This is a guest post by Elizabeth Flock, the author of the New York Times Bestselling novel ME & EMMA. The sequel, WHAT HAPPENED TO MY SISTER (Random House, 2012) was just released in August and is one of Oprah’s 15 Must-Read Books for September. Liz is a former journalist who worked for Time and People magazine and was an on-air correspondent for CBS. Liz has been a big supporter of 52 Weeks.
52 Quote: I was going to have cosmetic surgery until I noticed that the doctor’s office was full of portraits by Picasso. — Rita Rudner
I had a mid-life crisis a decade too early. These days “mid-life” generally means fifty, thanks to the human race figuring out outrageous ways to prolong life, but I was forty when I hit that crisis point. Not yet, my friends told me. You’re still so young, my parents reassured. But I always hit these milestones early. Cancer at twenty-five. Menopause at thirty-five. And there I was forty years old, sitting in a dermatologist’s office scanning the list of services like I was choosing what kind of massage to get at a spa.
They prey on people like me, these sorts of offices do. I went in to get freckles checked and the next thing I knew I was talking to my doctor about filling out the lines around my mouth. Using words like easy and the even more seductive this will definitely take care of that for you, she wooed me. And I had just enough vanity mixed with forty year old insecurity to think it would take care of me, this collagen.
Before I tell you how I ended up bruised and swollen and unable to whistle or drink through a straw I should tell you that I welcomed forty. I really did. While I loved my twenties and thirties I would never want to return to them. At age thirty-nine I said to my forties: bring it on.
But I wanted to start fresh. Completely secure. Accepting of my flaws and loving my self. And those lip lines were just plain ugly. Crow’s feet, yes. Lip lines, no. And it’s so easy to take care of, according to my young dermatologist. The failure of my marriage, the vast emptiness I sometimes feel, maybe those can be taken care of, too.
“Let me just smear on this numbing cream and we’ll let it sit and I’ll be right back,” she is saying. “Keep your mouth closed so it doesn’t get on your tongue.”
One crumpled issue of Good Housekeeping later and there’s that double knock on the door indicating she has returned. I’ve never understood the double knock. Not when there’s no undressing. Does she think I’m emptying the drawers of alcohol wipes and tongue depressors? To add insult to injury I cannot call out that it’s alright for her to enter because of that damned numbing cream.
“You’ll just feel a prick…Okay now I have to massage the collagen in…you’re doing great. You’re doing great.”
I feel momentarily sorry for a person who believes doing great means someone breathing maniacally through their nose while white-knuckling armrests. And then I feel it. The trickle of sweat down the back of my neck, the tingling of my clammy skin.
I’m going to pass out.
A button is pushed and the chair back reclines like a dental chair. An ice pack materializes.
“Don’t worry,” the doctor is saying. “You’ll feel better in no time.”
Will I? I want to yell. What the hell am I doing here, I want to scream. And the worst part is she is only half way through (the left side of my mouth resembles Angelina Jolie, the right, Robin Williams). I can’t put a stop to it now. It’s too late.
The chair goes back up and the fingers return, poking and groping my lip. I can almost stand the sting of the injections but the squeezing of the collagen once it’s under my skin, well that must certainly be classified as torture in some Third World country.
“Um, sorry,” I don’t know why I kept apologizing.
And then it occured to me: I AM sorry.
I’m sorry for my part in the implosion of my marriage. I’m sorry for not being the person I thought I would be when I was very little. Mostly I’m sorry that in my search for strength I have ended up here, in a doctor’s office, getting a toxic substance pushed into me through a sharp shiny object.
Fifteen minutes later she is discarding the needle into the red box affixed to the wall.
“You look great,” she says, offering me a hand mirror.
At thirty I would have grabbed at it to see the results, to revel in my new mouth, oblivious to its distortion. But there, at forty I waved the mirror away. I didn’t want evidence of my insecurity. I realized then – too late — that it doesn’t matter what I look like. As in life, I had the experience. I lived it. I know what it felt like. I do not need to see how it scarred me. And for the first time I thought you’re doing great.
Oh, and for the record: I will never get collagen again.
Posted: 09/5/12 10:33 AM