women’s stories

This is What a Memoir Should Be

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Gray is the New Black, by Dorothy Rice is what a memoir should be. Despite it’s lack-luster cover, the book is a testament to the universal truths of womanhood.

When the tick-tock of time thwacks its boney knuckles on Dorothy’s door, via a beloved, but dying pet, empty-nester syndrome, and a mother with Alzheimers who often wonders who Dorothy is, she is left to ponder that same question; who is Dorothy Rice?

Now in her sixties, Dorothy examines what came before and ponders acceptance for what’s left of her life.

During a demoralizing dinner with her fit and thin sisters whom she habitually compares herself to, a radical gauntlet is laid down;

‘I was forty-pounds overweight and not in the mood for self-reflection’….’I had no right to resent her – she eats like an anorexic bird and works out like an Olympian’… the conversation turns from working out and eating like a bird, two things Dorothy has not mastered, to hair; she may struggle with weight, but she has GREAT hair. Dorothy is grateful for the change in tête-à-tête. ‘Why is it that men become more distinguished with age, while for women, going gray isn’t a natural consequence, but rather a political statement, or an admission that they’ve given up on their appearance?’

At that dinner table where her sisters perfect the ‘art of fake eating’ and Dorothy sits hungry and eyeing the dessert case, an agreement is met; they will go gray together.  In a youth obsessed world, this is radical.

Gray is the New Black is also a sister’s story. A wife’s story. A daughter’s story. A mother’s story. This is every woman’s story. I laughed, cried, related, and often cringed at the rawness of her revelations and how brave she was in her profoundly personal reveals. But mostly, I felt I wasn’t alone in my experiences, my feelings. I felt connected to my journey, not alone on the long road from girlhood to womanhood. That’s what a good memoir should do, connect us in our universal experiences.

Most women, myself included, will relate to the deeply personal exploration into sugar addiction, ups and downs of weight and the consistent fat-shaming of ourselves. Rice explores loss and shame, and the illusory expectations of a Prince Charming who shows up not in shiny armor, but threadbare and incapable of espousing the great love of myth and lore that we all grew up expecting.

This book resonated with me for many reasons. Dorothy grows to accept and truly appreciate her precious relationship with her sisters, writing, ‘The three of us will live together on a family compound, perhaps in three adjacent tiny homes…’ she writes on about what life in their sisterly dotage will be.

That is so like what my sister and I had planned.

When my sister died, with her went our ‘old age’ plan of walking on the beach – divorced and left to ourselves – wearing purple hats, bickering at one another as we did, and laughing till we peed. The loss of that old age insurance plan, that image, shook me to my core, left me seated on the edge of mortality, alone. Dorothy’s sisterly old-age-strategy resonated, and made me smile.

And now with my mom experiencing dementia, possibly Alzheimers, the stories in Dorothy’s book about her mom brought tears. Especially one scene when she’s visiting her mom in her Alzheimers home.

***

She rummages in her handbag and pulls out a ratty Kleenex, “One day,” Mom says, “when I have lots of money, I’m going to buy a whole pile of these little sheets of paper for blowing your nose.”  She wipes her nose, refolds the soiled tissue, and stuffs it back into the stained handbag that never leaves her sight.

“I could fill your Christmas stocking with them.” I say.

“Really.” Mom says. “I had no idea you could do that.”

***

That sweet exchange reminds me of the hundred or so just like that, that I’ve had with my mom the last two years.

Dorothy journeys from self-loathing and self-sabotage to self-acceptance. In that self-acceptance she also recognizes that though her husband is not the Prince Charming of fable, he’s her prince, warts and all. Though she does not permanently lose the weight, she so struggles with, she does come to terms with her inner voice. That voice like a paranoid purveyor of chaos always told her to read between the lines, assume that every side-glance or whatever someone said, was a jab at her weight, or how much she was eating, or how she looked in that dress, or, or, or….always negative self-talk. She gets a peaceful handle on that toxic inner life-coach and begins to relax, accept herself, weight and all. As her hair grows in strength, length and the beautiful rich grayness of womanhood, it becomes metaphor for Dorothy.

She recognizes her own personal power is one of choice – how she chooses to perceive the world – and in that, she finds peace.

Ultimately, that’s really all the power we have isn’t it; our choice in how we see the world colors every experience. Once we get that right everything else begins to fall into place.

I HIGHLY recommend this book.

Ultimately, Gray is the New Black is a story of transformation.