Lipstick and the memories that remain of loved ones
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — I leaned in towards the mirror after my shower, hair fixed and on to my makeup, cursing the laugh lines around my eyes and the gray hair that accompanied them as I worked to hide the evidence of the years on my face.
My 2-year-old daughter stood next to me, her blond hair wild from the morning. Each time I set something down on the counter — concealer, blush, eyeliner — she reached for it, as if mimicking my every move would help her unlock another door to growing up.
"No, no honey," I said as I saved us all from a mascara wand to her big, blue eyes. "Let me see what mommy can find for you instead." I pulled my makeup drawer out wide, digging through half-used bottles of foundation, eyeshadow and powders, looking for something safe and convincing that would occupy her. I was reaching for an empty compact when I found it — a clear plastic tube of blue lipstick, the kind you find for a couple of bucks in a drugstore aisle that promises to turn your lips the color of your mood, if everybody's mood is magenta pink.
I smiled as I picked it up, a memory of my grandmother Edith flashing at me then, the two of us standing together in her tiny bedroom at the ranch, the light from a summer evening shining through the sheer curtains of her open window, making a streak of sun on the carpeted floor. I remember the way the dust sparkled in that light in front of her mirrored dresser and the treasures scattered on top. And although I couldn't name one specific thing she kept there, I do remember that blue lipstick and how it fascinated my cousins and me, convinced it was magic as it turned colors on her lips.
When my grandma Edith left this world and that little house, she was too young and I was too young, and she didn't have much to leave behind in terms of material things.
The tube of lipstick I found stuck in the back of my makeup drawer was something my aunt picked up at a drugstore and gave to all of the grandkids to remember her by.
So I turned it over in my hands and remembered her and the way her eyes crinkled at the sides as she threw her head back laughing, just the way mine are starting to crinkle.
That laugh, her stark white hair under her baseball cap, her soft, round stomach and the way her tan and aging hands seemed to be able to untangle any impossible kite string, dress any dolly and braid my fluffy hair, are the pieces of her that have held strong in my memories, maybe more so than her as a whole, perfectly flawed human.
I looked again at my reflection, leaned into the mirror and put that lipstick on, watching it turn bright pink on my lips as my daughter — my grandma's namesake — eagerly looked up at me. I leaned down, kissed her cheek and made her lips pink, too, and we laughed and headed to town.