I recently had a birthday and turned one of those ages that comes with a letter from the life insurance company alerting you to the fact that you are that much closer to dead. My credit union sent me a flyer congratulating me on membership in their "Silver Program," which I took to mean I'd been with them so long they finally loved me. But when I saw all the smiling people in white hair and sweaters, I got it. And I've finally faced the fact that middle-aged men are young enough to be my children. Still, it was a great birthday, filled with wonderful surprises.
At the end of the night, just as I was removing my makeup, my daughter wandered into the bathroom. She wanted to talk about her destiny, so it didn't seem appropriate to shoo her away. Besides, she'd gone to a lot of trouble to give me a special birthday, which she pulled off with spectacular flair. As we talked, I reached for my little tiny sample of Erno Laszlo Makeup Remover, the kind of stuff that is pricier than saffron but, like saffron, smells so good you want to make it a daily staple.
As we chatted, I rubbed it over my eyes and eyelashes, all the while discussing the pros and cons of the Ivy Leagues and why I think she should go for a liberal arts college, when I screwed the cap back on my precious oil and returned it to the medicine cabinet, knocking over a small plastic bottle as I did so -- the bottle of my sacred Erno Laszlo Makeup Remover.
"Egads!" I screeched, looking for the first time at the little bottle I held in my hands. If I'd just knocked over the makeup remover, what in the world had I just put on my eyes? I took a closer look and realized that I hadn't smeared my eyes with makeup remover -- I'd smeared them with my sample of Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille. I had removed my mascara with perfume. And not just any perfume, but my favorite ever, ever perfume and one I can't possibly afford (being as I am a professional writer, which is to say, starving most of the time). And now, half the bottle was gone, glistening on my lashes
That's the price I pay for hustling makeup samples every time I visit the department store instead of springing for the real thing. They're all packaged in the same little bottles, just so folks like me will blind ourselves as punishment for being so cheap.
As my daughter rambled on about scholarships and on-site interviews, I plunged my eyes under the cold running water, desperately trying to wash away the alcohol that had begun to burn my eyes like some tragic character in a Flannery O'Conner novel who thinks the Bible is a how-to book on Holy Self-Destruction.
"I wondered why you were rubbing perfume all over your eyelids," she said, before changing the topic back to which colleges she should apply to. Teens think we're just clueless and strange, when the real truth is our brain cells are sloughing off faster than dandruff and we're going blind so quickly that we don't dare watch a two-hour movie for fear our retina's will never make it to the ending.
I finished rinsing my eyes and rubbed an unmarked sample of something cool and refreshing on them. The next morning, I woke up to see a cat standing on top of me sniffing my eyelids. Well, at least I can see, I figured, crawling out of bed as I considered a skeleton transplant. I main-lined the caffeine, soaked in the tub and got myself dressed and put on my makeup. Then I hunkered down to the computer and hammered out something I was being paid to hammer out, and made it through the day. By the time nighttime came around I found myself, once again, reaching for the Erno Laszlo, this time careful to snatch up the real stuff. That's when I took a close look at my face.
My face looked as if I'd applied my eyeliner with a crayon and the mascara had been brushed on with a hairbrush dipped in roofing tar. I had Crazy Lady Eyes. That's what I call them when I see them on other people's faces. You know the kind. Smudged all over, like a 3- year-old had gotten hold of their face and done a fast-take on Kandinsky. Lipstick scribbled across their mouths like something you'd find at a ghastly crime scene. After all those years of smiling at older scribbled-up women while thinking they were going senile, I suddenly realized they weren't crazy at all, they were just going blind. And now, apparently, so was I -- and before my time at that.
It wasn't the Tom Ford perfume on my eyelids; I'd survived that disaster. This look had taken time to imperfect. It was a look I was seeing more and more in the mirror, the look of utter madness. Coloring outside the lines, confusing blue with black and red with brown and lipstick with concealer and brow pencil with lip liner.
And yet, each time I'd started off my day, I was convinced that I was flawless (or at least as flawless as half a century can pull off). Life's like that. Every chapter has us convinced that we're perfectly seeing what's right before our eyes, while it's the chapters that came before that we're just now finally getting.
Growing older doesn't just decay us; it changes our perceptions. What once looked clear now looks more blurred, and lines are not so visible. As we lose our sight we gain it.
I massaged the Erno Laszlo sacred ointment into my face and wiped it clean, then gave some thought to destiny. I might not know what's up ahead, but one thing's for certain. There's only one way to look at it, and that's through Crazy Lady's Eyes.