Prior to a four-year stint as an unadorned, unshaven college art student, I’d worn eye makeup since my early teenage years. I inherited my mother’s hair, you see, which has proven mostly fortuitous — yet while the mane itself is quite thick, the volume gene didn’t translate to the brows and lashes. Like my mother did, I have wimpy, wispy eyebrows, and eyelashes that are barely perceptible without a good shellacking of mascara.
Even my father noticed the transformation after I slathered on the goo. Although I was the apple of his darkly lashed eye, one day he made the mistake of commenting, to my mother’s unabashed horror, on what a difference it made in my appearance. From that day forward, I vowed to never leave the house without first applying an arsenal of cosmetics.
For a few months before declaring a college major in grooviness, I attended classes in full greasepaint. The night I met John, in fact, I was made up to the hilt, particularly in the eyelash department.
Problem was, our first encounter took place during a freshman co-ed snowball fight and upon my return to the dorm room afterwards, I discovered my heretofore perfectly blackened lashes had not only smudged, but the gloopy mess was smeared halfway down my cheeks.
Happily for me, John looked past the tar pit on my face and chose to continue to pursue the relationship. Or maybe he was just desperate.
My subsequent artistically-inspired au naturel lash phase ended almost immediately upon my college graduation. After entering the work force, I caved once again to the pressure of the peer and reunited with my former constant companion.
Many lash-enhanced years later, when John and I began farming for a living, I swore I’d be the only local farmer to refuse to give up her cache of cosmetics. That lasted maybe three weeks. Upon rediscovering the sense of freedom that comes with choosing substance over appearance (You’ve seen farmers’ fingernails, right? And those goofy tans?), I continued my repudiation of the mascara wand throughout my farming tenure, beyond the eventual sale of the farm, and ultimately into our move to Washington with every intention of never again sullying these otherwise nearly undetectable eyelashes.
Until last week.
The Organic Seed Alliance, headquartered here in Port Townsend, was holding a fundraiser/10-year anniversary dinner and the local foods store where John works sponsored a table at the event.
It was to be my first introduction to the store owner’s wife, and being that the fundraiser was a $75 per plate affair, I was a little nervous about making a good first impression in that kind of setting. People tend to doll up for those things. The morning before the dinner, I broke down and made a special trip to the drug store’s mascara counter.
It probably didn’t boost my confidence level when every time I blinked, I feared my eyelids were going to glom shut — what do they use in that stuff, Elmer’s Glue? — but I couldn’t have felt more socially inept when we arrived at the fundraiser had I tried. The owner’s wife was charming and relaxed. I was suddenly 17 years old, going to my first grown-up party, and my attempts at witty repartee went something like this:
Owner’s wife: “Oh yeah, Phil comes from a big, gregarious family. There was loud laughing and talking all through the house and it always intimidated me, coming from such a small quiet family myself.”
Me: “Same with John’s family! [Blink, panic.] [Blink, panic.] There was loud laughing and talking all through the house and it always intimidated me, coming from such a small quiet family myself.”
Thankfully, at the end of the evening the owner’s wife gave me a hug. Out of pity more than camaraderie, no doubt, but I welcomed it nonetheless. And you know what I noticed, as we pulled away from our cordial embrace?
She wasn’t wearing a stitch of makeup.