They call it "chemo skin." It's fragile, so soft, almost translucent looking. It has a beautiful but disturbing glow.
The woman perched on the chair before her, wearing an autumnal looking sweater, all cabled and tweedy in shades of oranges and golds, was wearing a matching turban on her head.
The makeup counter at the Stanford store is very close to Stanford Hospital. The woman told her that she was finishing her round of chemotherapy before going back to her hometown. She was staying in a nearby hotel, with her husband.
The thing you learn when being a makeup artist is how to find a commonality with whomever is sitting before you. Aside from the regular or irregular features, the wishes and desires are also what you learn to tune into. Most people will share the same themes with you (I don't know what I'm doing with my makeup, I need a change). But you always can suss out the deeper desires. Some people will break down and tell you after a few minutes, and some might simply break down, crying. It happens. That's why you always have a box of tissues handy. Not just for wiping brushes but for dabbing tears.
The woman in the chair with the heavy sweater and the turban, dressed for autumn in the heat of summer. Her hands were thin and chilled. The skin so fragile, so thin, that barrier between blood and the atmosphere.
She assembles her clean brushes, some q-tips, some cotton, on a clean tissue. The woman before her is tired and quiet, so she starts working without any direction.
The first thing she must do for this sweet, aging face is to give it some hair. The woman has no eyebrows, no eyelashes. They were victims of the cruel chemicals that are trying to kill the cancer cells but with their loss, her face is fading away.
She has learned to master the art of the eyebrow. Shaping its geometry is not easy and takes practice. There is an actual science to it, but this will be the first time she's created something from absolutely nothing. First, to locate the spot where the brow would naturally sit. Then, to skillfully sketch in tiny hairs to create those delicate arches. The trick is to make the sketch marks look like they have dimension. A waxy brow pencil is the first step, but then adding layers of different powders gives the illusion of depth.
Then the lashline. How to make it natural, yet defined, not too overwhelming so that it's apparent there are no lashes there? The thinnest flat brush, wetted and dark with waterproof cake liner in brown, not black. Applied to the inside of the lashline where the hairs would grow. Deft flicks of the brush bring the eye into shape. Then a smudge of shadow, above, blended. The effect is soft. It works.
All this time, the woman is quiet. She seems to be resting, napping. Enjoying. When the woman finally sees herself in the mirror, finished, she sighs. She cannot stop talking about how wonderful she feels with this face on. Both of them look at each other with glistening, teary eyes. The woman adores the lipstick, a glossy sheer warm red with a golden tinge. Simply is crazy for it, she's so thrilled. All her life, she says, she's been searching for the perfect color of lipstick (like so many women) and finally she's found it. An $18 tube of color and shine that's made her feel complete.
The two hug, rejoice for the simple happiness of finding the perfect lipstick. They part with kisses.
The next day, the woman comes back with her receipt and the lipstick in the bag and a stoic attitude. "My husband didn't like the color."
She is floored. All of the happy thoughts of yesterday evaporate instantly. "Then tell him not to wear it." She says it in a joking way but actually she's dead serious. What else can she say? Who gives a flying fuck about what the husband thinks? His wife is dying before his eyes.
Amazing. She's never forgotten that woman, to this day. Her greatest hope is that the woman recovered fully from her cancer, and has left that man in the dust. Perhaps she has a lover now, and eyebrows and eyelashes and a beautiful, perfect shade of lipstick.
The above is part of the writing project I mentioned. I'm relieved to know that as I'm getting older, the moments in my life that I thought were disappearing from my memory are still there. They might take a little more digging, but once I start, the scenes are lining up in my mind, one after the other, impatiently waiting to be dusted off and told to someone, to you.
That photo is one I took when I first got the camera, and it makes me happy to realize that I can also reach back into my own cache and find my images that help support what I'm writing now.
It's a good feeling to know that everything you need is right there for you. And thanks to all of you who are already infusing my project with the encouragement and support I need to keep going.
Okay, time to get ready for work.
Please visit my new site.
You can find new writing, new photos at
Thursday, January 29, 2009