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Thursday, January 29, 2009

An Excerpt

LIPS

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.

xoxo

27 comments:

julochka January 29, 2009 at 8:36 AM  

excellent that you posted this one, it is the best one...i'm really excited to watch this unfold.

xoxox,
/j

Debbi January 29, 2009 at 9:33 AM  

Lovely story. This is along the same lines as my book that is waiting patiently in my archives for me to finish it! When I worked as a bra specialist, I worked with women who were breast cancer survivors, either single or double mastectomy, as well as post-op sex change women, and a whole host of others.... it is amazing how something simple like a lip gloss, or a bra the fits you perfectly, can immediately make you feel amazing.
And that woman's husband was a jerk. If she felt good about a lip gloss, and it took her mind away from the chemo ravaging of her body, he should have kept his mouth shut. Getting through cancer treatment is so closely tied to mental health and state, that to bring someone down is inexcusable!

I am with you, I hope she survived and found a better lover....

Brook January 29, 2009 at 9:35 AM  

I have so many things I could say about sooo many aspects of this beautiful vignette. But I have to get the oil changed in my car in 15 minutes and I don't think that is enough time. Holy Ma Loly! ..... Argh! Must go.

Teri January 29, 2009 at 9:53 AM  

Amazing...I am reading this at work and just have to have a moment of reflection and hope for this woman...and of course, feel an awe for you and your amazing abilities to make me feel like I am there, watching this makeover happen before my eyes.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance

Kath January 29, 2009 at 9:53 AM  

crying a little bit - good thing I have good mascara, right???
xo
Kath

Tiny T January 29, 2009 at 10:08 AM  

i like that you are able to show not tell-and you hit us off immediately with some words that'll be branded in the memory. i like that. i wanna read more...

Sandra January 29, 2009 at 10:12 AM  

Thank you for that. I was drawn in and wanted to know. So sad about the lipstick. I unfortunately know many of these sad women who are in this position. They don't acknowledge that they are sad, but they are.

The Pink Cowboy January 29, 2009 at 10:46 AM  

This is precious. A moving story. I could just punch the husband. I think when she decided to have a makeover she was intuitively asking for transformation in her life. You provided that transformation. My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and had to go trough the pains of chemotherapy. She lost all her beautiful auburn hair. She changed her wardrobe and makeup to look vibrant. She now wears lots of prints and bright beautiful scarves. It did help her recovery!!! Today I'm going to wear something purple in you honor. Purple is a transformative color, so I'm inviting it in my life. If this is the beginning of your new project, boy are we in for a feast. I see a book and a documentary in the making!!!! I do, seriously.

smith kaich jones January 29, 2009 at 10:51 AM  

Wow. This is wonderful in so many aspects. Terrific writing, terrific story, terrific sentiments. Terrific service performed for someone who needed it - God, I hope she left that jerk.

I know someone who is refusing to have anything "done" about her cervical cancer because her boyfriend says it'll make her less of a woman "down there". Not a friend, just an acquaintance in passing. I'll probably not see her again, but she refused to hear any of our arguments & outrage. You can only do so much.

Love this & can't wait for more.
Can I say I knew you when?

:) Debi

shabby girl January 29, 2009 at 11:15 AM  

I loved it! We were right there, our faces so close they may have been in your way.

Mari January 29, 2009 at 11:27 AM  

What a story! Thank you, as always.

Liz January 29, 2009 at 12:08 PM  

Excellent. Truly excellent!

Gabby January 29, 2009 at 12:40 PM  

It's lovely. I may be just a guy, but I'm pretty sure it's not about make-up. Don't let anything stop you...

a painter January 29, 2009 at 4:16 PM  

Exquisitely written. The photogrpah is perfect with the story. There is much food for thought there--on so many levels.

margieandkath January 29, 2009 at 4:53 PM  

looking forward to this project. gonna be good.
margie

Laura January 29, 2009 at 5:20 PM  

I loved the story and hope we get to see more. It's wonderful, really.

Brenda Susan January 29, 2009 at 6:27 PM  

Wow, this is a tuly beautiful piece. I would usually stop reading a "catastrophic illness" sentimental writing that manipulates our emotions. This did none of that, it is a very real & living story. Thanx for sharing.

Char January 29, 2009 at 6:40 PM  

I'm crying. We haven't know each other long, so...here is my relationship to the story. My mother had the most glorious head of white hair. She was a premature grayer and finally quit dying it right after I turned 25. We teased her endlessly about the volume of hair on her head. But it was the most gorgeous white I've ever seen. Then she got breast cancer. The chemo ravaged her hair, everywhere and her hands and feet were never the same from the nerve endings. Eventually her hair grew back - but her eyebrows never did. The hair was thinner and a steely gray - not the fluffy, beautiful white it once was. Every day, when she rose, she drew on her eyebrows. Even as she lay in the hospital that last month, she had my sister draw them on. You see, she said, the eyebrows frame the face.

Char January 29, 2009 at 6:40 PM  

I'm crying. We haven't know each other long, so...here is my relationship to the story. My mother had the most glorious head of white hair. She was a premature grayer and finally quit dying it right after I turned 25. We teased her endlessly about the volume of hair on her head. But it was the most gorgeous white I've ever seen. Then she got breast cancer. The chemo ravaged her hair, everywhere and her hands and feet were never the same from the nerve endings. Eventually her hair grew back - but her eyebrows never did. The hair was thinner and a steely gray - not the fluffy, beautiful white it once was. Every day, when she rose, she drew on her eyebrows. Even as she lay in the hospital that last month, she had my sister draw them on. You see, she said, the eyebrows frame the face.

A Beautiful Mind January 29, 2009 at 7:28 PM  

Amazing merging of your artist talents.
"It's a good feeling to know that everything you need is right there for you."
What a wonderful reminder and motivator for everyone.

KennethSF January 30, 2009 at 12:22 AM  

A wonderful story! I struggled with how I wish the story could have ended and how you chose to end it. I think my preferred ending would have been unrealistic and forced. Yours is, well, perfect.

paris parfait January 30, 2009 at 4:46 AM  

See? It works! Well done, you! And that woman's story brought a tear to my eye. How many times have we women let thoughtless, clueless men undermine our joy? I hope your wishes for that woman have all come true.

Yoli January 30, 2009 at 12:05 PM  

We who raise daughters must always remember to teach them to fall in love with oneself first. That way others voices don't hurt and don't count.

Beautiful post, made me cry.

Laurie Cannon January 31, 2009 at 5:06 AM  

Yeah, found it! already emailed, but wish to publicly state I love your writing. And - re parrots - I know someone who lives part-time on Telegraph hill in an apartment that grazes a parrot tree perch. same side as that magical Filbert garden. your blog, a magnet.

Sarah February 2, 2009 at 7:50 AM  

you know that moment where you develop that tightness in your chest and your heart breaks just a little bit? moment captured.

i do hope she found some peace and someone who LOVED, truly loved, that lipstick----because it was bigger than just a color. *sigh*

i can relate to the chemo and it's painful effects. my little boy battles with this every day. i realize now that when he finds something that truly makes me happy, it doesnt matter what it costs or doesn't cost--- because for one second, the darkness leaves his eyes, he smiles, and the color washes back into my world. its a beautiful thing. :)

have a great day!

sarah

moonshark February 3, 2009 at 7:23 AM  

Oh my! How did I ever miss this beautiful piece of thought! I love this- it shows how much feeling you are putting into your life and how much you care about the people you find in your path.

Its important that she had the opportunity to see herself as beautiful again...I wonder if you and the lipstick spurred her onto a whole new life...

This was a wonderful post.

~K February 3, 2009 at 5:01 PM  

This post affected me in many ways and on some very deep levels. First off, I have had some people very close to me lose the battle of cancer. I watched as the chemo ravaged their bodies followed by the wasting of the cancer. First was my Uncle Jerry when I was young. I used to spend summers working in his forest and building his house in upstate New York, so I could earn money for the state fair. He was a mad genius and I used to be in awe of the things he could build. I would always clamor to climb under his old Volvo and work on it with him and get all greasy. When he passed he was building a full air plane and he never saw the birth of his son. The second was a woman who was a friend of the family as she died I would sometimes just go over to her house on Sundays and sit at the end of her bed and talk to her and check and make sure her family was ok and did not need for anything. She hung on as long as she could, longer than anyone expected.

The other way it affected me was the return of the lipstick. Being divorced is like a death. Just the idea that any woman would be so in love with me that she would want to put on lipstick to make herself attractive to me, and maybe even get that lipstick on me, well I wouldn't care if the lipstick was black! Just as long as it was on her lips and I would never never tell her to return anything that made her feel beautiful. Never...
There is a woman out there just out of reach for me and she is my soulmate. If I could just spend one day with her and some lipstick. I could probably die after that and be totally fulfilled.