Are You Looking At Me?
Are You Looking At Me?
published in ForbesWoman, Jan. 5, 2010.
One unfortunate reaction to Novacaine results in a very important lesson: Beauty is skin-deep but shocked stares are worse.
Imagine yourself at an important meeting. You've prepared material that took months to research and your ideas are innovative. This is the best work you've ever done. You stand before the board in an appropriate and flattering outfit and speak in a way that you know is attractive. You are used to being greeted warmly because of your intelligence and beauty. People like to pay attention to you. But in an instant that can change. Here's what happened to me.
I left the dentist's office after a long wince-provoking appointment and headed down 57th Street to buy myself a new lipstick as reward. I expected the numbness in my lips to have worn off by the time I arrived at Henri Bendel. Maybe I'd let myself get caught by a salesperson who would progress from rubbing lotion on my hand to fussing with my face until I'm so oozy I buy another eye shadow.
eI entered a sea of cosmetic counters, went to the one where no saleslady was hovering and selected a lipstick. After cleaning the tester, I leaned in close to the mirror. Wait a minute. A freak was in the mirror. My top lip was as big as my palm and hung down like a purple piece of liver.
Oh, well, so what. I could still get a lipstick. I pressed the tester against my mouth but the lip didn't offer any resistance and the lipstick smeared to my cheek as a cheerful voice said, "Can I show you a revolutionary eye treatment today?"
I turned, she gasped and stepped back. No one had trained her for this. A woman with a deformed face was trying on lipstick at her counter. Was she supposed to continue her spiel? I wanted to say, don't panic, it's not really me, but maybe this was really me now. Novocaine never lasted this long before. She stood there rooted in horror. I ran deeper into the store. Cosmetic reps started toward me, then retreated, embarrassed, as if they had opened the door on me in the bathroom.
I hurried out the front door and over to Madison Avenue to catch the bus. It was rush hour. Used to chatting with strangers, now I was afraid to go among the people waiting for the bus. Their eyes touched my face and pulled away as if burned.
When the bus arrived, they stepped back to let me go up first. Hanging my head like a ripe sunflower, I inserted my MetroCard and worked a space for myself among the straphangers. The bus was so crowded I couldn't see out the windows. After several blocks I needed to know the stop so I asked a person next to me. She had been in an after-work stupor, but now she snapped to attention, stood there agape, then asked everyone what stop it was and they all answered me at once to prove they weren't afraid to talk to me. "Getting out!" I said and the crowd parted too fast.
In my apartment I phoned the dentist. Yes, it usually wears off by now. Did he ever have a patient whose face remained paralyzed? Well, once he did have one woman who ... I phoned my husband, told him I couldn't meet him at the restaurant; he'd see why when he got home.
He came into the apartment calling my name in his concerned voice and found me sitting on the bed. He held my face up with his palm before I twisted away. "It's from the Novocaine," I said.
"But wasn't that a long time ago?"
"What did he say?"
"I should call him back if it's not gone in a few hours."
Eating take-out sushi, unable to control pieces dribbling out of my mouth, I peeked up and saw my husband wondering how he would manage with such a repulsive wife. Could he sit next to her at the opera while everyone tried not to stare? Could he ever kiss that mouth? Could he pass this test? Would he be loyal? I saw that he didn't know.
As for the people at work, would they allow me to make presentations before important clients? Maybe how you look defines your entire being. Maybe there is no such thing as "self" esteem or "inner resources." Maybe our idea of ourselves comes from the countless mirrors that reflect us in the eyes of others. Maybe it's not what's inside that counts.
The next day my face was back to normal. I was attractive again, safe, in a state of grace. I'd escaped. But now I don't belittle the importance of beauty by describing it as skin deep. My looks are not a coating over the real me. They determine the real me.
excellent piece! extremely well-written and very funny.
Posted by marybralove | 01/06/10 05:51 AM EST
this comment appeared on Shine.com
Posted by Stormyrider x x x Tues Jan 5, 2010 2:57pm PST
Oh, I can just imagine!
I have been in the dental field for more than 20yrs, I can not begin to tell you how familiar your story is.
And scary at best! You poor thing!
Do you know have many times our wonderful patient's have told us their stories on their returning appointments, they endured stares,snickering smiles, oh and let's not forget the "dental jokes"!
Some have spilled drinks on their shirts at some meeting in front of their peers!
I'll just remind you, try not to eat anything while you're numb, but that's a different post, all in it's own...LOL!!