with the everyday antihero

Sometimes, life cycles through an extended patch of darkness. Randomness and chaos lay bad thing after bad thing in a weird competition to see which can build the longest road. But when you let down your guard and walk into peril thoughtlessly, it is as if you’ve invited your inner demons to come out for a walk. This is such a tale.

The e-mail came with perfect timing. Sephora was having a Smashbox eye make over event on Saturday from 12 to 4. One of my twin daughters, Elin, was going with a friend to his school homecoming dance that night. She could have her makeup for the dance done, it would look fabulous, and her sister, Sarah, could get her eyes done too.

We had recently gotten color-matched foundation (well, I got just a sample to try) at Sephora using their new digital photo technology; it looked good. I enjoyed buying basic makeup kits for my daughters. At 14, they are exploring fashion and makeup, and it’s going well. As I watch their success, my adolescent fashion trauma has begun to fade. It makes me feel there are possibilities. I’d have my eyes made over too, and it would be fun.

There was no line at the store. This is great, I thought. We looked at the Smashbox eye makeup display—so many colors and combinations to choose from: Photo Op Eye Enhancing Palette for blue, hazel, and brown eyes; fusion soft lights; rich gold, topaz, Neptune, gemstone, bronze, stone, iris, and sapphire. So pretty! My daughters went with a neutral palette; it surprises me that they are conservative. I asked them what they thought of a palette designed for hazel eyes. They shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders. But things were going well. I ignored the fact that my daughters seem to know what they are doing with makeup; they always look beautiful, enhanced. I’m like a magpie drawn to something shiny. I liked looking at all the wonderful colors.

I watched as the younger salesperson applied makeup to Elin’s eyes. She is artful. Elin still looks like Elin, only enhanced, just like that feminist makeup lesson I watched on YouTube. Sarah was next, and again I watched as her natural beauty was drawn out. I wanted that; I sincerely hoped for it. It’s hard to explain that longing feeling of “me too,” that leaning towards the positive and beauty. Caught between hope and fear, I worried about my age and my bad history with makeup.

The other salesperson, an older woman, with white hair and heavily made up eyes featuring sparkly charcoal eye shadow, lots of mascara, and bright red lipstick, was ready for another customer—me. I felt uneasy. I considered saying that I would wait for the other person; she was almost done with Sarah. I really wanted to wait for the person who was creating so much loveliness for my daughters. But it was awkward. So I went with the white-haired woman. And I chose the hazel palette, ignoring the voice inside that said, “go neutral.” I love purple. Isn’t it supposed to bring out the green in green eyes? Green eyes are special, right?

I sat on the chair. Elin stood across the aisle, where I could see her beautiful eyes. The woman asked me what colors I wanted to use. I looked to Elin for advice, but she shrugged her shoulders. Eventually, she relented and advised me to use the more neutral colors in the palette—matte ivory, champagne shimmer, sage olive shimmer. I did.

As the woman worked, I heard Elin snicker. This wasn’t going well. When I asked why, she said that she likes to laugh at me. I had a sinking feeling.

The woman said that she’d like to use the purple after all, in the crease. Would that be OK? I nodded. She held up a mirror and asked what I thought. All I could see were huge purple bags under my eyes (and a fleck of scrambled egg from breakfast on a tooth). I said, “I think I need more sleep.” This wasn’t going well. I think I heard Elin snicker again.

Next came the eyeliner. She applied it. She reapplied it. She paused. More eyeliner. A pause. Was that a sound of frustration? More eyeliner. She hands me a disposable brush to apply mascara. I admire the little tool; they didn’t have them when I was younger. She says something about sanitary conditions. All I can see in the mirror are little dots of bare eyelid skin peeking through the purple eyeliner. Why didn’t she use a primer? What do I know about primers?

We’re done, and the woman asks me what I think. What I think is that I look monstrous. I say, “Thank you, but this just isn’t for me.” She probably asked me why, but I was busy leaving as fast as I could. I didn’t want anyone to see me like this. I didn’t want to see me like this.

When I tell Sarah that I think the makeup would be great for Halloween, she says, “Mom. It isn’t that good.”

I nearly run out of the store. My daughters are asking why I don’t get my complimentary make up bag. I’m wishing for a paper bag to put over my head. I walk as fast as I can to the escalator. “Mom,” they say almost in unison, “Slow down.” But I don’t want anyone to see me like this. I’m embarrassed. I race walk to the car. I think that I’m attracting attention to myself by walking so fast, but I’m triggered. I won’t slow down. I just have to get in the car, get home, get this stuff off my eyes.

I try to figure out whether it’s me, the makeup, the salesperson, all three. I ask Sarah questions about whether it’s me and my choices or the makeup artist. She’s not giving any answers.

At home, I grab the makeup remover. I try to be gentle, but I just want to get this stuff off my face. The makeup remover stings. I try hard not to think, “How could I be so stupid as to think makeup would turn out good for me?”

Don’t look for a happy ending here; I haven’t found one yet. Although I see beauty all around me in the world—in the trees decked out in fall colors, in the blue particular to the equinox sky, in my friend Amna’s tattoos, in my daughters—it eludes me.

All I have is hope, not in a bottle, that my lack of beauty is in my vision, that someday I will let the journey transform me, that I might see what someone else can see.

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