Jules Smith “Kiss Kiss” necklace, $237
I can’t feel the lower half of my face.
A polished finger pokes my grin. “How do you feel?”
“I don’t.” I think I’m smiling; I don’t know if my lips are moving. “I feel great.”
“Fabulous. The doctor will be right in.” I watch her ponytail swish out the mahogany door: it’s a tail of balanced blond, echoing what might happen should she ever bathe in natural sunlight.
I relax in my seat, my thighs sticking out my summer dress and onto the clear covering of a luxury leather. Cradled by the child of a Benz’s backseat and a dentist’s chair, I try to lift my legs from the plastic, but it sucks at my skin, keeping me on the cushions. I give up and stare at the Apple computer screen before me, floating on the French vanilla wall. Befores and afters gently flash: faces lifted in a lunch hour, forced smile lines from too many dinner dates erased, crying husbands hugging women masked expressionless after being Botoxed into beauty.
I can’t wait.
There’s a quick rap on the door, a polite pause, and a smooth, silent opening: a pressed white coat glides in. The doctor smiles, without his face creasing. “So we’ll just be filling in 1 cc of…”
“Juvéderm,” I answer. I wonder if my lips are curving up. The filler’s name is so perfectly organic to its purpose: the meat of “rejuvenate” worked in, “dermatology” hinted at. Cosmetic enough to sound harmless, medical enough so that you can justify an instant lift as a clinical need.
“Of course,” he agrees. He bends over me, surveying. “Soon you’ll have perfect lips to match the rest of your face.”
I giggle a “thank you,” though I know his conversational foreplay is a formula of fact and fiction—much like the nose of his assistant, who has faded back onto the scene. I see him saying this to the lady flashing onto the computer screen, as facial evidence of her last marriage is erased, I see him saying this to every 30-something-year-old girl, to every sweet sixteen Botoxed beyond her years. To anyone paying for some one-on-one with a single cc. Or three.
“I’m glad you stay out of the sun,” he says. “That’s good. That’s the most control you have of anti-aging in your twenties.” His eyes gloss over mine. “Though you may soon want to consider an eye lift. Your eyes are beautiful, but…”
“They’re sagging?” I ask. I raise my brows in the gold-framed mirror that floats in front of me, and then force myself to relax—the expression crinkled my forehead.
“Your eyes are just a little puffy over the lid.”
“That’s the Jap in my Cracker Jap,” I answer. “They’ve been like that forever. I’m a little Asian.”
“Oh, that’s very natural then,” he says. “Yes, a laser would fix that. Or we could lift from the hair line, and raise your brows, too.” His fingers tug my face up, and I’m wide eyed in my reflection.
“Yep,” I say, recognizing his movement. “I’ve done that in the mirror before.” It’s like I’m enjoying the slumber party makeovers I always wanted as a teenager: syringes instead of tubes of flavored lip gloss, older over-groomed men instead of T-shirted younger brothers.
The mirror disappears.
A needle dives into my skin.
“Can you feel anything?”
“Barely.” I say. My eyes water, and I worry for my mascara.
His syringe pinches again, and again, and again, like a needle stitching a smile. The pain is worse the closer he gets to the corners of my lips, piercing my machine behind expression. Then the syringe is replaced with gloved fingers, massaging my mouth. Still partly numb, his hands’ dance is both fuzzy feeling and sharp.
“Are you moving the filler into place?” I laugh: there’s something amusing about all the work it takes to look natural.
“Yes, it’s very malleable.”
I try to smile. They hand me a mirror, and giggles spill out my ballooned mouth.
“You look so good!” says his assistant. The perfect pillows of her lips make a circle as she coos, forming a little black hole of talk. I wonder if my kisser will echo hers tomorrow.
I laugh again. They look at me like I’ve picked up the wrong fork for my salad (no dressing), or like when they turned down the $500 gift card I’d received at a black-tie dinner for their services (“You need to spend $5,000 to use it,” a lab-coated consultant explained. Small print on the card’s back argued otherwise, but I handed them my American Express).
“I’m sure it’ll look lovely in a few hours,” I say. “But right now it’s as if my brother socked me in my face—funny.”
“Well, you’re all done,” says the doctor. I reach to shake his hand. “Hopefully we’ll see you again soon.”
Who needs hope when I have so much control over the face god gave me? Under the fancy fluorescent light, my mind’s eye is already erasing more lines: those parentheses around my smile, gentle reminders of a lifetime spent spinning, penning stories that gave me pleasure; that smiling curve of under-eye circles, from years of telling myself sleep was an overpriced luxury.
Who needs hope when I can buy grooming and confidence? Earthly intelligent design always trumps the concept of some far-off, mystical designer naturally birthing beauties.
The door’s closed, and I’m alone in the controlled quiet. I stare at my face in the mirror, at my pale, bloated smile. Though I’ll have to wait a day to enjoy the results, there’s instant gratification: I feel god-like.
I move to get out of my chair, but my body sticks to it, and I sink back in.