05/23/2011 04:52 pm ET | Updated Jul 23, 2011

That Awful Moment

It was 48 when I was struck by the proverbial clap of thunder, the kind that forces you to do a bald-faced reevaluation of your life. It was 10 a.m. and I was walking down 44th Street in Manhattan with my soap-opera daughter, Beth Chamberlin, to get a cup of coffee. We were in evening gowns because our last scene had been a gala party where we were murdering someone. (Most likely the someone we were murdering was asking for too much money in his contract.) "Oh, Beth, you were so great in that scene! The way you stabbed him 32 times, I loved it. Thank heavens you didn't get any blood on my gown!" I said laughing. I was feeling fabulous and beautiful, wearing dripping diamond earrings, Christian Louboutin heels and a canary-yellow Oscar de la Renta gown.

I loved to be spotted outside in my costume, as though my character had suddenly broken through the fourth wall and come to life. Beth and I would waltz outside after our scenes in whatever garb we were wearing, be it bloody medical scrubs, pajamas or elegant designer gowns, and run and get some fresh air. Even in a city like New York, where people have seen it all, our appearance on the street always drew a lot of attention.

As a woman and an actress, no less, I know when I'm being watched. I would feel the covert glances of strangers assessing me, and let's admit it, for any woman, this can be a thrill. But this time, standing there in the coffee shop waiting for my double-tall mochaccino to be delivered, I could sense that something was wrong. Looking around the coffee shop, nothing seemed to be out of place... sugars, creamers, straws, napkins -- everything was where it was supposed to be. What could be wrong?

Then I saw him. The man with the salt-and-pepper hair in the corner of the coffee shop, perfectly dressed in a blue Armani blazer, yellow Hermes tie and gold cufflinks, staring fixedly at Beth. I followed the trajectory of his eyes, and there could be no doubt, he was staring at her, the way men used to stare at me. If he had been pointing a pistol at me, it would not have been as terrifying. Glancing around, I understood what was making me feel uneasy. No one was looking at me. No one. They were all looking at Beth. The handsome man in the corner, the man making our coffee who was so transfixed that he scalded himself with the hot milk, the three girls in line behind us with their yoga mats, even the little red-haired boy and his two friends (obviously playing hooky) were watching her. The whole coffee shop was enthralled with Beth. Nobody even glanced at me.

I hated her.

After getting back to my dressing room, I looked in the mirror and was astounded. How -- in one day -- had I gotten old? And more importantly, how had I not noticed the wrinkles and soft arms? I was close to 50, and yes, I had been coloring my hair for years, but somehow, I'd always thought that other than that, I was just fine. And, oh, I wasn't all right at all...