Why I'm rocking pink hair in my 40s

May 15, 2015 at 1:02 p.m. ET
Image: Cooper Lawrence

Growing up, I was always the girl my friends would call when they were looking to get into trouble. In sixth grade, when Lori wanted to try cigarettes she brought me along to help her buy them. When Diana decided to ditch school to avoid a math test she had me in tow. We spent the day in the part of the city her parents had forbidden her to go. When my gorgeous "way too mature for her age" girlfriend Alex wanted to sneak out of the house to see her rock-star boyfriend, she took me along, confident I'd hook up with the drummer.

I was a rebellious child. And most of that rebelliousness was destructive.

My mother knew I wouldn't endure piano lessons, after-school programs or church camp, so she just left me alone. There was no such thing as helicopter parenting back then (well, no one would admit to it, anyway). People said goodbye to you at breakfast and hoped you'd show up at the end of the day. My mom's hands-off approach allowed me to explore the world in a way that kids don't anymore. Perhaps it was her guilt over the divorce, or maybe she just trusted me. She knew, I think, that despite my defiance I was a good decision maker and wouldn't do anything too dangerous.

In college I got better at corrupting the incorruptible. My impulsivity and desire to do brazen things left my highly principled roommate, Shayna, with ulcers and nails bitten down to their beds. She allowed me, for a time, to talk her into driving us to Washington D.C. to go club hopping, after-hour party hopping and occasionally bed hopping.

The last straw for her was when I met Michael. He was a cool cat. Aside from being an incredibly handsome catalog model, he was a surfer boy who was "not really feeling school" and rented a house in St. Thomas. He and his dreamy brown eyes convinced me that I had my whole life to finish college and moving with him to the Virgin Islands was what cool rebellious chicks did. So I went. He dumped me as soon as we got there, but I stayed on. I still agreed with his philosophy, plus I hadn't purchased a return ticket. I began my island life at 19 as a cocktail waitress, spending my days on a beach with half-naked men and my nights allowing tourists to over-tip me. This was the life! Eventually I made it home. Having spent a roommate-less year, Shayna was thrilled to see me. She even made valiant attempts to look directly at me without shaking her head in bewilderment and/or disgust.

The next year a friend in Paris (because I had friends in Paris then) invited me to stay at the house of a friend whose parents would be in India for the summer. I didn't know what that was all about, but I knew that I had a free place to stay if I could come up with plane fare. So I sold cheap sweaters at flea markets for a friend and raised the cash.

Paris led to Amsterdam, which led to Germany and eventually London where I would spend the bulk of my summer with Johnny, who knew too much about politics, Sarah, who loved all things lavender, German Jürgen who didn't speak English so we communicated in Spanish and Aliza who was the first foodie I ever met. She introduced me to the concept of driving three hours to have the "best slow cooked barbecue (yes, in England) you've ever tasted." Strange, especially since I was a vegetarian.

But in no time I found myself back in New York beginning to take on duties that required some semblance of responsibility. "Show up on time," my boss told me. "It has to be a money order," my landlord insisted. And "your cousin will come live with you now that she's out of rehab," my grandmother demanded. Each day my life of freedom and rebellion got further and further away from me.

Now, years and years later, I have a full-time career I love, a mortgage with a man I adore and a dog who doesn't speak English or Spanish so we communicate in German (no, in biscuits actually). I have always done something unusual to remind myself who I really was at the core. Last year it was triathalons, this year it's pink hair. Nothing is really shocking anymore, though. I wish I could say I get treated differently, but I don't. Pink hair is not a permanent solution like a tattoo (although I wish I had the pain threshold for a sleeve). It's just what I'm doing for the moment. This time.