My husband would be home soon. I went downstairs to wait for him in the kitchen, barefoot. When he came through the door, he said, "What happened to you?" I cocked my head coquettishly and looked at him. I liked the way his eyebrows arched up and his eyes went wide. I walked over to him and, using my first finger, tilted his chin downward. I gave him a kiss, a good kiss, a real kiss, the kind of kiss a woman with a headful of curls could give. He responded in kind. This kiss went on for maybe a minute. I felt infused. I felt as if we were exchanging vitalities. When it was over we smiled at each other in the secret way that couples do when sex is sure to follow. "I got my hair cut," I said. "Did you ever," he replied, and then, simply, "Wow."
The next week Dianne took me shopping and I got my face done at a makeup counter. I bought a plum lip liner that, when I used it, announced my mouth, plus a matching lipstick that filled in the announcement and gave it some substance. I liked most of all my nut-brown eyeliner and the silver and almond eyeshadows, all three colors working in concert to give me a deeper, dreamier look. By the time we left the store, I had also purchased a long gray skirt, a peasant blouse with a ruffled neckline, and espadrilles with straw wedge heels and ribbons that crisscrossed the legs. The season was changing, the damp early darkness of winter giving way to a warm spring, the rhododendrons blooming early.
At first it felt funny—no, it felt hard—to arise each morning and dress up, applying my new makeup carefully, leaning in to line my eyes and then, with the miniature pad, sweeping silver across my lids, taking the tweezers and plucking my brows into slim little arcs. While some women, maybe many women, find this process fun, I did not enjoy it, my head heavy with sleep. It was a discipline, forcing myself to flick through the new outfits I'd purchased and pick one for the day while my insides were dreary and dark. Dressed, then, I'd make my way downstairs and pour myself a glass of juice, and this, too, at first was hard. But after several days of dolling up, I began to notice something strange. I'd pour myself a glass of orange juice, lifting it to my lips to sip, and the orange would intensify until it seemed to glow in the glass, until it seemed it had been squeezed not from fruit but from gems, the liquid vivid and ice-cold even as it flamed at my lips and went down clean and pure.
In the wall-size windows in my kitchen I started to notice my reflection, my lines leaner and flowing, my skirt so long it puddled past my ankles and swished when I walked into my study and settled the glass of glowing juice on my desk. I'd pull out my chair to start work. It felt odd to be so dressed just to write. I had no power lunches or afternoon meetings or presentations to attend; it was just me and my computer, and yet, as the days passed and I showered and put on outfit after outfit, brushed blush across my cheeks, my work started to change. Prior to dressing up I had been a plodding sort of scribe, but now words were coming to me more quickly and people rising up out of the page and populating my stories with their authentic idiosyncrasies; these fictional characters were often accompanied by people from my past, and they, too, came up out of the blank page to meet me—because, I could only think, I was finally dressed for the occasion.
In one week's time I wrote two short stories and two essays. I grew giddy from the fruits of my labor. In the evenings, in the bathtub, my skin slippery from soap, I could feel what lay beneath—tibia, femur, deltoids, the bands of muscles and bundles of fibers, the tendons taut in my neck—my surface conveying the suppleness and strength of everything it sheathed. I looked up skin in the encyclopedia and confirmed that, sure enough, it is the body's largest organ, a fact that suggests our surface is critical to who we are, not just as the gateway to physical or spiritual depths but as a profoundly important webwork of cells in and of itself. When you touch your surface in a pleasing way, you alter the hormonal environment of the body beneath; skin receptors signal your brain to release a chemical called oxytocin, which stimulates feelings of happiness, connection, love. My new clothes caressed my body and beat back depression while I drank down the juice of gems.
Next: Find more love in you than you knew