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February 28-4 (a few spaces left!)
I was lying in bed last night at 4:00 a.m. thinking about my face. I’d woken with a start from a dream inspired by the look I gave myself in the mirror before I went to bed—ghost of Christmas past. Bruise-like circles along the insides of my eye sockets, puffy pillows underneath them, a little wobble under my chin, new slack in my jaw, random lines on my neck that cross like airplane wake outside of O’Hare, and land in the boggy décolletage that once held up pretty pert, albeit ample, bosom. I’m not sure where those went. I only know that when I sit in bed, they rest on my stomach. And they sweat. So sometimes I hike my shirt underneath them to cool off. Nightmare material, for sure.
I lay there letting the beauty tips I never took reel through my mind. “Don’t forget about your decolletage,” I read in some magazine in my twenties. Hah. I’ll defy age by welcoming it, I remember thinking. I’ll be one of those leathery salt-encrusted cranky Yankee long-grey-haired dowagers. I’ll tout every age spot. I’ll wear alligator skin like a Gucci purse. Only I won’t carry a purse. I’ll just carry a little old backpack from some place cool where I’ve just been on pilgrimage, like Santiago. Or Honduras. Or Botswana.
Thoughts from a girl who dabbled in modeling, and dressed intentionally like a bag to be taken seriously in her twenties.
And now it’s all gone to hell. And I’m not so sure I want to be that leather lady, after all.
“You have to use what you’ve got, girl,” said the make-up artist on Good Morning America as she stabbed me with her mascara wand. And she tsk-tsked the way the Korean lady at the express nail salon does when she looks at my hands.
I’ve been lucky. I never really had acne. I tan easily. I didn’t really have any wrinkles until I hit fifty. But even if I did, I truly believe that I wouldn’t see a plastic surgeon unless I was horribly disfigured. Not that twenty-five years in cold dry Montana has been exceptionally helpful in the skin department. Even so, I’ve always been more concerned with what’s going on inside of me, rather than on the outside.
But then it was Thanksgiving, and I was in Chicago visiting family, and I happened upon my old lover, Barneys, and the pull to the lower level found me asking an innocent question, “Can you suggest a good face crème?” to a man wearing make-up, sporting an orange silk scarf. Before I knew it, I was sitting on a stool, obeying his “look up” “look down” like my life depended on it. His name was Simon. Of course it was. He was sort of British, or maybe sort of Peoria-an. His real name was probably Doug. But I fell for him. Hard. “Dear, what have you been doing to yourself? You have to take care of your face. Look up.” Before I knew it I was fully facially lubed, powdered, eye-lined, mascara-ed and lip-sticked.
“Look how gorgeous,” he said, and I’m pretty sure he meant his make-over artistry, not my actual face, but I went for it. A girl needs a compliment from a dolled-up guy named Simon every so often. And they don’t really make ‘em like that in Montana.
“Thank you,” I said, looking in the mirror, feeling like a woman who is just plain trying too hard to defy her age. But maybe this was the new me. Maybe I was going to have to start looking like this painted version of myself. I started to drink the Kool-aid. “But all I really need is some good lotion.”
He produced a sleek frosty glass tube and a snug little jar and said, “Face oil. Firming lotion. I have women buying these in droves. These products will absolutely change your life.”
“I’ll take them both.” I didn’t ask how much. I just knew I needed them like I needed to have a happy Thanksgiving. And as I signed the credit card slip, I gasped. “Two hundred and forty dollars?! What is it made out of? Gold and bone marrow and stem cells? And all of Paris?”
“It’s a fabulous product. And you only use a little dab at a time.” And then the old line that estheticians and sellers of multi-level-marketing love to use: “You know…your skin is your largest organ.” So now I’m going to go into renal failure if I don’t take out a second mortgage for it? But it was that “medical emergency” which kept me out of the guilt doghouse as I made my way out of the store, down Michigan Avenue, through Thanksgiving, all the way back to my bed-side table, where my little $240 organ-transplant-preventer now lives.
I lay there at 4:00 a.m. this morning, getting real with myself. A woman of a certain age, especially with the holiday blues, will do just about anything for the Simons of the world. I mean, do you think that anyone really buys stupidly expensive skin care products because of the organ angle? I mean, would you spend $240 on a tube of crème from France for your gall bladder? Of course not. That’s just what makes people feel good about all those lotions and potions in our medicine cabinet. I think we all know that it’s not that we care about our biggest organ. It’s because it’s the only organ you can actually SEE, and it’s the very one that you get judged for, gain power from, use to attract the potential father of your unborn children. Saggy neck, crows feet, smile lines… Would you spend $240 on dandelion and milk thistle tinctures that are supposed to help your liver functions? Maybe if your liver lived on your face you would. Let’s “face” it—we want to look young. The world wants us to look young. But I’m of my mother’s thinking. Don’t wash your face with soap. Lubriderm is just fine, thank you very much, but then again, Santa used to bring us toothpaste and dental floss in our Christmas stocking. She’s a no frills kind of gal. I always thought I was too.
In any case, each morning and at bed-time, I pump out a few drops of this liquid gold onto my finger tip, and dab, yes dab, it on my face organ. And then spread a few dabs of the crème over it. Is my face any more fabulous? Apparently not, since it’s showing up in nightmares and waking me up at 4:00 a.m. with my heart racing. But I think of Simon and his silk scarf and plucked eyebrows and perfect face. He probably exfoliates. He probably works at Barneys just so he can get a discount on the liquid gold. And suddenly, I wish I’d bought the exfoliator too. “Dear, you have to take care of yourself.”
I’m half way through the infusion, and a third of the way through the lotion, which I’m rationing like potable water.
And at 4:00 a.m., with a still-thick oil slick on my face, in the dark of a Montana winter, I can say, with confidence, “Mr. DeMille. I’m ready for my close up.” We’ll see how I feel when it runs out… I have a feeling it’s back to Lubriderm.