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Gray Hair Shouldn’t Be an Identity Crisis

I recently made an appointment to apply for the new Real ID — a driver’s license meant to establish my true identity better than my old driver’s license could that will soon be required for boarding domestic flights and other such situations. Appointment verification and documents in hand, I cut to the front of the line.

I had heard a number of horror stories regarding the careful scrutiny of the various documents required by DMV for the new licenses (recent utility bill from your current address complete with your name or some other bill that would confirm your name and your address (not your spouse’s or roommate’s), a social security card, birth certificate, and a photo ID with your full legal name and date of birth, i.e., a passport) and went well-prepared.

As usual, I was pressed for time, hence the appointment, and was armed with a folder of required documents and a few backups just in case they didn’t like what I was presenting. In short, I had my ducks in a row.

When it was my turn, I walked to a window and presented my documents. The clerk picked through my offerings, chose a few, copied them, and then asked for my current driver’s license.

“Is the address correct?” she asked.

“Yes.” I have learned over time that when conducting official business, short answers are best.

“Do you still want to be an organ donor?”

“Yes.”

“Is all the other information on your license correct?”

“Yes.”

She typed for a few minutes then spoke again.

“Please look at the screen and verify the information I’ve typed for your new license.”

I looked. It seemed fine.

“It’s correct,” I responded, gathering my documents.

“Are you sure?”

I looked again and nodded my head. Everything seemed in order.

She hesitated then said: “Your present license says that you have brown hair. Do you want me to say you have brown hair?”

“Sure,” I replied, glancing back at the long line of folks waiting their turns to present their documents.


On inspecting my picture, it appeared that whatever brown hair I once had was now a whisper of soft brown, streaked with gray. Lots of gray.


The clerk didn’t seem to be in a hurry.

“Your new license will be good until 2022. Do you still want me to say your hair is brown? Let me take your picture.”

She instructed me to look at the light above the screen. The light blinked. My picture came up on her computer. She turned it around so I could see.

On inspecting my picture, it appeared that whatever brown hair I once had was now a whisper of soft brown, streaked with gray. Lots of gray. It was not some noble or respectable salt-and-pepper blend, but rather a few soft brown hairs scattered among a sea of unmistakable gray.

“Gray?” I asked.

“Good choice,” she said, making the correction.

When I got to my car, I called my daughter so I could talk to my 2-year-old granddaughter.

“What color is GaGa’s hair?” I asked. Lily is a total devotee of Crayola crayons and takes great pride in knowing her colors.

“Silver,” Lily said without hesitation.

“Gray?” I prompted.

“No, silver.”

I looked into my rearview mirror. My hair looked more like a patch of neglected tarnished silver rather than something shiny and new.

Funny, how life can sneak up on you.

At my next haircut, I hesitated for a moment before asking but asked anyway.

“What color is my hair?”

Steven, both friend and stylist, took a moment to brush his fingers through my hair thoughtfully.

“Sable,” he said. “Your hair is definitely sable colored.”

Rich. I loved it, and loved him for saying it!

Carrie J. Knowles was the 2014 North Carolina Piedmont Laureate for Short Fiction. She has published three novels, a collection of her short stories, and important memoir about the impact of Alzheimer’s on family members. Learn more at cjanework.com.

This article originally appeared on Psychology Today. It has been reprinted with permission.

Photo: Laflor

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