When I was in my late teens, maybe seventeen or eighteen, I freaked out after spotting a gray hair on my head. My parents teased me mercilessly for days afterward, especially my dad who was the first to tell me that plucking the traitorous string would only bring more in its place. I ignored my dad’s warning and plucked the gray out of my head, becoming obsessively diligent in keeping my facial hair gray free. At the time, I didn’t think I had “earned” it. I wasn’t wise. I wasn’t working to the point of showing any signs of old age. Although, unbeknownst to me, I was stressing, Stressing out about somethings I wasn’t ready to face. And stress could cause grays, but at eighteen? Ridiculous.
The second time I found a gray hair, it came with a couple of friends. They were not in the same spot as the first, but very visible on the side of my face. By this time, I was in college, and my friends were worse than my parents at clowning me about getting upset over a gray hair. Their taunts had an overbearing weight behind them. Mainly because I was already designated the “old man” of the group: a homebody, who always shot down a foolhardy plan by laying out the consequential scenarios if we got caught. Secondly, my facial hair made me look older than my peers on the dorm floor, so much that my best friends’ admitted that when we first met, they felt I was over 21 and could buy them alcohol. At the time I felt as if it was a slap to my already paranoid psyche. (They later clarified that wasn’t the case.) It’s crazy how that moment feels as if it was just a second ago, not even the length it took for me to pluck those few gray hairs in my chin.
Now, at age thirty-six, when I look at my boys, I see age invading their faces, slowly but steadily etching away their youth. Through marriages, jobs, economy, kids. For them, the grays are right on time, the same age as when my dad started to dye his hair black to hide - mostly to himself - that he was growing old. As for me, I’m ahead of the curve. Back when my boys were dating and telling me about their latest conquests - or low-key heartbreaks - while living with reckless abandon, I was withholding my increasingly, undeniable lust for some of our other male classmates, my sexual escapades with some of their frat brothers, my own heartbreak dealing with rejection from other men who were also struggling with their identities.
I’m now thirty-six years old. The grays are coming in droves. The young man, who once was a young boy searching for his moment, is fading. And that scares me. It terrifies me. That fading young man didn’t get a chance to live his youth. Truthfully. He’s only begun to live finally , and I can’t help but feel that it’s too late. I find myself marveling at how short life’s journey really is. We usually don’t think about when we’re in the moment, or rather, most people don’t. I can’t help it. Time is beautiful yet daunting. A beautiful, phantasmagoric nightmare. I wonder if I would feel this way if I had the chance to date openly. Would I freak out about a gray hair if I had someone to share my growing pains with judge free? If I had the chance to be me, would I be tethered within the tapestry of time? Would aging scare me as much?
This fear of getting old may not affect most individuals who lived their lives unapologetically. Loudly. Or maybe it does, and they’re very suave at handling it. Either way, I admire those who lived their lives, are living their lives and will continue to do so with an ease that is second nature. They’ve earned their grays. And one day, I hope that I can not only say that I’ve earned mine, but accept them with sheer pride.
Mark O. Estes currently hails from Memphis, TN where he practices the art of solitude, fine wine drinking, and mostly everything pop culture (reading, writing, music, podcasts, and movies/TV) has to offer when he’s not sleeping. You can find him on Twitter (@theanticritic) or IG (@markoestes/@midnightsocialdistortion), and be sure to check out his blog, midnightsocialdistortion.wordpress.com, where black Gay blerdom, Horror, and other facets of pop culture, gay or otherwise, collide.