Some see the aging face as an ongoing story; others see it as a palimpsest from which the original pretty story has been scraped and is continuously replaced by increasingly derivative tales culled from the same source. Here, I find myself thinking Hamlet compared to Hamlet Versus Predator: To Bleed or Not to Bleed. Sadly, as you may plainly see, no metaphor holds up after you have looked at it long enough.
The first two faces of childhood take shape over an energy source as active as what goes on in the belly of the sun. Yet by the end of the second face those energies have gone out and whatever beauty one gets in the third and fourth face is the fated result of a pattern begun by what is forever dead.
Something usually goes wrong at the onset of the fifth face. The mirror activates a separate sentience in your head that marks trilobite-like fossil-beds of laughter in the crooks of your eyes, and observes glints of silver where there had only been youthful darkness. You ignore the rumors until the third-face clerk at a convenience store asks to see your ID when you make that kind of purchase. The flattery of the moment goes to hell when he gives you a commiserate “the law is the law” sort of look, ma’am, which conveys the absurdity of it all, while not even glancing at the birthdate on your license.
When I was a girl my first- and second-face mind burned with an intense mania I recall having but in no way can still feel. Around thirteen, I’d lie awake and imagine my face on the wall, rapid-aging like a time-lapse film of a flower. I’d pause it here and there and wonder the basic banalities: Will I ever be pretty? Does the nose get smaller when the heart falls in love?
And I remember the thing about colors, which drove me nuts. How do I know if somebody else sees pink the way I see it? Maybe pink to them is my sky blue, yet as long as what we call pink matches there’s no way of telling. And I can never look out someone else’s eyes to find out because I’d still be doing the seeing…I also recall being oddly disappointed in college when a dorm mate told me that she had long wondered the exact same thing.
Want and love and sympathy and selfishness and understanding and the incorrect assumption of knowing all too well go into the making of every face. As with all objects in the Universe, faces warp space-time; thus they draw and repel. Yet within the handwritten Universe, heretical Free Will exists. Sadly, over the course of a lifetime, massless Free Will attracts atoms composed of experience and prejudice, and becomes one more fractal-pattern that—after so much hullabaloo—plays out as just another dance, which repeats itself when all new steps are exhausted; the passage from the perception of one metaphor to another is indicative of the vanishing of Free Will.
My current face has seen too much of the same old same old. The curiosity in my eyes has been beaten back, and the set of my jaw is such that it expects to be struck by a hand raised in anger. Being an American, naturally, I went to the doctor for a pill.
“You seem depressed,” he said.
No shit, I thought. “I do?” I said.
“Yes, your score is the worst possible.”
That happens when men no longer fantasize about you, Doctor. It’s all about the eighth face. Men can get away with it; they become “distinguished” and are given boner pills that keep pace with their thick wallets and desire to bang third-face bimbos. Eighth-faced women go the way of Jane Darwell. Don’t know her? She won an Oscar playing extremely eighth-faced Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. Great actress, but hardly a centerfold, you distinguished bastard, you, I thought. “I’ve always been an overachiever,” I said.
“Have you ever tried mood inhibiting medications before?” he asked.
Does downloading three lines of blow and a pint of Gordon’s gin in the White Pig Tavern, circa 1986, then uploading it all over the front seat of my boyfriend’s car, count? I thought. “No,” I said.
The doctor fell silent and began fiddling on his computer screen. I am pretty sure that he actually Googled my symptoms, as I had done at home. Through the corner of my eye I performed a search of him. I noted an interesting scar on his left hand, maybe three inches long, jagged, yet clean and white and so cold and out of step with his healing demeanor that it told its own tale.
“Are you allergic to any medications?” he asked.
No, I thought. “Switchblade,” I said.
Follow me, if you dare, I thought. “Your hand,” I said. “Please tell me that you were in a knife fight and that I oughta see the other guy.”
He smiled from not the eyes. “Some knife fight,” he said, examining the thing for what seemed to me the first time in years. “When I was eight, I lost a battle with a sliding glass door.”
“Could you please Google me up a bipolar?” I said. “It seems for a person to be special anymore that they ought to have a famous disease to walk around on a leash like a pet. Used to be only a few people were special. Nowadays, however, everyone is so special that there’s no pressing need for anyone to stay alive,” I said. Why do I write everything I say? I thought. And I didn’t realize that tears had ruined my mascara as I had said that. We eighth-faced women do not cry pretty. We make people hate us.
I carried my little white prescription bag to my car and I wiped my reflected eyes clean in the rearview mirror. I thought about usurper Claudius; Words without thoughts to not heaven go. A reflection without a face seems to work out the same.
I went home and called my mother. She is a tenth-faced woman who has the enviable gift of not giving a shit about what people think of her. She never has. There are benefits in being a sociopath. “Those little pills can change your outlook,” she said. “Maybe they will get you back to dating men again.”
Something inside me sighed when she said that. No matter what face you are at, the mother-daughter relationship is pretty much like going into a landmine field, blindfolded and on a pogo stick. It’s my experience that only people currently in their seventh-face or later, recall the pogo stick. Mom has always been big on changing my outlook ever since I could understand words. She speaks the language of the baited hook.
I almost took the bait. Sometimes I do so unwillingly, sometimes I do it just for sport. I smiled and gave the phone the middle finger.
“I’ve got to go, Mom,” I said.
“Something I said?”
“Everything you say,” I said as I zapped her out of my ear. I counted to three, sure enough my phone rang. “Really, Mom,” I said. “Got to go. I will see you Saturday.” I hung up on her for the second time in ten seconds and silenced my ringer. She usually leaves four or five voice messages per day in my box. She must know that I delete them without listening.
I went into the bathroom and watched myself take my first Citalopram tablet. And I thought about all those stories about suicide; those in which the protagonist just keeps swallowing more pills until all is well—the quick cure. The real world moves much more slowly and requires that an effort be made by both the winners and the losers.
I placed the bottle in my medicine cabinet and made note of the time, for I am supposed to take it around the same time every day.
I went into the living room. I then lay on the sofa and fell into a dream. I dreamt of windy smiles and of false hope and love. I dreamt of standing on the shore and gazing into the closest enormity that might absorb and quiet the tumult in my infinite mind. I dreamt of generations of sad women seeking romance in the scuzzy dive bars of cyberspace. I dreamt of a poignant oboe gliding high over the treble clef. I dreamt of painting all mirrors black.
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