She was at the cosmetic counter at the drugstore. I stood in line there because I was in a hurry and the line was short. Her hair was as black and shiny as imitation patent leather shoes. She was wearing a bright turquoise turtleneck with a thin cotton vest over it. The vest was probably company issue; it was supposed to be black but it looked rusty compared to her hair, and it was stained with what seemed like the lunch of days gone by. She was wearing a nametag that read “Marcia, Beauty Advisor.” And then, just in case you missed it, she had another badge pinned on her vest below her nametag: “I am your beauty advisor.” The skin on her face was crisscrossed with lines. It is a cliché, but it really did look like a road map with streets crossing here and there, the record of past journeys there for all to see. She had put on makeup, a lot, and it had settled into the creases. I looked at her face and her hair and the declarations pinned to her dirty vest, and I thought: “Oh no, you are not my beauty advisor.” And then I felt an immediate stab of remorse. I wondered if she had put on that makeup for a husband or a mother, for a grown child, for someone who looked at her and saw a beautiful woman, someone who was beloved as a sweetheart, a cherished daughter, an ever-young mother. Or did she go home to open a can of cat food for a being that did not care how she looked but only that she was a supplier of food? What courage did it take to look in the mirror every morning and pin that badge on: “I am your beauty advisor?”
I paid for my purchase – packaging tape, antacid, and lip balm – and left with my bag. And I thought that maybe her kind of beauty was something with a lot of advice to offer me.