Lost in these mortifying fantasies, I scarcely realized that Beth was directing a series of questions at me. What, she wanted to know, should she tell people who noticed that she looked different? Should she come out and say she'd had work done? Should she flat-out deny it?
"Didn't you think of this beforehand?" I asked.
"I should have, I know," she said, sounding embarrassed. "But getting through the surgery took so much energy I couldn't think beyond it." I understood. When I was pregnant, I could only read about its progression one month at a time; skipping ahead made me too anxious.
"I don't know," I stammered. "I guess you'll have to play it by ear."
"I can't do that," she said. "I need a prepared answer. People will ask."
"Maybe," I said, "but maybe they won't. Maybe they'll ask if you changed your haircolor. In fact, maybe that's the best outcome; people think you look good but they're not quite sure why...."
"Are you crazy?" she cried. "Do you have any idea how much this cost? Fourteen thousand dollars! After all that money and all this pain, I'd better look more than 'good.' I want people to notice that I look different. I didn't go through all this for nothing, did I?" She sounded panicky.
It was a question I pondered all the way home.
"Well, how does she look?" asked my husband the moment I walked in the door.
"I thought you didn't care about facelifts," I said.
"I don't," he replied. "I just want to know how she looks."
"Fabulous," I said. "It really worked."
"Really..." He sounded captivated. Who wouldn't?
In the bathroom, I plugged in the magnification mirror I use to put on makeup and tweeze my eyebrows. Placing my fingertips under my chin, I tugged at the skin around my mouth until those parentheses disappeared. It wasn't that I didn't want to lose them permanently. In fact, I was desperate to. But of what use was a young face attached to a lined neck, creping skin, and wrinkled knees? A new face demanded a new body. Otherwise that expanse of surgically smoothed skin would look nothing but incongruous, even ridiculous.
Only then did I let my longing wash over and through me, this impossible desire for that which could never be recaptured or re-created no matter how deft the surgeon's hands. For me to have a facelift, I slowly realized, was to broadcast the depth of my despair and grief for my lost looks. If it was successful, each time I peered in the mirror or heard a compliment I'd be reminded of the overriding vanity that drove me to so drastic a measure. Ironically, the only way not to be constantly reminded of how vain I really felt was to keep the old face, the one etched with time, the one about which I could no longer be vain.
Oh well, I shrugged, the anguish I'd felt since our shopping expedition finally lifting. We all have to make friends with our faces sooner or later. Even Beth. She'd bought herself some time, it was true. But reality would come calling; it always does. I'd rather deal with it now while I still had some energy. In fact, I felt energetic enough to take a drive to the department store. Maybe I'd buy myself a new lipstick, almost a gloss, in a light shade that flattered older faces. And a lipstick primer to fill in those tiny lines, the ones I'll never erase but can learn to live with.
The author has written for More and The New York Times.
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