We have the ritual down pat: My Mom gives me an old t-shirt to wear and she takes her clothes off to her underwear. I mix the hair dye in the bathroom, wearing those plastic gloves that come in the package. I squeeze the dye into a little one-cup Tupperware dish and use a small brush from another hair dying kit to apply the color.
She sits on a little office chair we pull into the bathroom, with a specially designated towel around her shoulders. I have to start the application at her temples, because that’s where most of the white hairs are. My Mom has tons of hair. It’s thick, curly, and unruly. And going gray. Rapidly.
Once I am done with the temples, I move on to the front of her heard, carefully applying the dye right along her hairline where the surgeon cut her head during her brain surgery a couple of years ago. There is a small hole right in the middle of her forehead where they took out some tumor-ravaged bone.
When I glance in the mirror, I see myself 20 years from now in my Mom’s face. My nose, my cheeks, my curly hair – all like hers. Our laughs are the same and so are the looks we give when someone is bullshitting us: Just a small squint of the eyes, a downward tilt of the head, an almost unnoticeable turn of the lips. It’s a killer look and I am glad I inherited it from her.
By the time I am done with the entire bottle of color, her head looks like a giant radish, dark red from the dye and all of her hair is piled on top of her head. I wipe down her ears and her forehead – I am messy – and we move into the bedroom where we sit for 25 minutes.
We chat. Sometimes about nothing. Sometimes about everything. We have one of those great, complicated, incomprehensible, emotional, wacky, mother-daughter relationships. She knows me better than anyone. I love her for that. I hate her for that. It’s painful and revealing when someone knows you so well.
I know her now too. I know her as an adult – understand her so much better than when I was a rebellious teenager, eager to break free, eager to do anything to not become like her.
I now know that it’s impossible and have given up on pretending that it’s not happening. I cry during commercials. I cry when I say good bye to people who are dear to me. I lavish love on my friends – even if it’s never reciprocated. I yell at my husband to put his hat on when it’s cold. I can’t sleep at night. I am bull-headed. I always cook way too much food. I always think I know what’s best. I don’t dwell on the past. I plan ahead. I am a fatalist.
We fight. Never about anything that matters; there is never any doubt that we fight out of love. But even that is rare these days. The long, drawn-out, tearful screaming matches of my teenage years are gone, when all the male members of our family quietly retreated to some distant corner of the apartment while we went at it. I don’t even remember what those fights were about. Curfew? School? Boys? Who knows?
Now when we fight, it’s more of a quiet, subdued fight. She tells me what’s what. I get defensive. Our eyes well up. We move on. She is always right – but not in that annoying “I told you so” way. She just is – quietly, confidently.
When the 25 minutes are up, she sits back on the office chair and leans above the bathtub so I can rinse her hair. The dye runs in dark streams down her curls and into the drain. I shampoo her hair then massage in a handful of conditioner. I tickle her ear and neck as I massage and she giggles. I hand her a towel to wipe her eyes. I try to be careful so that I don’t spray her face too much with the shower head, but it’s impossible. We are both soaked by the time I am done.
I clean up.
She dries her hair.