Each week, we’re running a new installment of The Matter Mini-Series: “Love in the Time of Bae.” It’s the story of how two people met and fell in love in the 21st century — a simple story, except not.
Last week, we met Anthony, who is 16 and lives in Wales, except he’s not really of Wales as much as he is of Twitter, or of Homestuck, or of Kik. Anthony is falling for Charlotte, of Homestuck, of Twitter, or Tumblr, or San Diego.
The Results Are Visible
by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Illustration by Angie Wang
There is a particular purple lipstick that Chanel makes that I started wearing two years ago that is not quite dark and not quite pastel, more of a lavender with some depth to it. I acquired it when the purple lipstick I used from Nars started making me look sallow around the cheek and dark beneath the eye. I ran out of that particular Chanel lipstick, which necessitated me going to Nordstrom to wait while the lady behind the counter searched and searched and then delivered the news, that it had been discontinued, that maybe I should try 43, that’s not so different from 42. But this is a love story, and Anthony and Charlotte could already tell you that love is not about approximations; no, it’s about precision. I have been spending so much time with them lately, my cadence? slowing down? and suddenly featuring a new upspeak? that I never had before? But when I was young I didn’t go to Chanel. When I was young, Maybelline looked good on me. Everything looked good on me.
Anyway, the woman, with her striped New Jersey highlights, fluffed and teased, insisted. She said I hadn’t given 43 a chance. I told her I didn’t like it. She told me you can’t wear 43 with nothing else on your face, without blush or eye shadow or maybe just some mascara. If only I’d let her apply a regular face of makeup, I could see how good the 43 would look.
This is how they get you. I am nearing 40 and I know this, but I also know which battles can be won. I know that someone who has climbed the ranks at Chanel and clawed her way onto the floor at a Nordstrom has some special skills, and honestly, I’m nearing 40, and I’m exhausted and maybe she was right. Maybe I wasn’t giving 43 a chance. So I let her take out a palette to apply colors to my face so that I could come home with hair that looked like antennae, yoga pants, a sports bra, a maternity T-shirt (my youngest is four) and a full face of Chanel makeup.
The woman leaned into my face, looked me in one eye, then the other, and whispered her Trident-breath message, “Your eyes are so dry, Taffy.” (They are taught to use your name, Taffy.) I nodded and teared up a little. Yes, my eyes are so dry. I’ve seen it all, and I’ve cried a billion tears, Chanel lady, and the salt from those tears has dehydrated the skin around my eyes, and soon I’ll be 40. Soon I’ll be 40!
I had recently been noticing a crackedness in my face that I’d only seen on people I knew to be alcoholics or smokers, like I was empty or gray. My hands have become white and powdery like I’ve chalked them up for my gymnastics routine. Ten years ago, I moved to Los Angeles from New York, and everyone warned me, everyone said watch out, it’s so dry there. Now I’ve moved back to the East Coast, and my skin looks empty, vacated, and everyone says it’s the winter, the dry winter. I believe them because why shouldn’t I?
But suddenly, I needed to do anything to stop the dryness. I needed to apply creams, day and night if necessary, to reinvigorate the lines until they were plump and babylike. I was shown a delicate eye cream, but I was not in a delicate situation. I needed Spackle or cement. I needed ectoplasm, I needed Christian teenagers to pray on me. I needed something to restore all that was lost. I stood up in a panic, and walked across the floor, outside the Chanel woman’s zone of influence, to an area where she would be powerless, over to a counter that featured an eye cream that had platinum in it. Platinum! A woman rubbed that goo into the skin beneath my eyes, and I waited for them to sparkle but still there were lines, still there was the dryness. “It’s going to take time,” said the woman, looking me up and down, knowing that I had not yet taken time on anything else about my appearance. “It didn’t happen overnight.” That wasn’t good enough. I walked around the cosmetics floor, sweaty and bug-eyed, looking for another miracle ingredient: cream of elephant tusk, milk of monkey testicle, tears of Tibetan monks, blood of premature test-tube baby, goat semen—anything.
When did this happen? Where did the color go? I had watched so closely, sure that age wouldn’t come if I was vigilant. But the Nars lipstick hadn’t made me start looking sallow. Life had started making me look sallow. My neck was starting to do weird things. Every time my roots showed up they showed up harder. My mother had told me to use latex gloves when I washed the dishes, and I hadn’t, and now I could barely look at my hands. I type this now, and there they are, right in front of me, forever in front of me, please don’t confront me with my failures, I had not forgotten them.
I sat down outside the Clinique counter. Clinique, where I bought my first cosmetic—a pot of lip gloss called Black Honey at least 400 years ago. A woman held up a silver tube that looked like a vaccine being held at a CDC facility. “Do you use a serum?” I asked her what the fuck a serum was. She filled with the ebullience of a thousand suns and said, “I like to say it’s everything but the moisture!” Everything? Everything? “Everything.” Everything.
She looked at me solemnly, all over my face, top to bottom, nodding like she finally knew, and she told me about the Custom Repair™ technology that was at work, how the serum somehow knew what was wrong with me and my skin, personally, privately, and how it knew how to shut up and get to work. She put some on my finger, and she told me to rub it into my forehead.
“The results are visible,” she told me. Where? Already? I waited, looking into the mirror, and all she asked was, “Do you have a good moisturizer?” The way she said good, it was like all I’d ever been missing was an ability to outsource the expertise, that I should have put this in someone else’s hands a long time ago. Picture me — in my memory her hands are holding my head, and the questions are asked with pity but that can’t be right, can it? — the tears welling up again, looking up at her, backlit by the mall lights. “Taffy, do you have a good moisturizer, Taffy?” “I don’t have a good moisturizer,” I answered, my eyes in the mirror big Margaret Keane eyes, but with worry and fret. “I just don’t.”
I came home and unloaded the products, bought under a spell I can’t quite remember. The moisturizers were branded as “Youth Surge.” I’d been spending so much time on Charlotte and Anthony lately, listening to them and trying to understand them, that the only thing I could keep thinking was thank god I wasn’t one anymore. I applied it all, the serum, the Youth Surge for the day, the Youth Surge for the night, every day for a week, rubbing it against my skin like inside my face was a genie that I wanted to emerge. Nothing changed. The repairs did not come custom. The results were not visible. There had been no surge of youth. I was still my smart, mature self. I was still not doing stupid things. I was still aging like I somehow had believed when I was young that I never would. I still could not look straight at my hands, which now seemed like they’d been covered with the thinnest layer of crepe paper. A month later, my eyes were still dry, and it was then I knew that my problem wasn’t topical. The dryness was coming from inside. I was drying out from within.
I tell you this so that you can understand that you can put your hands on Charlotte’s face — she will let you if you ask nicely — and that her lips are the color of watermelon sherbert, and her rosy skin bounces back after you touch it, like she had been given Custom Repair™ to drink all her life instead of water or milk, buoyant and flushed.