At home I couldn't stop thinking about it—both Beth's decision and my declaration that I'd never take the plunge. Since she'd sworn me to secrecy, there was no one I could confide in. Except, of course, my husband, who fell under the spousal privilege clause.
Predictably, he wasn't much help. "You want one?" he asked. "Do it."
"It's so expensive. And what if the scalpel slips? I'll be disfigured for life and it will be my own damn fault."
"So don't," he said. "It's not as if you need it."
That was the most confounding thing he could have said. Was he being kind, pretending not to notice what was happening to my 53-year-old face? Or was he really that oblivious? And if he was, giving him a reality tour was the last thing I wanted to do. Once I pointed out the tracks of time, he'd never not notice them.
Beth would be the perfect person to talk to about this, but in the month leading up to her procedure, she needed nothing but unmitigated support. I reassured her endlessly about her highly recommended surgeon who wouldn't make a mistake, about the anesthesia she'd easily tolerate, about the pain and sleep medication she'd have available. We even agreed on the alibi she'd circulate among our friends to explain her sudden absence: an unexpected two-week business trip with a two-week vacation tacked on. But as she grew calmer, I became more uneasy.
It isn't as if I'm some kind of purist. I cling to the illusion of youth as stubbornly as anyone: I color my hair, wear makeup, and throw my money away on ridiculously expensive eye gel and face cream. In one sense, having a facelift could be seen as simply the next step along the continuum.
But something stayed my hand from making an appointment. Although it wasn't fear, it was something equally powerful I couldn't name. By the time Beth went under the knife, I still hadn't figured it out.
Twenty-four hours post-op, home after spending the night at the doctor's facility, Beth phoned.
"Why didn't you stop me?" she cried.
"Does it hurt?"
"It hurts everywhere. You can't imagine what I look like—bruises, swelling. I can't eat, I can't sleep.... You should have talked me out of it," she trailed off.
She wouldn't let me come visit her. We spoke every day, though, and each conversation brought fresh complaints: Her face was so swollen she couldn't read or even watch TV, the bruises were turning brighter shades of purple rather than lessening, she had to sleep sitting up.
On the tenth day, she said I could come over. "The door's open," she yelled, when I rang the bell. I let myself in, and then I saw her.
"I look horrible, I know," she said as she heard me gasp. But I wasn't reacting to the purple bruises, bulges, and swelling. I gasped because I could see, through the god-awful mess that was her face, how the surgery had erased at least ten years. Maybe more. She looked closer in age to her 20-year-old daughter than to me. It had worked. She was transformed.
In her kitchen she talked about the special makeup she'd have to wear for at least a month when going out, about her follow-up appointments, about the fact that her face wouldn't be "set" for an entire year. I listened, but all I wanted to do was stare unabashedly at her, the way you do at a new baby, trying to take in all the available information, not miss a crease or an eyelash. The more closely I looked, the more depressed I became. We'd gone everywhere together, and now I couldn't see myself going anywhere with her. I'd be the matron, the invisible older sister. Maybe I'd be mistaken for her aunt.