Sometimes it takes a leitmotif of unfortunate events or a subtle epiphany in dark times that allows us to harness and channel inner light from within to create positive experiences for ourselves. This is one of those stories.
As a child, I always struggled with my hair because I didn’t know how to care for it. My brunette 3A/3B curls were always slicked back in a ponytail with scrunchies and pounds of gel found in local pharmacies.
Fast forward to my early adult years. I had survived seven years of brutal domestic violence. At that stage in my life, I was blessed with my daughter, whom I used as my motivation to present my curls well and focus on portraying inner beauty on the outside. Unfortunately, this included products with tons of alcohol, hardly ever cutting my hair, and monthly hot oil treatments that often left my scalp suffocating. Unbeknownst to me, these areas of my life would come full circle during a dark time in my life.
Through my daughter, I’d gained a sense of identity that was misplaced at a time when I’d lost myself. I was able to learn from my upbringing what resonated, and what I learned firsthand wasn’t best as a parent. One of my fondest memories was hiking with my father, a routine I continued after his passing, but my daughter feels differently about having a workout as a hobby. I don’t blame her; it’s also dangerous. I always wanted to go to the Adirondack Mountains, but I knew I wasn’t trained well enough to do it. Like most mothers, I envision my daughter’s high school and college graduations, proms, and, if she wants to, weddings and grandchildren.
Today I work as an accountant, taking care of my daughter as a single mother. I walk into work with a head full of virgin hair that was never dyed before—thick brunette salt and pepper curly grays that bounce with every step. A rarity for a 35-year-old woman. My first gray appeared on my 25th birthday, and all I thought was, “Cool!” I never saw it as something I desperately needed to hide, but its significance would hold a much deeper meaning in the events that followed just a few short years later.
In 2021, my life took a sudden turn when I wound up with COVID. During a time in which the deadliest strain was starting to spread throughout New York, I entered the ER, and minutes after testing, I was surrounded by 10 doctors. Sepsis, pulmonary failure, and pneumonia were a few of my conditions while I was hospitalized for the longest 72 hours of my life. The oxygen tanks were increased several times, and as hard as I tried, breathing was so painful that I couldn’t withstand it. I began envisioning my daughter’s future, but now I realize that I may not be a part of it. The same potential milestones of seeing her grow into a young woman that once brought a smile to my face now bring tears of regret. “Please forgive me if I can’t make it”, I thought to myself, but over the phone, I’d tell her, “I’m okay. I’m getting out soon!”
Exhausted, I woke up to a conversation between two doctors at my feet. While I lay there, practically lifeless, these two doctors discussed my condition as one relieved the other’s shift, unaware I had awakened. At this point, my health had declined to the point where lifting my eyes was too much work. He seemed concerned that I was only 32 years old at the time and that my results were not improving. The second doctor then replied, “You know they are dying at this age, too. This shouldn’t surprise you. We can’t increase the pressure any more than we already have. If the oxygen tank doesn’t work, she won’t make it.” With my eyes still closed, I listened as their feet pattered out of the room, and by the time the last foot walked out, a tear had already fallen.
I reminded myself continuously of the promise I made to my daughter, “I’m getting out soon!” I concentrated on each breath all night, refusing to fall asleep. I’m okay! One deep breath I’m getting out soon! Each breath deeper than the one before. I repeated the phrases in my head as I inhaled and exhaled all night. It felt like an eternity, but before I knew it, I could hear breakfast being served. I wanted to keep going. “Don’t fall asleep!” I thought, but I just couldn’t push myself any further.
Two days later, I Facetime my daughter, “I have some news to tell you”. I unplugged the tubing from my nose. I lower the camera to expose my outfit. “I am waiting for the discharge papers from the doctors.” No longer was I draped in a hospital gown, but in regular clothing from neck to feet. “I’m getting out soon!”
Two weeks later, I drove to one of the trails I'd denied myself for years, refusing to try because I claimed I was not trained well enough: the Adirondack Mountains. It was the most beautiful experience I’ve had hiking. Although my current work-life balance doesn’t permit me to return right now, I am in the process of creating one for myself that will allow me to return soon. Until then, I will continue to gray gracefully.
Every now and then, I get my hair trimmed only to hear the same words: “Let’s dye your hair next time!” It makes me sad. What is wrong with aging? Who said you should cover your hair’s way of signifying your existence? Why do we feel bound to follow beauty trends that are against our humanistic nature? When can we normalize grays? What are we telling others by covering our grays when aging is a privilege and an honor?
I see my gray hair now as a statement. I rinse my hair daily, apply curling creams and lotions to my damp hair, and allow it to air dry. During the winter, I take a blow dryer with a cool setting and use it to dry my hair before leaving for work. I wash my hair weekly and cut it every 3 months. To prevent oil build-up, I treat my scalp monthly with organic apple cider vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice. Most importantly, I do not dye my hair, and I don’t plan on ever doing so either. Why would I? My grays tell an unknown story: I’ve survived domestic violence and COVID, and I am still here!
My daughter and I continue to create memories as I gratefully and humbly watch her grow in awe of the great woman she is becoming. As an artist, she enjoys dying her hair but says it is just for now. “I want to rock out my grays when I get older”, is her response to the notion. I think I’m doing a good job at this mom thing.
Lanaette Delia Colon is currently working on her debut book on searching for meaningful relationships with others based on key areas DV counselors typically miss to prevent self-made trauma. She works as an accountant who specializes in the leadership of nonprofit organizations and works independently on e-commerce small businesses. Check out her website at www.thetrupro.com for more on her work in that space.
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