Thursday, September 17, 2009

About Face (Fiction)

I'm not going to sit here and pretend I was right. I mean, how could I have known? People say to live each day as if it were your last. Well. In my opinion that concept is just stupid. If everyone lived daily as if it were their last no one would ever work. The obesity epidemic in this country would rise to enormous proportions because everyone would throw caution to the wind. They would eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow they die. Children would be uneducated because parents would not insist upon school attendance or homework. Men and women would let their looks go and divorce rates would sky rocket due to perpetual wandering eyes. Do you see what I am saying here? Chaos would ensue. It would be absolute mayhem.

While obviously the trials of life have not killed me I can't say that I would do it any better if I had another go. Judge me if you will, but you will see that you too are guilty of my crimes to some degree or another.

I had just turned 30. The big 3-0. I was full of self-loathing. I surrounded myself with fashion magazines that consistantly reminded me I was no spring chicken. I poured over articles that promised "How to Look Ten Years Younger in 10 Minutes". I bought every pricey potion and lotion that boasted magical powers of youthful rejuvination. Still I was unhappy.

On December 15, 2006, I stood nude in front of the bathroom mirror. I tried to pull a face at my own reflection but the muscles in my forehead and around my eyes had been frozen. I'll be blunt so you don't have to guess and twitter amongst yourselves. I have always felt honesty is the best policy. I was a Botox junkie. I visited a lady with a needle every three months for a fix I desperatly needed in order to feel peace. As a Christian I know the command "thou shalt worship no other gods before Me". I see now that Botox was a graven image. I worshiped dutifully. It's already been established I was guilty of coveting my neighbor's body/face. In the tradition of Janice Dickenson I would soon have very few original body parts.

We often blame our mothers for our mistakes and blunders, don't we? I am no exception. I blame my mother for my obssesion with Botox. I have always laughed easily. On one particular family reunion I laughed with wild abandon, as I always had. My mother informed me I should not laugh so hard.

"I can see the lines around your eyes when you laugh like that," she said. "I never had those wrinkles at your age. Quit making so many faces. You'll look like a prune before you're 35. You did not inherit my skin. Maybe a little Bot?". She did not bother to complete the word. It hung from her lips carelessly like a cigarette in the mouth of nicotine addict.

I had not previously noticed the fine lines around my eyes, but now it was all I could think about. I was sure every Tom, Dick and Harry I came in contact with were looking with accute disgust at my rapidly decaying skin. I controlled my laughter for I had no occasion to laugh in the face of my rotting flesh.

I had no intention of becoming a shriveled human fruit. Nope. Not me. I was proactive. I would put blood on my door. The angel of aging would pass me by. I made an appointment with a woman who called herself Doctor Bee.

"Just call me Doctor Bee," she smiled. Only her mouth moved. Her eyes were wide in her pertrified face. I had no idea how old she was. Her skin was flawless. It gave not away the secret of her age. Her lips were unnaturally plump. I was transfixed. How old could she be?

"I'm 65," she said. I gasped audibly. I believe she was pleased with my reaction but given the nature of her condition I could not be certain. I was duly impressed.

My plan was to die the most beautiful corpse the mortician had ever laid morbid eyes upon. I would not age gracefully. I would fight gravity until my dying breath. Doctor Bee could retire on the money I would supply her for the rest of her syringe weilding days.

In the privacy of my bathroom, my naked body turned this way and that in the full length mirror. The body had a small waist. The breasts were perfect in form. Thirty-two D. Faint scars whispered the secrets of my perfect siluette. The plastic surgeon had called the incisions "an anchor" in shape. A thin silver line ran from the center of the nipple and dissappeared only to be dissected by a parallel scar at the base of each breast. A slightly jagged scar ran like a railroad track from one jutting hip bone to the next. The tummy was flat with a carefully reconstructed belly button. Muscles rippled on a well toned back. I never skipped a workout. Hips curved in just the right places with silvery white stretch marks spreading themselves genorously like an intricate spider web. The sudden onset of puberty had been neither kind nor subtle. Despite the scars and marks of various lengths and thickness the body was beautiful.

"I am a beast! I cannot believe how much I ate this weekend! I look like crap," I said.

My husband sighed.

"You look great, honey. I tell you everyday."

"You say it because you have to. I'm a hag."

Another sigh.

"No. I don't. And you're not."

"I just think everyone looks younger than me. Do you see I have a zit? That just sucks! A zit AND wrinkles. On the same face! Could it get any worse?"

"Honey, people stare at you everywhere you go. I'd like to beat the hell out of some of the men that stare at you. Did any guys try to talk to you at the gym today?"

I was disgusted with the question.


He asked this question of me daily. He was jealous by nature and bitter by circumstance. He was handsome and tall. A redwood among men. His great height caused him to sag his shoulders, which gave him a perpetually droopy stance. He had allowed himself to gain weight with me through each of my four pregnancies. I had lost the weight inbetween. He had not. The extra weight was disguised by his propensity to wear baggy tee-shirts and cargo shorts. He hated men with slim bodies and pretty faces, refering to them in terms of female genetalia.

My husband shaved his face without turning to look at me. That's what happens when you've been married for a decade. A man and woman can stand naked in the same room with no intention of persuing any of the baser pleasures of life if it is not scheduled.

The emergence of a fresh pimple had put me in a foul mood. I felt like a wet hen and the desire to peck someone's eyes out was too tempting to resist.

"Why don't you quit acting so jealous all the time? I'm sick of it!" I said. I knew I would strike a nerve.


"Yeah. We have been married for almost a hundred years now. At what point are you going to display some confidence?"

"How do you expect me to display confidence when I know how much you adore attention from other men?"

"I never said I 'adored attention from other men'! I said it made me feel good about myself when people obviously find me attractive. If an old lady comes up to me in the grocery store and compliments me it's going to make me feel good! If a child says 'you're pretty' it's going to make me feel good! And if an attractive man at the gym (or anywhere else) checks me out it's going to make me feel good!" I said.

"It's not right."

"What? Are you trying to tell me you don't like when people think you're handsome? That's ridiculous! It's not my fault I look good! I think you WANT me to get really fat so you can feel confident I'm not going anywhere. You're always telling me to eat more. Now I know why!" I was crying now. "I can't help it if people don't compliment you!"

"I just know guys, honey. If you act like you like their attention they will assume they have a shot with you. If you smile at a guy he will think you're interested."

"Oh. So now I can't smile at people? Fine! I'll just stay here in this house all day and be your little woman. I'll do nothing but cook and clean all day and wait for you to come home so I can rub your feet! I suppose then you'll feel very safe." I threw my clothes on and roughly ran a brush through my hair. "I have an appointment with Dr. Bee today. I'm getting my lips done."

"How much if that going to cost?"

"About $600. I just think I would look younger if my lips were fuller," I said.

"Ok. If that will make you happy I'll find a way to pay for it, but you have to stop acting so mad. And I expect some good lovin' when you get home."

I smiled. We were used to these passionate exchanges. Usually they disolved quickly like sugar in hot tea. In my defense, he was no stranger to picking a fight. His innate jealousy and insecurity regarding his weight gain reared an ugly head regularly. The first few years of our marriage I would stagger under the impact of his fierce verbal right hook, but as I learned his methods I became a formidable opponent. I was now quite the contender. What once might have been a one sided temper tantrum became an all out brawl.

I kissed my husband and children goodbye for the evening. Once in my car I adjusted the rear view mirror in order to watch my reflection as I sang along to classic Dolly Pardon songs.

"...the coat of many colors was worth more than all their was only poor only if rich used to be". My eyes were expressive and passionate staring back at me. My voice was clear and soulful. I observed my mouth as I drove and sang. I liked what I saw. I should be famous, I thought.

The depression I had felt as a result of The Blemish had turned to euphoria with the thought of facial improvement on the horizon. All was right with the world. I offered a little prayer of gratitude.

"Thank-you, Lord, for all my many blessings. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to improve upon what Thou hast given me. I know there are people far less forfunate than I who don't even have cars or food. Help me to be a better wife and mother. Help me to continue to be unselfish and humble daily. Please bless those who are poor in spirit. Amen"

"Little pinch," said Dr. Bee as she injected the left lower corner of my mouth. Tears ran down my face. "Another little pinch," she said injecting the center of my lower lip. I clenched my jaw tightly and swallowed. She handled the needle deftly and with every "little pinch" I knew I was one step closer to perfection.

"Well, hon, looks like we're done. Do you want to see how it looks in the mirror? You'll be quite swollen and bruised for the next three or four days but then I think you'll be very happy with what we've done here," she said.

I took the mirror from her. My already full lips had quadrupled in size and blood dotted the outter edges of my mouth. Tears and mascara had slid down my face leaving two thick, black, parrallel streaks in their wake. If I had purposefully rested facedown on a hot outdoor gas grill I might not have looked much different. But I saw post-swelling potential.

"I wuv it!" I said. "I weally wuv my wips! My husband will wuv them too!" I winked and attempted a painful smile.

"Uh oh!" said Dr. Bee clicking her tongue. "Do you see those lines around your eyes when you smile? We must have missed those last time. Do you want to take care of that now?"

"Well, I'm alweady hewe. I might as well," I said.

Half an hour and $1000 later I was on my way home. I was downright giddy. Dolly Pardon was replaced with the latest Fergie album. Fergie was my BFF. I imagined she and I on brightly lit stage doing one-armed front and back flips as we harmonized perfectly. Everyone would point and say, "WHO is the new girl? She's so beautiful and talented. Look at her sexy mouth. I want her autograph."

"My lovely lady lumps... to the back and to the front...," I sang. (Actually, the words escaping my puffy mouth sounded more like, "my wovewy wady wumps... to the back and to the fwont...".)

I held a small ice pack to my lips. My head, shoulders and arms danced to the beat. A junky white truck pulling a trailer full of masonry debris passed slowly on the left. The cab of the truck was a clown car overflowing with Mexican construction workers. Loud, annoying accordian based music blared from the open windows.

"Mamacita! Que buena estas!" a young man in a filthy, mis-shapen, red baseball hat shouted amid whistles and catcalls from his grubby friends.

I rolled my eyes and pretended to be disgusted. Secretly delighted and posturing like a snooty peacock I picked up my cell phone with my free hand and manuevered the steering wheel with elbows and knees. I dialed my sister to gloat about my newest prodedure.

Mexican clown car passed and pulled in front of me. I was irritated. My mouth was sore. I wanted to get home to show my family my new face. It's my last lucid memory before the nightmare.

The Noise wasn't loud in my ears. The Noise permeated every cell and every nerve ending in my body. Humans and animals have the instinct to fight or flight in a stressful situation. Flight seemed most appealing to me in that second before life as I knew it was crushed in the form of broken bricks and flying glass. Soaring above the destruction I saw a dead animal, then a sea of concerned brown faces. I saw debris shooting through the air and glass shattering. A 30 year old woman opened her swollen lips to scream. No sound escaped. The body I saw raised its hands as a worthless sheild. The face I saw was crushed, unrecognizable, by cinder block. Blood gushed violently. Fergie had stopped singing but Mexican party music still played, happy and incongruent. Then nothing.

I was later told an emergency vehicle wisked me off to surgery. I don't remember it. I was told I screamed the scream of the damned without ceasing when I came to. I don't remember it. I was told I cried out for mercy and death even under anesthetic. I don't remember it.

The truck in front of me had stopped short for a large dog crossing the street. The dog was dead. I had collided with the trailer of the pick-up head on at full speed.

My face would never be remotely the same. The bones in my left cheek and nose had crumbled to dust. Forty-six stitches were required to close the deep gash in my right cheek. Several of my fingers had been broken. An errant piece of rebar had struck me in such a way as to deflate my right breast implant. It would take many surgeries by the best plastic surgeons available to reconstruct what was left of my mangled face.

Several days after the accident I lay in the hospital bed, still. Depression so heavy it held my eyes shut as if with the very bricks responsible were forcing them closed. My husband sat by my side gingerly holding my broken hand. A beautiful nurse in her 20's with pristine skin, high cheek bones and impressive bust checked my vitals. I opened my eyes briefly. A nasty green entity rose up as if alive in my chest.

"Everything looks good," she said smiling at my husband.

"Thank you," he smiled back.

"It must be nice," I said surprising them both.

"What, honey? What must be nice?" he asked. He leaned in.

"It must be nice for you to finally be the better looking spouse. No more jealousy for you, right?"

Don't tell me you don't concern yourself about your looks. Or how people view you. Or how you view yourself when you see your reflection. You concern yourself plenty. You judged me harshly when you read who I was, didn't you? Well. You're no better.

Do you live every day as if it were your last? I did not know I would die. I was reborn against my will at age 30. The universe forced me to see the world through the eyes of a different face. A face that forces strangers to look away and children to fear. I could never have guessed. I didn't know. And neither do you.