Self-Portrait in Hydrogen Peroxide
I never thought of myself as "the blond" or even "a blond,"
until a young man working his way up
to asking me for a date says, My ex is jealous of the blond
I keep talking about. At first, I think he means someone else,
someone other than me. A third woman in the equation.
Then he says, My friends want to know why I keep bringing up
the blond divorcée. I have only recently grasped the fact
that I am a divorcée, the gentle accent over the first "e"
like a hand coming down to pat me on the shoulder,
to tell me things will be OK. I don't have to be ostracized,
like the divorced moms I knew as a child. I'm a cougar now,
accepted and absorbed by the mainstream,
even though I haven't had plastic surgery, even though
my bank account isn't exactly purring. I get this, sort of,
but I still don't feel like a blond—a blonde
with or without the extra "e" on the end. In fact,
I dyed my hair red for over ten years, until I moved to Florida
where it was too hard to keep up, my frizz turning orange in the sun.
So I went back to being blond, but not "a blond" or "the blond."
I insisted on Jodie-Foster-ash-blond, not Pamela-Anderson-platinum,
the first choice of the hairdresser who was sure
I could pull it off. I grew up with dumb blond jokes
and one of my big fears was looking stupid. Another big fear,
looking smart. I had the highest IQ in 7th grade—
the teacher announced this fact to the class
after we took some standardized test. Great, I thought,
now I'll never get a date. So I tried to act dumb,
then smart again, then I thought that what I really wanted
was to blend in, but that can't be true—
because then why would I have dyed my hair bright red?
It was an experiment for an article I was writing
for an alternative weekly in New York,
to see if people reacted to redheads differently,
which, I found, they did. Women were less likely to cut
in front of me in line, men less likely to whistle.
I held onto my power in a Clairol box as long as I could.
But now I have a lot of gray hair. To tell you the truth,
it's easier to be blond because the gray blends in,
just the way I've always wanted to blend in
and not. The magazine folded, so my article was never printed.
Glamour ran a similar story shortly thereafter,
blonds on staff becoming redheads and brunettes, reporting pretty
much the same results I'd found. Now I'm middle-aged,
with a middle-age spread. Even though I'm "a blond,"
it's false advertising. There's a lot of silver in my hair,
I tell my potential suitor. He says he doesn't care, reminding me
that I am a cougar which makes him a cub. I catch us
in the mirror—my lines, my loose skin, a wrinkle
in my skirt, his big arms and pressed shirt. I'm nervous
and talking too much, about my doomed
article on redheads for which I was paid a kill fee,
a term I have to explain. He's relieved
I'm not a murderer. When I ask him if he knows
what a cub reporter is, he squints. I'm 47, I blurt.
He says, Oh, never mind then, you crazy old lady.
Why would I want to go out with you?
Then I begin to roar, the big laugh of a blond cougar.