It had been years since I’d seen him and I could tell he noticed a few changes in me. In fact, he appeared to be backing away. I hadn’t thought, frankly, that time had been totally unkind to me but with each step he took backward, I took one forward until, finally, he said, “What’s wrong with your face?”

The vanity gods struck as I put my hand up to my face and it slid across my cheek. I had left the house with my white anti-wrinkle cream still applied. He was looking at a dollop of thick cream the size of a small casserole with a nose sticking out.

He nodded as I sputtered and promptly waved as he sped out of the post office. He appeared to think it was a skin condition that was contagious or that being seen talking to a lemon meringue pie might reflect badly upon him. Perhaps, a policeman on the corner thought him suspicious as he jumped three steps to get out of Dodge.

I tried to remember all the other places I had visited before the post office as I ran back to my car. My head sagged into the well of the guillotine steering wheel. I had also been to the grocery store and seen one former student and another parent. Is death by a large axe blade painful or sweet? I remembered the face of a psychiatrist I knew who was leaving the Zoots Dry Cleaners as I was going in, just after I’d gone to the grocery store. I had smiled at him and he had returned that pinched passive look that comes with years of watching natural disasters unfold on his couch.

If my mother were alive on this day, she would have dropped the blade of the guillotine onto my reddening neck herself. Is it possible to drive home safely following decapitation? I’m about to find out. She died of natural causes at the age of 96 with her Max Factor compact open on her bedside table.

I contemplate at a stoplight the contrast to my death from embarrassment at 63. Love for her make-up pot had been strong enough to defy dementia. Vanity was her weapon not humiliation. She could spend whole afternoons staring deeply into a mirror the same way Stephen Hawking looks into black holes.

What love objects shall I throw at dementia if it comes my way—my favorite egg salad sandwich with green onions? My Bose Wave radio with Ipod dock?

When I open my garage door, I have a solution. I’ll move the mirrored chest from the bedroom to the hallway and place it in front of the door as a barricade—my vanity, literally and figuratively, my “catcher in the rye”.

It shall prevent aging children from falling off the cliff, or at the very least, from ever leaving the house again without first looking in the mirror.

©Pat Coakley 2008


20 comments on “Vanity”

  1. The first thing that came to my mind after reading your post was,
    “Oh no she dit-int!” wow. WOW. *pats Pat on the back*

    You’re funny and charming…:-)

    Does it help to know I have a really funny post I did about 10–countem TEN embarassing moments that happened to me? “_ _ i t ” happens I guess.

  2. Wow. You are truly an amazing fount of unbelievable stories. I guess we’ve all done or said things we wish we could undo or unsay. I am not much prone to embarassment, myself. I have vanity, of course, but balance it out with a healthy dose of not-giving-a-crap-what-others-think. It’s a fine line.

  3. Oh Pat! How very courageous of you! I’m sure your poor mama is conjuring immediate guillotine action on your creamy little neck from up there (or down there depending on the nature of the beast – having read you for the last few weeks, I surmise your mother must have been quite a character.) Would it make you feel better if I mentioned that leaving your home with white cream is certainly more acceptable than leaving the house with an avocado mask? It is also much more acceptable than leaving the house naked (although I wonder what kind of meme you would have shared with us…) or taking a bath in your panties (which happened to me last night.)
    I also noticed that white cream is generously applied with make-up! I had no idea!
    Great meme! Very, er, evocative! Fabulous story of mortification and redemption.
    As far as further meme instructions, I don’t have the vaguest idea. I think you’re done. Well done.
    Ps: You’re totally cute even with a gazillion layers of white cream.

  4. Ps: The emoticon crept on me out of nowhere. I think your comment column is inhabited by emoticon juju.

  5. Its called artistic license and I’m sticking with it!

    Yes, fine have done this as well will just about everything right through to going to work in my Winnie the Pooh slippers (really really big and fluffy) – went to a client meeting and NO one told me until afterwards the clients, all managers at a large OEM, turned round to me and said “what a brilliant idea!” He brought his slippers the next time he visited … To cut a long story short – you are not alone, as I said it is our artistic license to do what ever, be whatever, live however!

    Love your memoir, wrinkly creams always make me dreamy! You are a true artist!

  6. To switch of emoticons you can go here

  7. (please correct of to off… I think it is the lack of smokes that is messing with my mind ta)

  8. Thank you sanityFound! Things not getting better on your side of the world eh? Sorry… The New York times had the photograph of a 2 year old Zimbabwean whose two legs had been broken by Mugabe men trying to get info from the mother. Just made me want to vomit.

    Ah Pat, sorry for the communication with SanityFound. I believe you are supposed to leave a comment linking to your post at the site of the original memor:


  9. Thanks you – yers bad week
    Soz Pat for the African update on your blog – have posted instead

    Be good! (try!)

  10. Alright, I think I’ve switched off the emoticons. Thanks, sanity! Have not seen the paper in days. Usually read on line but realities here took over. As usual, the news doesn’t sound good.

    Sanity, are you off the smokes?? Good for you.

    Twobuyfour, women have more issues with vanity in my crowd. I suppose there’s lots of reasons for that but my goal is to not care at all. And, I think leaving the house with wrinkle creme still applied, qualifies as a good beginning!

    Sweetiegirlz, I’m going to look for that blog entry that you mentioned. or if you see this comment, just patch in the URL. I’d love to read it!!

  11. Well I feel redeemed! Was’nt it just yesterday you called me to find me in a dither because I could,nt find my cell phone and I got a “ah ah ah Neil I called you on are using it !” Its not the face cream I am worried about…do you put on the cream with pearls on…or is that a row of growths that to be looked at. Suggestion : keep your eyes open then you might notice than you look like Nancy Reagan.

  12. really really funny story!

  13. I forgot to howl at nathaliewithanh’s taking a bath with panties! Is that like skinny dipping with pantyhose on which I actually did in my more conservative days…ok, yesterday. Nah, it was a long, long time ago! Mexico. Back in the day when I need a passport.

    NKGee…you are bad very bad to make fun of my neck. women are sensitive about their necks (and every other damn body part) but I look like Nancy Reagan?? I’m checking my bedside table for a gun (they said she kept one always on the ready, one wonders what the hell Ronnie had in his bedside table? Jelly Beans? Anyway, and they said she had a bowl of apples on top of the table. I just looked over now…no apples. no gun. But, jelly beans do sound good. Maybe there’s some left over from Easter, gotta run.

    Welcome, lwayswright! True stories are the best aren’t they?

    Thanks, sweetiegirlz, I’m going to check it out tomorrow.

  14. Girl… when they made you they so broke the mold. I hope you are teaching your grandnieces to have your style!!!! We need more of you in this world. :)

    Every single time I look at a compact, or I put on my makeup I think of your mother. Now when putting on my cream, Ill think of you with a smile.

    You make my day every day.

  15. I’ll let Tysdaddy know that you tagged him Pat! He’ll enjoy this challenge! Unfortunately it may be awhile before he gets to it. He has a BIG paper due Saturday and Thursday evening I ended up putting him in the hospital. Say a prayer if you are the praying type! His blood pressure bottomed out seriously! I have notoriously low blood pressure and I’ve never been even nearly as low as his was! I’m sure he’ll write more about this lovely event someday soon.

  16. Arynsgirl, are you Mrs. Tysdaddy?? Oh, I am so sorry to hear our buddy is n the the hospital!! This is my first cyber friend to be in the land of the corridors! I t feels just like a real world friend! do you need casseroles? I’f you’ve read any of this blog, don’t worry. I’ll buy it, honest. I won’t try making it myself. Our best to him. If you dare, send me your land address and I’ll put a singleforareason card in the mail!! Oooooo, tell him we miss him and hope he’s back reading Tolstoy for breakfast real soon.

    Amber girl, all winged creatures and aging ladies have stories of flights of fantasy. My stories? True. Greetings to you and your Mom! I’ll be visiting your blog soon!

  17. Yep Mrs Tysdaddy here!

    He’s getting out tomorrow!


  18. Yeah!!! to that good news, Arynsmom! I’ll go and leave a welcome home message sometime today. Oh, really, I am so happy.

  19. hilarious story! only a really unselfconscious person could pull off that faux pas! ha ha, you are a gem!

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