Don’t call me “Dear”
“Well, you do have all those gray hairs.” I point to the few silver strands coming through.
“They’re not gray,” Mom barks at me as she opens her door. “They’re strands of glittery goodness.”
Margaret McHeyzer, Dying Wish
I knew it was coming. It comes for all of us one way or the other. No. Not death — not yet, anyway. No, it’s that death of individuality when someone young enough to be your grandchild calls you “Dear.”
She really was the most adorable young person — perhaps early 20s, just young enough that my older daughter could comfortably be her mother and my younger daughter uncomfortably so.
Let me back up a bit. I retired the first of February of this year and in celebration and because I’d had the itch to do it, I shaved my head. Or, more accurately, after a vote from the family as to whether I should do it, with only my younger daughter wincing and saying “nay,” my utterly darling younger son-in-law did it for me. Even my two and a half year old granddaughter said “Shave a hair, Nana!”
I emerged as you see me above. I was, to say the least, bemused by it. Oh, and it was and is really, really cold, hence I have been wearing heats or hoodies ever since. Not to worry, it grows fast, but I am still at the too much scalp stage. It feels great, I am assured it looks better than I think it does, but I’m not all that excited by the victim-of-a-disease look, no knocks on those who are.
So I got it in my head to go get a wig so I wouldn’t be so conspicuous. Yes, I am a bit brassy at times. Yes, I get embarrassed a hell by a bunch of stupid things.
Now, one of the cool things about my black, female friends is if they want to wear a wig to change their look, they wear the wig. They don’t for a moment, as far as I know, fret that it looks like it isn’t theirs. They’re smart enough not to care. A lot of the white women I know just cringe at the thought, which we know perfectly well gives way too much power to social pressure, but we do it anyway.
I went to Merle Norman, which isn’t just about makeup (which I’m usually way too lazy to wear) and I found just the thing. It’s a gorgeous, silver and gray confection of synthetic cranial fur — an artificial pelt for the head. (Weirds people out when you describe it that way, but that’s essentially what it is — but I digress.)
I tried it on and it looked wonderful. Looked like I grew it myself. Mind you, my hair is growing in almost completely near-black (darkened from the coppery chestnut of my youth) with just a few radiant flecks of silver. I may never get as gray as that, adoptee genetics being the mystery that they are. And there are days that I actually don’t have the nerve to wear it. But that day, I didn’t want to wear the ubiquitous hat. So I wore the wig.
Halfway through my day, I got hungry and went to a buffet place called Izzy’s that caters to my gastric bypass capacity by charging me for a 12-year-old’s portion. And that’s where it happened. The adorable, sexy young server sashayed up to me and asked, “Table or booth, dear?”
I think my heart stopped right then and there. Dear? What the actual fuck? Is “Dearie” next? Will I sink into that suffocating vat of “Honey” next? I swear, if I hear “Sweetie” from someone that age, I will implode, leave a nasty little wet spot they will have trouble explaining.
So let me advise you, young people. Do not call me “Dear.” I’m not even that fond of “Ma’am,” either. Why? Oh, do let me tell you.
I know you call me those terms of endearment out of kindness. You don’t have a bad motive in your body, at least not about this. But what you are using, particularly when used between generations or races or orientations or any other of the human categories we use to divide us, are separation words.
You are “us.” I am a tottering, geriatric “them.” (Mind you, as a long time body builder with a red belt in Mixed Martial Arts, the tottering might not apply just yet.) But we are not at that moment just two people on different ends of the time slide. We are one real human staring at a former human across a chasm that is very nearly unbridgeable.
Fortunately, I am very good at building bridges.
I gave this adorable young woman a look and asked gently, “Tell me, at what age do you want to stop being yourself?”
She stopped in her tracks and whipped around to look back.
“Does your being a person have a pull date?”
Understanding dawned almost instantly and her eyes got huge.
“Don’t worry,” I reassured her. “You didn’t do anything wrong. But when you call me ‘Dear,’ you are telling me all you see is my age.”
“I am so sorry,” she replied. “You’re right.”
“They categorize you because you’re young, female and gorgeous, right?”
She blushed at the ‘gorgeous’ part, but she nodded.
“And that’s not all of you at all, is it?”
“No,” she answered. “No, it isn’t. I’m really sorry.”
“No worries. Now you know. My name is Maya. Nice to meet you,” and I beamed at her. She’d heard me. “You know better than to let people categorize you, I hope. And when you’re my age, you’ll remember this. And you’ll know to expect yourself to still just be you, right?”
“Oh yes, I will,” she grinned back, and at that moment we were what we had always been — just two fully human people whose selfhood has no start date besides birth and no end death other than death in a moment of perfect understanding.
So yes, unless you have a date at which you will cease to be yourself, don’t call older people “Dear.” Or “Honey.” Or “Sweetie.” Just don’t.
In the meantime, I’ve ordered the same style in my natural dark brown. We’ll see next just how much the color of a woman’s hair influences how she’s seen, although I already know the answer.