My mother made love to her mirror, twice a day, morning and evening, every day of her life. Before bedtime, this involved the soft, slow strokes of her fingertips across her face and neck, always caressing upwards in a circular motion that stimulated the nerves and capillaries. “Gravity is a thing to fight,” she said. “Early and without mercy.” My mother attacked aging with the same fortitude my aunts reserved for dirt and germs.
When the lotion blushed her complexion and relaxed the finest of her lines, she said, “Goodnight, gorgeous,” and blew a kiss to her reflection.
In the morning, she performed the ritual of the painted lips. Her top lip, like my own, was thin, but she carved a plump bow with a liner pencil and painted the space between, creating a pouty illusion that even I, her accessory, believed in. “You living doll, you!” She kissed the mirror, using it as her blotter.
What bothered me was the consistency of her self-devotion. She kissed loudly, her hugs lingered, and no moment was too public for an extravagant display, yet she withdrew just as intensely when some aspect of her grace had not received its due. Then she stomped around with a ferocity that belied her size, or her silences stretched for weeks. That’s when I hid her potions, blunted her lipsticks in the tube.
“Just you wait.” She used a butter knife to re-sculpt the point of her moisture rich regal brick. “A woman can die waiting for love to come right from someone else.”
This lesson she had already taught me.
This nonfiction piece appears in our Fall 2013 issue (Vol. 60.1).