the idea of children, but not the actual reality. Maybe maybe maybe. Maybe I’m my own worst enemy. Probably. All I know is I’m ok. And I don’t pin my every hope and dream and fulfillment on my body’s ability to reproduce. I don’t think that’s the best thing that I as a person can offer the world. Maybe it’s one thing I can offer the world, who knows, but certainly not the only thing. And so maybe that’s why I live in this valley right now, this valley of uncertainty. I think it’s kinda pretty here, in an unconventional way. Even though the sun is a bit hot and it stings my feet and most other visitors want to leave as soon as they get here. But I’m not lonely, I always sort of enjoyed my own company, and maybe when you’re alone and feeling a bit uncertain you tend to look up at the sky more, and the way the sky looks from this valley is unexpectedly pretty special.
I just want to gather the wisdom and learn all the things that these situations are meant to teach. I’m being the studious pupil at the front of the class scribbling notes and raising my hand and using office hours and maybe smoking the occasional cigarette behind the gymnasium because nobody’s perfect, geez. I guess I’m trying not to rush through it as quickly as possible and risk missing the lessons. I’m trying to feel my way through. Trying not to scramble for the exit door out of fear and choose my closest possible lifeline. I’m trying to calmly sit in the burning intensity of it, like dipping your fingers into hot wax at candlelit restaurants and then, like a psychopath, slowly and deliberately peeling the wax off knowing that every second of the hot pain was worth it, because now you have a cute collection of dried wax clumps in the shape of your fingertips. But not just any dried wax clumps, like the ones you eventually put back into the candle because you’re afraid the waiter will see them on the table and think you’re an adult-sized toddler, but the kind of clumps you store away for later in life. Clumps full of wisdom and emotional fortitude and perspective. I am being given time here, and yet more space in the unknown, and I wouldn’t take that back for anything. I’m stronger and better able to see that happiness is relative and is not linked to some idea about what the future is meant to hold; it is simply and straightforwardly a choice. And my reaction to, and not the result of these circumstances really might be the more significant thing. Maybe it’s never been about the getting or the arriving, but just the becoming. Maybe everything, always, has just been about the becoming.
And so I’ve arrived at a juncture. Where old ways of thinking no longer serve me. It’s at this type of juncture where I finish thinking particular outcomes are in my control, and instead a peaceful surrendering process begins. Rucksacks and suitcases full of preconceived ideas are unloaded onto the side of the road before continuing the journey, and what’s left is just me. Which feels highly trepidatious, as I am naked, no longer clothed in my certainties and assurances, no longer superficially protected by false notions. But it is on this road, at this juncture, naked and utterly present, that I decide to hand over the reins. To whom I’m not certain; to the test tubes, God, Santa Claus, Robots, probably Oprah. The very act of passing them on has made me a lighter traveler, because I’m now free. Free of the baggage of expectation and comparison. Free of the weight of fear and self-doubt. I’m split wide open and walking into an uncomfortable abyss. And yet, I’m entirely whole and comforted.
It’s Oprah’s problem now anyway.