by Stacy Firth
“I need the impossible.”
It was a rainy day, but maybe the fact that it was spring caused hope to resonate in my voice.
“Anything is possible,” the bright, blonde saleswoman countered.
I liked her immediately.
For the past five minutes I had been wandering around the aisles of the sleek, polished mecca of a cosmetics store in that lost way women do when they’re looking for something magical and are busy saying silent prayers that it’s there.
“I need to make this less noticeable,” I said, then furrowed my brow dramatically to produce the deep valley that now runs between my eyebrows.
She had an immediate solution (I liked her even more). Not just the magic cream I was hoping for, but a whole magical system.
Which was just fine with me. You never reveal this to the woman helping you at the beauty counter but I can tell you— I would have paid almost anything for the product that could be trusted to repair this situation.
I pay a lot of attention to what I put in and on my body. Organic, made-from-scratch everything; no preservatives, no sulfates or parabens or any of those other things that seem to be everywhere and, we’ve been told, are apt to kill you.
Exceptions will be made, though, when it comes to wrinkles.
My best friend and I volley text messages back and forth, about the price we pay, out of our wallets and inside our heads, for these wrinkles we now bear. Is it the weight of being a woman that does this to us? Are we shallow? We both admit that we don’t care.
I know exactly how this particular wrinkle was formed, because I catch myself making the faces that cause it. It deepens in bright sun and exasperation.
I have started sticking sunglasses everywhere—in my purse, the diaper bag, the car, my yoga bag, the bowl by the front door where I keep my keys. They’re shields against squinting, which I now realize I must avoid at all costs.
But how do I avoid that exasperated face? The one that says: Are you kidding me? Seriously? You think you’re going to get away with that? Please listen. Are you ok?! Stop licking your brother. Don’t bite your sister! Where did your diaper go?!
I escaped pregnancy without stretch marks, but motherhood has embedded its mark on me.
Before, I thought I would be okay with wrinkles. Smile lines sounded joyous to me. If I get wrinkles from all the smiles life has brought to my face, I’ll call that a win, I thought. Crow’s feet seemed majestic, the mark of a matriarch.
I don’t feel the same about the divot between my brows. Maybe that’s because it’s deeper than those cute smile lines I envisioned. This is not a wrinkle, really. It’s a rut.
The ways I’ve contorted my face since I’ve turned 30: howl of pain; uncontained joy; the grimace of ache; fits of laughter; knots of confusion; the wide-eyed glare of wonder; the 3 a.m. squint night after night; the are-you-for-real side eye; crumble of tears; anxiety’s strain. Over time, like water flowing through rock, a path has been worn.
I would have been okay with the smile lines but I don’t know what to make of this chasm between my brows and most of all, I don’t know what to make of the fact that I care. That I really do care.
As I walk to the register to pay for this overpriced, overpromised five-step system, I picture how dedicated I will be. I can see it: the ravine will fill in, the proof of strain will vanish, and I will keep wearing sunglasses and return to worrying about other things.
The truth is that I will buy this magic, five-step system and only use it for a short while. I don’t like how it makes my face feel, and after looking at the ingredients I think I almost feel better about my forehead ravine than I do their chemicals. I can’t bear to think any more about Botox or fillers but in secret I wonder if I’ll contradict myself and do it, someday.
It is around this time that a friend of a friend, older than me by seven years but with skin that looks twenty years younger, reveals her secret: starting in her twenties, she trained herself not to make dramatic facial expressions. What I have always thought of as her calm, even demeanor is actually a conditioned defense against wrinkles, laugh lines, crow’s feet, and forehead dents. Her goal has been achieved: her skin is smooth and taut.
I am glad she confessed her secret, because now, finally, I know what to do:
Laugh freely, and be glad for it.
Squint at the bright and beautiful sun, and smile.
Give my kids the raised eyebrow when they deserve it, and contort my face into the goofy expressions that make them giggle.
Sit with tears, and confusion, and wonder; react; feel.
Howl with unrestrained emotion like a wolf at the wild moon, if it feels right.
That is the new five-step system.
How relieved I am to realize I don’t need to buy a thing. Instead, I can learn to slather on love and acceptance for this life that has caused me to cry and laugh and grimace and pout and smile, and on top of that I can learn to layer on appreciation, for the simple fact that I have let myself feel to the depths and live uncontained in all of these moments.
And, even though I realize now that I don’t need to, I will buy things—creams and lotions and masks. But it will no longer be because I want to resist the marks life will leave on me. It will simply be because I want to take care of myself. To love myself.
I am learning to let the river flow. It can make its mark on me.
Image by Steve Johnson at pexels.com. Find him on instagram @artbystevej.