None of my sisters is biologically related to me, but they are among the finest women on the face of the earth.
Last week, fortified by a glass of wine, one of them called me. She wanted to offer her assistance in a way that wouldn’t offend me. Now, this is a stylish friend who appears to have stepped out of a magazine even if you stop by, say, at 9 o’clock on a Wednesday evening when you are wearing yoga pants, grey work socks and a flour-edged t-shirt.
“I was wondering,” she said, “if you might like me to show you a couple of make-up tricks. Feel free to say no if you don’t want to…”
She had obviously noticed how my eyelashes leave imprints on my droopy eyelids, the perpetual eyeliner smudge beneath my left eye and the way lipstick bleeds all over my face. “You don’t have to,” she said. “it won’t hurt my feelings. I just thought you might want a special look for the wedding.”
We set a date. “Bring over all of your makeup so I can have a look,” she said.
“All I have is an eyeliner, mascara and one lipstick worn to a nub and as old as my youngest child.”
“Bring it,” she said. “All of it.”
I also found a 15-year-old blush, some dinosaur-era foundation, a pristine pallete of eyeshadow that must have been a gift-with-purchase and a beautiful dark lipstick I’d bought in Italy.
“Ah, yes,” she said, appraising each item without the aid of a loupe. She returned each item to the kitchen counter. “We may have to buy a few things.”
She tutored, I took notes. We went to the pharmacy for supplies, a department as cold as February that glimmered with shiny tubes and cases. I modelled 469 shades of lipstick, promised the 23-year-old cosmetician a happy marriage even though she’s not yet engaged, then we traversed the city seeking the perfect brushes for the coloured confections in pretty cases because you never, ever use the little brushes that come with the cosmetics.
The “in practice” part of my apprenticeship began in my friend’s bathroom. Foundation applied; “I look like a spotted hyena.”
“You need more. Like lots more…We need to find out what works for you.”
I glowed ghostly pale. Applying make-up wasn’t much different than painting a 3-D canvas with mountains and valleys and great folds of droopy lizard skin. I lined my bottom lash and pulled back from the mirror.
“I look like a drag queen.”
“You do not,” she said, “Stop that,” then, “Take it off! Erase that line!”
It was as if I’d imprinted that line with a tattoo needle. Good and stuck. “No problem, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll just know not to do that again,” I said. I wouldn’t get stopped by the police on the way home, would I? Have an accident?
By the end, I felt like a different person and so ready for Halloween that I’m pretty sure if I’d gone knocking on doors and held open a pillowcase, people would have given me candy, even though it’s April, and not October.
“You look like one of those silent movie stars,” my husband said when he opened the door. “You know, the ones with the giant eyes?”
I texted a picture to one of my sons — the most honest one, the one who holds back nothing. “Dad thinks I look like a drag queen,” I wrote. Not his words exactly, but he did mention that I looked the way he would if he smeared eyeliner and lipstick all over his face.
My son answered, “You look good. LOL.”
I would have felt a lot better if he hadn’t added the “LOL” because I wasn’t sure if that meant he was being sincere or sarcastic, but by this time, I’d walked by the hall mirror about 14 times and I’d rather gotten used to seeing the person who bore a slight resemblance to me. And today, I practiced my disguise as a polished, confident and assured woman.
Tomorrow, I’ll do it again. My husband, after all, is an old movie buff. (The movies are old, not him. Well, actually, maybe…)
Any day I spend with a sister is a good day, but it’s especially fine when one of them anticipates a need and offers non-judgemental help and guidance. To my sister, who shall remain nameless, I offer my thanks for your love and kindness: Being around you makes me a better person — inside and outside.