Today, during a meeting, I looked at my hands and was startled. They looked like hands that belonged to a forty-five old woman who still wore jewelry from her early twenties, before she could afford anything really nice.
Sure, it’s winter. The whole season my entire person takes on a drab, ashy look. It doesn’t matter that we run two humidifiers in the apartment or that I’m vigilant about drinking water and using thicker face creams. An east coast winter sits on my complexion like the grime on our windows, but with even less moisture. Even so, I didn’t remember my hands looking quite so…rough last year.
I started thinking about my face and sighed. Now I had to worry about my hands too.
Last Friday I finally got an appointment with a facialist whose services I purchased through a website for discerning women: Groupon.
She was Eastern European with platinum blonde hair and skin so perfect it looked like glaze. She worked with latex gloves, unlike the three other estheticians I’d been to. Maybe she was a true professional. Maybe it was bad luck to touch other people’s wrinkles with bare hands. The way she snapped the gloves on, I could tell she would be efficient and to the point.
“Have you ever thought about Botox?”
I had barely laid my head all the way down on the pillow when she asked this. She had spent less than two seconds looking at my skin and had already turned away to ready the creams and potions.
“Uh, no,” I said, frowning.
“No no, don’t frown,” she patted my forehead in light admonishment, then traced the lines on either side of my eyes with her index fingers. “You have wrinkles here. A lot.”
“I know,” I said. “I have really bad crow’s feet, but I don’t want Botox.”
“Okay,” she said, “I understand.”
I was surprised. I was ready for her to up-sell my Groupon.
“How old are you?” she asked.
“Thirty.” I said, “No, thirty-one. Well, almost thirty-two.”
“Oh no,” I frowned again, “Do I look a lot older?”
“No, but you look like you’re in your thirties.”
She started to rub a gel on my face using brisk circular motions.
“Thirties,” she said with Eastern European matter-of-factness.
She patted my forehead again, “It’s not too bad. But why, you know?”
I didn’t know. She turned to get a hot towel as I struggled to answer the question.
“Why look like you’re in your thirties when you can look like you’re in your twenties?” She flapped the hot towel.
I nodded. This made a lot of sense.
“These days,” swiftly, she wiped off the gel, “everyone in their thirties looks like they’re in their twenties.”
I nodded more vigorously. Maybe Botox wasn’t such a bad idea.
“And the people who look thirty are all in their forties.”
She put another gel type substance on my face. This gel stung. Badly.
“What is this stuff?”
“It’s glycolic 30,” she said, “Acid. It burns.”
“Ah,” I winced.
“It’s working,” she said. “Anyway, why look your age if you don’t have to?”
I didn’t know but it was a valid question. What was I thinking walking around looking my age? It seemed like the dumbest thing.
“Also,” she said, and at the same time we both pointed out that I was Asian.
“So really, you should look even younger.”
I nodded sadly, the acid slowly burning my face off. I was filled with regret.
When I was in my twenties my cousins of the same age were using brands like Dior and SK-II. I thought they were being vain and extravagant. But now they look like they’re still in their early to mid twenties and here I am, thirty-one with a face that said “thirties.”
Five minutes later she wiped the acid off, but by then my face had already gotten accustomed to the pain. I could get used to the pain, I thought, if it literally burns years off my face. She put a thin layer of gauze over my eyes and then placed a plastic mask with LED lights embedded inside on my face. The gauze was too thin and my eyes felt like they were wide open and staring into a laser beam. I thought about telling her and asking her to add another piece of gauze over my eyes – I wanted to look younger but wanted to keep my eyesight – but maybe that was the deal. To be young again, with wide, vacant eyes. Either way, she’d already turned on some soothing music and I could tell this was quiet time.
Like my face and the glycolic 30, my eyes got used to staring straight into the sun and I drifted off.
When I woke, she was wiping my face down again and applying another cream.
“You don’t have to do Botox,” she said, “But you need to get a good eye cream and you need to use it consistently.”
“I do,” I said, “I use a good one at night.” And it is a good one. My cousin Karen gave it to me out of pity, but also it was kind of like a back-handed compliment. It was too “rich” for her twenty-something year old skin.
“That’s not enough. You’ve got to use it throughout the day. Keep it in your purse, you know? Put it on when you’re waiting in line. When you’re at work. When you’re on the subway.”
I imagined myself walking all around Manhattan, dabbing eye cream sporadically. At dinner with friends, excusing myself to reapply eye cream. At work, during a meeting, excusing myself to use the bathroom but really going to reapply eye cream. At home, asking Tom to pause a show so I could go and reapply eye cream. Like a cocaine habit but with more attractive results.
“Yes,” she said. “It will take a while. But you don’t want Botox so this is what you do.” She tapped the lines around my eyes again, and then patted my cheeks like she was my Russian grandma, “You’ll see the difference if you are consistent.”
Like so many things.
The appointment was over and we tried to make another, but she was booked up well into the New Year. After a bit of scrolling she found an two openings two weeks in a row, in March.
“Can you do 3PM?”
“That’s like right in the middle of my work day.”
She shrugged. It was up to me which was more important. My face or my career.
I had never really put much emphasis on either, but lately, nearing thirty-two, I’ve been taking stock in the things that really matter to me and my goals for the year ahead. 2018 is going to be about being true to who I really am.
But really, I couldn’t kid the facts: I had the rest of my life to work but only about fifteen more years left to look like I was in my thirties.
“Book them,” I said, and walked out glowing, like someone who’d just power-napped beneath an LED face mask.