So I was standing outside a groovy record shop in the college city of Eugene, OR one day last week. I was waiting for my husband, who could have happily been in the store for hours, but I was outside (because small store, Covid, etc.), scrolling through Twitter.
A youngish (teen? 20 something?) couple walked by.
The young woman looked up at where I was perched on the stairs and sneered. “Hi, Grandma.”
I froze for a second while the shock hit me.
I had chemo last year and lost all my hair. Before chemo my hair was kind of mousy brown and super straight. Now it’s a silvery grey and curly. To be honest, I kind of love it, but I know that it makes me look older.
So the encounter went like this:
Me: Why would you say that? Why?
Her: Because you look like my grandma, don’t you?
Me (in annoyingly prim and proper voice): Well, that’s so rude.
Her: *walks away*
Me: *curses at her* (probably could have handled that better)
And then I started crying. I cried because it’s been an extremely shitty year. I cried because I couldn’t help but wonder if my husband is going to be asked someday if I’m his mother. I cried because even though I mostly like my new hair, I don’t look like myself anymore.
And while I was crying, I was also mad at myself for my ageism. What the fuck do I care if I look like a grandma? Grandmas are awesome.
I’d like to think it was the sneer that set me off, but if I’m honest with myself, it’s also the idea that I now look 10 or 15 years older than I did (which is stupid and shallow and I’d really like to pin this on society’s expectations that women look eternally young).
And then I did that thing. You know the thing. The thing where for the rest of the day you come up with witty rejoinders, snappy comebacks, devastating putdowns:
Her: Well, you look like my grandma, don’t you?
Me: How dare you? I just went through CHEMO and my hair just came in like this. I’M ONLY 23 YEARS OLD. [I’m emphatically NOT 23 years old]
Her: Hi Grandma.
Me: I prefer “crone.”
That made me feel better, but for the rest of the day I was a bit melancholy. I got over the comment and could even forgive the young woman (just as she didn’t know what was going on in my life, I couldn’t know what was going on in hers). What’s stuck with me, though, is that this thoughtless young woman’s comments made me confront my own internalized ageism. I’m gonna have to do some thinking about that, some journaling. Because, as I told my husband after he came out and consoled me and I calmed down, “better a grandma than a cancer-riddled corpse.”